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Analysis: Warriors’ cold shooting spells doom against Nuggets on Saturday night

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With Durant and Thompson struggling mightily from the field, the Warriors lose to the Nuggets, 96-81.

NBA: Denver Nuggets at Golden State Warriors Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

In their final game before the Christmas Day showdown against the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Warriors hosted the Denver Nuggets and put their 11-game win streak on the line.

Coming off a hard-fought win against the Los Angeles Lakers on Friday night, the Warriors looked poised to keep their winning ways going against a Nuggets team they defeated by 19 points in early November. However, an abysmal shooting performance by two of the Warriors’ stars, coupled with a lack of energy, proved to be the recipe for a Nuggets’ victory.

They defeated the Warriors 96-81 at Oracle Arena.

A remarkably poor shooting night dooms the Warriors

In discussing this game, there is no way to avoid talking about the Warriors’ cold shooting. In fact, cold doesn’t even begin to describe it. It was frigid: Antarctic tundra-level cold. Here are the final results on the Warriors’ horrendous offensive night.

Unfortunately, the Warriors’ players who struggled the most happened to be their best offensive players — Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson.

Durant was not quite so horrendous from the field (shooting 6-for-17), but he missed all five of his three-point attempts and only got to the free-throw line seven times. Thompson, meanwhile, struggled from the very start and shot 28.6% from the field and, most notably, shooting a season-low 10% from beyond the arc.

With Stephen Curry still out of the lineup, the Warriors needed their stars to be consistent and produce on offense. Unfortunately, on this night, Durant and Thompson were notably off their games and that was going to make it difficult for the Warriors to earn the victory.

NBA: Denver Nuggets at Golden State Warriors
Thompson turned in one of his worst offensive performances of the season, going 1-for-10 from three-point range as the Warriors lost to the Nuggets on Saturday night.
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

A shortage of energy and joy for the typically joyful Warriors

The Warriors’ matchup against the Nuggets came on the second game of a back-to-back, having played the Los Angeles Lakers Friday night in a game that came down to the very end. In a tweet at the end of the first quarter, Monte Poole noted that both teams were not as well-rested as they could be — and it showed.

While the Nuggets overcame that fatigue to win the game, it plagued the Warriors throughout the game. Their legs weren’t there on jump shots and they weren’t finishing dunks and layups. It was a game that had a tedious or blasé feel to it, which head coach Steve Kerr addressed in the postgame press conference.

Whether the general monotony of the NBA schedule, the fact that this game was the night after they’d played a game that had taken a lot out of them, or the stress of maintaining the winning streak, the Warriors played without real energy or spark. Draymond Green tried his best to get the Warriors going midway through the third quarter, as the Nuggets increased their lead to double digits, but it didn’t work.

Green — who contributed 10 points, 6 assists, 5 rebounds, 2 steals, and 2 blocks — did his best to get the Warriors back into the game so that they could pull out the victory, even taking a hard Nikola Jokic elbow to the face that he tried to use to rally the team.

Another issue negatively impacting the team’s performance, which Kerr identified after the game, is the team’s lack of penetration resulting from Stephen Curry’s continued absence.

This was particularly true against the Nuggets, as the team did not want to drive to the basket or make sharp cuts to get open and better shot attempts. With players like Omri Casspi and David West struggling to make shots, connect on passes, and slash to the rim, it was apparent that there was this lack of energy or joy, as Kerr identified it.

Whether owing to the physical strain or the mental (which is where Kerr places more of the weight), the Warriors definitely played like a team without intensity or passion.

In addition to Curry, the Warriors were again without Zaza Pachulia and Shaun Livingston, also putting greater wear-and-tear on the players in the lineup. Whatever the cause, the Warriors looked and played like a team without a great deal of energy against the Nuggets.

That said, it’s hard to feel energized when just about every bounce of the ball didn’t go their way.

The Nuggets took advantage of the Warriors struggles, turned in good performance

Even though the Warriors shot poorly and did not play with a great deal of energy, the Nuggets put in work. Quite a few players had a nice night against the defending champs, with five players scoring in double figures. Jokic, the Nuggets’ big man, scored 18 points while grabbing 9 rebounds and handing out 4 assists. But, beyond Jokic, the Nuggets got an offensive boost from two of their guards, which was noticed by The Athletic’s Tim Kawakami.

Will Barton, coming off the bench to score 9 points to go with 7 assists, 5 rebounds, 2 steals, and 2 blocks in 29 minutes of action, again proved to be a thorn in the Warriors’ side, and he might have made the difference in this one. In his previous two games against the Warriors, Barton scored 20+ points each time. Barton was also a game-high +19, meaning when he was on the court good things were happening for the Nuggets.

The Nuggets were also able to respond whenever the Warriors would start to cut into their lead, particularly when it reached double digits. Whether it was Jokic, Barton, Gary Harris, Trey Lyles or Wilson Chandler, the Nuggets were able to squelch any attempt by the Warriors to get back into the game.

The Warriors’ lone bright spots were McCaw and Bell

In a game like this, where the stars played poorly, one must find small things to be happy about. One player who made a few nice contributions was Patrick McCaw. Getting the starting spot, McCaw had a couple of plays that look closer to what he was doing last year, which hopefully he can continue as the season goes on. This one, in particular, was very impressive.

McCaw finishes the layup in traffic with his off-hand while also drawing the foul to get the chance at a three-point play. Though McCaw only scored seven points on Saturday night, he still had a few impressive moments and provided glimpses into what the Warriors hope he can become on a full-time basis.

The other highlight in a game otherwise of lowlights was, again, the rookie Jordan Bell. Coming off his first career double-double, Bell played well against the Nuggets, totaling 7 points, 10 rebounds and 2 blocks. He was also the recipient of one of Green’s six assists on this spectacular alley-oop in the first quarter.

Bell’s athleticism was on display yet again against the Nuggets and he even showed off a mid-range jumper. Though he did have four turnovers, Bell again impressed during this stint of increased minutes with Pachulia out of the lineup. Though it came in a loss tonight, getting Bell and McCaw these reps will end up paying dividends down the line, most likely in the playoffs.

NBA: Denver Nuggets at Golden State Warriors
Even in the loss, Jordan Bell still had some spectacular moments and showed off his athleticism yet again.
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Hopefully, the wakeup call this game provided, coupled with no game on Sunday, will have the Warriors locked in and ready to go when LeBron James and the Cavaliers arrive to play the Warriors on Christmas afternoon.