This one was as scheduled a loss as you can get. The Golden State Warriors have had a big few weeks.
First off they had the toughest road trip of the season (in theory), going 4-1 despite starting with a back-to-back in Milwaukee and Toronto, before downing Cleveland.
They then returned home to take two big wins over Minnesota and Boston, the latter a potential Finals match-up.
So you knew a let down was coming.
That was the backdrop to this back-to-back game in Denver. Oh yeah, and they reportedly got into their hotel at 4 a.m.
Warriors come out to play
However the Warriors came out to play last night. Klay Thompson in particular opened strong, scoring from inside and out, and showing off his improved creativity.
Klay starts his night off with a splash pic.twitter.com/rMhB2XF64U— Golden State Warriors (@warriors) February 4, 2018
Steph Curry also came out with some force, shooting threes and carving up the defense.
Steph’s treating nuggets defenders like practice cones. pic.twitter.com/rPnO9JGTo6— Warriors Talk (@JaeAzizi) February 4, 2018
Curry/Klay: 13 points, three 3s in five minutes.— Anthony Slater (@anthonyVslater) February 4, 2018
Zaza is willing to take a meeting to come back to the Warriors this coming season— SuperVillain Supporter (@The_Regend) February 4, 2018
The Warriors' own internal dunk contest was popping off too, as Thompson finished a transition dunk to draw level with Pachulia.
Dunk bet update— Anthony Slater (@anthonyVslater) February 4, 2018
It looked like we were getting ourselves a good ol’ fashioned shootout in the Rockies.
My favorite moment in the opening quarter though had to be Kerr, who escaped any punishment for his recent smartphone snaffu about James Harden’s travelling circus, getting hit with a technical after Nick Young got called for a travel.
Kerr didn’t get fined, but the refs are going to hit him with all kinds of traveling calls— Marcus Thompson (@ThompsonScribe) February 4, 2018
Behind an unexpectedly decent effort, the Warriors finished the first quarter up 32-29.
Kevin Durant and the defense keep the Warriors alive
But then the three-point shooting went to the dogs. It was truly woeful.
Warriors started the game 4-of-5 from 3. They've missed 13 straight, now 4-of-18.— Anthony Slater (@anthonyVslater) February 4, 2018
Many of those looks were decent looks for great shooters off decent execution. It looked like the schedule was just finally catching up with some tired legs.
Yet they kept in the game with a strong defensive effort, battling down low, contesting shots, switching sharply.
)Sidebar: that’s how good West has been this season, to replace his efforts you need one of the top three players in the game.)
The pick of Durant’s second quarter was this alley-oop dunk.
Meanwhile Pachulia was determined not to get outdone by Thompson. After this ZAZA-SMASH! the dunkometer reads 8-7 in his favour.
Zaza drives the lane and throws it down! pic.twitter.com/1QRoJdx5vi— Golden State Warriors (@warriors) February 4, 2018
But in an ominous sign, the end to the half descended into a wild, ragged, frenetic mess with some headscratching turnovers on both sides.
Nothing highlighted this better than the glorious sequence where a Curry behind-the-back pass (agh, flashbacks) led to a 4-on-1 fast break where Gary Harris somehow contrived to throw the ball out of bounds.
Overall though, the Warriors' defensive effort had kept Denver stars Jokic and Jamal Murray fairly quiet, though in Murray’s case that might have had more to do with him hobbling around the court after an early tumble.
Third quarter run
The Warriors favorite quarter opened with a series of Pachulia attempted layups, with predictably mixed results.
And then the traditional run started when a Curry three finally broke the seal on the basket.
Steph step-back splash! pic.twitter.com/C5FKTHIPLv— Golden State Warriors (@warriors) February 4, 2018
Draymond Green got into the action with a nice reverse layup off the Durant feed.
KD finds Draymond on the backdoor cut pic.twitter.com/SecESp7SAd— Golden State Warriors (@warriors) February 4, 2018
Green followed that up with a nice spin move in the post, before Curry nailed a fast break three after a big Javale McGee block to cap a 17-3 run.
Swat on one end, splash on the other! pic.twitter.com/mVMcSFr929— Golden State Warriors (@warriors) February 4, 2018
McGee himself was having a wierd night, picking up his fifth foul in just six minutes, but this was one of the four blocks he managed to register.
Durant continued to make the big shots as Denver pushed back. He ended up finishing with a team-high 31 points on 12-for-16 shooting, along with seven assists, six rebounds, and two blocks.
Again the end of the quarter descended into a wild, ragged, frantic mess. As the Warriors tried to settle things down they went to the trusted Curry-Green pick-and-roll, leading to a Green follow tip off his missed layup.
Next possession down Kevon Looney got fouled in the mouth and lost a tooth, leading to some grade-A, X-rated Draymond Green philosophical pronouncements.
