Wait, you thought the Golden State Warriors would waltz into Denver, on a three-game winning streak, after Stephen Curry's apparent ascension into a superstar, and just walk out with a win? That easily and in such a non Warriors-esque progression?
Send me some of that good stuff.
Meanwhile, in the aftermath of a terrific, physical game, both teams had a little something to say about it.
Those who missed it: Jax accused DEN of taking cheap shots at Steph, hinted DEN people came to him and warned him with "inside info."— Zach Lowe (@ZachLowe_NBA) May 1, 2013
Mark Jackson says the Nuggets "sent hit men on Steph." #warriors— Bud Geracie (@WakeOfWeek) May 1, 2013
Curry with both ankles in ice tub, bloodshot corner of his eye. This is the playoffs.— Fast Break (@GSWFastBreak) May 1, 2013
Steph Curry definitely agreed that he thought Denver was targeting him.And he's absolutely fired up about it.— Tim Kawakami (@timkawakami) May 1, 2013
Denver players were trash talking and calling Stephen Curry soft all game long, according to @gswscribe.— Alex Kennedy (@AlexKennedyNBA) May 1, 2013
Let's not keep this one-sided!
Karl: Did Draymond Green play football or basketball at Michigan State?— Fast Break (@GSWFastBreak) May 1, 2013
Javale McGee commented on the #Warriors dirty play... He said "it wasn't sanitary"— 9NEWS Sports Denver (@9NEWSSports) May 1, 2013
"They play dirty every night. They have targeted me," Kenneth Faried responded to Mark Jacksons comments #Nuggets— 9NEWS Sports Denver (@9NEWSSports) May 1, 2013
And then there's this:
And on and on it goes. It appears that whoever the Warriors play in a close game, they'll find a way to alienate that team and project them as the villains. When your team has Andrew Bogut and Draymond Green, I'm nearly certain there are the same number of cheap shots you think you're getting as the ones you're dishing out. The Warriors seem like they go out of their way to put that proverbial chip on their shoulders. They did something similar with Chandler Parsons and the Houston Rockets when Patrick Beverley went for a dunk in a blowout and a game where the Rockets almost broke their franchise-record for threes. Is it manufactured hate? Perhaps not, but it's a fresh change of face for a team that's been considered a bit soft since Baron Davis' departure.
But back to the actual game; the Warriors were outplayed, outhustled and outcoached for 3+ quarters before staging a late rally that had the lead cut to four. George Karl made several adjustments before the game, starting JaVale McGee with Kenneth Faried and shifting Wilson Chandler to the 3 and Andre Iguodala on Stephen Curry. They took away Curry's game again—as they did in the previous game—but this time Andrew Bogut was unable to provide an early spark. Combined with Klay Thompson and Jarrett Jack's sluggish play, the pleasant surprise of Harrison Barnes' shooting prowess couldn't stop the onslaught.
But mostly, the story of the game was Denver's ability to play physical and take control of what the Warriors wanted to do offensively. Both teams exchanged shots throughout the game but only the Nuggets sustained the pressure and for the first time all series, got a flurry of Faried dunks and ESPN-worthy blocks and passes. This was the team that everyone has watched all season and they finally showed up 5 games into the series.
That being said, the Warriors took advantage of Iguodala's absence late fourth quarter and struck back with a couple Curry jumpers and Thompson threes. The Nuggets dodged an open Curry and Klay 3 to cut the lead to one possession to hold on at the end. There are no such things as moral victories, especially in the playoffs, but mental toughness is a real thing and this team has it. Term it as an intangible if you like, or something as vague as having "it", but they could have easily laid down and prepared for another frenzied crowd at Oracle on Thursday, but they wanted nothing to do with that. That's a testament to the coaching and the players' willingness to execute despite the dire circumstances.
Not a lot of options here from a Warriors point of view. One could argue Bogut's shot to Faried was a signal to the team that they wouldn't back down but the Warriors didn't necessarily respond.
Barnes was left open all night long and took advantage, pouring in five threes and a couple hard drives to the basket. His defense in the early going kept the team afloat as he was the top man on the matchup zone and contained Ty Lawson on drives on several occasions. It wasn't sustained but it was something to look forward to in Game 6.
Bogut was nonexistent all game save a two-handed shove to Faried's upper body in the first half. Unlike Game 5, he didn't look to score and had trouble keeping the quickness of McGee and Faried off the glass. Then late in the fourth quarter, when Festus Eezli was throwing the ball away and giving up alley-oops, Jackson mysteriously decided to keep him on the bench. He says he feels fine after the game but it'll be interesting what Jackson does if Bogut starts slowly in Game 6. Here's thinking the extra adrenaline gets him going a bit more.
We've, or just me, have beaten the Jarrett Jack problem to death this year. He's indispensable to this team, that's inarguable, but his inability to pass and recognize shot selection is painstakingly hard to watch at times. Jack's frustrating play was exemplified in a two-play sequence when he dribbled the ball at the top of the key for 10 seconds, pulled up for a long two and bricked, leading to a transition opportunity for the Nuggets. Then on the next play, he runs a two-on-two, except nobody guards Thompson for a corner three, and Jack instead goes towards the rim and Faried swats it into a fastbreak bucket for the Nuggets. Jack's handle and tough play are integral to this team's success but a repeat of his Game 5 would doom the Warriors Thursday night.
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Finally, we land on Stephen Curry's reaction game. Both teams are landing cheap shots; that seems objective. The referees called it pretty crappy, both ways. But the best player in this series so far will need to show up in Game 6. Is this a must-win game? All games in the playoffs are must-win games and I don't think a Game 7 in Denver would be an automatic loss by any means.
But this is Curry's game at Oracle on Thursday, behind a crowd thirsting and falling over themselves every time Curry puts a shot up. The Warriors were targeting Faried? Sure, but his impact nowhere nears the amount Curry can create. The Nuggets were targeting Curry? Yeah, that's going to put the onus on the budding superstar guard to have another nuclear explosion; one that we've seen so many times this year and in these five games. Add to the fact he's playing through a sore ankle, bloody eye, tight hammies and a buttocks injection, and we have a legendary performance brewing here.
The Nuggets will assuredly run the same Iguodala defense and traps that's worked so well in Game 5. And Jackson will make adjustments in the same measure he's made them all season. The Nuggets have tried everything and they might have found something tonight.
But one hopes and perhaps even expects that this all sets up for one of the greatest performances we'll ever see from a player in a Golden State Warriors uniform (however small sample size we may be judging this from). All signs point to Curry adjusting through the physical play, understanding what's at stake, and eliciting a cataclysmic eruption from an Oracle crowd that won't be half-empty into the second quarter.
Or maybe I'm wrong and we'll go to Game 7.
But I'm going with the best player in the series. We've all seen it and Curry knows it.