“Take your fucking tooth, fuck this damn game”- Dray pic.twitter.com/Fy9H4mmILA— Roy (@Nai_Roy) February 4, 2018
Quite, Draymond, quite.
Oh yeah, at this point the Warriors were 6-for-24 from three-point range. The fact they stretched the lead to 83-77 at the end of the third was pretty damn impressive, given the circumstances.
Looking good in the fourth
The final frame started off with an intriguing Damian Jones sighting. He did his best McGee impersonation, picking up a ton of fouls very quickly before demonstrating some decent defensive abilities.
Damian Jones with great defense on Mudiay, and then Livingston gets the steal pic.twitter.com/5jwzrRhg8o— Drew Shiller (@DrewShiller) February 4, 2018
The game looked in hand, albeit close, with Durant continuing to make buckets. We even saw an Andre Iguodala three-pointer go down.
It was that kind of bizarro night from behind the arc.
Sometimes the schedule eats you...
But then it began to unravel. As the threes continued to brick, the momentum began to shift.
After executing well throughout the game, a series of poor defensive plays brought the Nuggets back into it. Predictably Will Barton took full advantage, nailing a three on his way to a Denver-high 25 points.
Will Barton really is a warrior killer— sam esfandiari (@samesfandiari) February 4, 2018
That was followed by what can only be described as a really dumb foul on a Harris three by Shaun Livingston.
Curry re-entered the fray with the score tied at 97. Would he be able to settle everyone down and lead the Warriors to another win?
A couple of defensive breakdowns gave Murray an open layup and Barton an open three.
There was absolutely no reason for Durant to double Jokic (Will Barton gets the wide open 3) pic.twitter.com/4MmSlg2BhT— Drew Shiller (@DrewShiller) February 4, 2018
After another Barton floater, the Warriors went back to their bread and butter Curry-Green pick-and-roll, leading to a monster dunk for Green. The game was tied at 104.
And then the turning point. An unlucky break for the Warriors saw Jokic left with an open three off a missed dunk.
Here’s how you know it’s not your night pic.twitter.com/Rx54176WVY— BBALLBREAKDOWN (@bballbreakdown) February 4, 2018
On the next defensive possession Young, who was inexplicably swagging it up in the closing lineup ahead of Iguodala, decided to get into a wrestling match with Jokic. No prizes for guessing who won that.
The resulting free throws gave the Nuggets a two-point lead at 109-104 with 1:36 to go, off an 18-7 Denver run.
Any hopes of a miraculous comeback were snuffed out pretty quickly.
First, Green had a truly terrible turnover on the fast break. Thompson was wide open in the corner to his left, and he chose to throw it to the other side of the court where the Nuggets lay in waiting.
Draymond appeared to have Klay open for a 3 in the corner, but went other side for Young and Harris made a terrific interception— Nate Duncan (@NateDuncanNBA) February 4, 2018
The final nail in the coffin was provided by Young, who airballed a stepback three and then got T-ed up complaining about the no call.
Swaggy P puts a cap on this likely loss, airballing a contested 3 with 28 seconds left, down 4, and then picking up a T arguing that he was hit on the wrist.— Anthony Slater (@anthonyVslater) February 4, 2018
All in all it was a pretty disappointing collapse aided by some very questionable lineup experimentation.
Zaza Pachulia should be in this game... https://t.co/24hssRJ7v1— Drew Shiller (@DrewShiller) February 4, 2018
Nick Young instead of Andre Iguodala huh?— Nate Duncan (@NateDuncanNBA) February 4, 2018
On one hand, hard to get too bent out of shape about this scheduled loss, especially as they played as hard as you could have expected.
On the other, it did emphasize again two concerning niggles that could come back to bite them when it counts: late game execution, and the lack of consistent bench production from the wing spot.
On the first, the schedule is a reasonable excuse. But they had this game in hand before completely unravelling, not for the first time this season. There’s been a few close losses against good teams that came down to poor late game execution — Houston and Boston came to mind.
Kerr is clearly a bit concerned about the building of bad habits.
Steve Kerr says the Warriors are building some bad habits, mentions boxing out pic.twitter.com/FyvxQilN27— Anthony Slater (@anthonyVslater) February 4, 2018
On the second, that odd closing rotation likely won’t happen in the playoffs, but to be honest it’s not news that when the chips are down you can’t rely on Swaggy P.
Decision to close with Young a curious one, but it's clearest sign we've seen there's real concern about lack of spacing/shooting from other small-ball options (McCaw/Iguodala below 30% from 3 this season).— Anthony Slater (@anthonyVslater) February 4, 2018
Where does that leave us?
Let’s hope we don’t see these guys again in the first round. Fortunately with Paul Millsap coming back soon, they should rise up the standings and give someone else a scare.
Then again, the Rockets are only one game back in the loss column now, and hold the tiebreaker thanks to some of the same late game execution struggles.
Who was the Warrior Wonder for the loss in Denver?
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