There was a playoff atmosphere for Tuesday night’s game between the Golden State Warriors and the Denver Nuggets. Unlike many of the games of the regular season, there was very clearly something to play for in this one. The Warriors held the top spot in the Western Conference heading into Tuesday night’s matchup while also having beaten the Nuggets two out of three times so far this season. A win in this game would give the Warriors the tiebreaker over the Nuggets as well as a two-game lead in the Western Conference standings. A loss to the Nuggets would tie things up with just a few games in the season and make things a bit more complicated for the defending champs.
Those where the stakes of this game and the Warriors more than rose to meet them. The Warriors dominated from late in the first quarter until the very end, beating the Nuggets by the score of 116-102 and staking a clear claim to the number one seed in the Western Conference.
Dubs display dominating defense
There was a lot to like from the Warriors on the offensive end against the Nuggets. There were some spectacular plays like this one where Stephen Curry puts Paul Millsap into the spin cycle before finding Alfonzo McKinnie for the three-pointer.
Curry did some scoring of his own in this game, contributing 17 points on Tuesday night while going 5/10 from three-point range. On this shot, Curry moved past the great Chris Mullin (who was the subject of an excellent new video right here at Golden State of Mind) for fourth place on the Warriors’ all-time scoring list.
But even more impressive than the Warriors offense in this game was their defensive effort. The Warriors held the Nuggets, a team that averages nearly 111 points-per-game this season, to just 102 points on Tuesday night. The Warriors also held the Nuggets to 37.5% shooting from the field and 22.6% shooting from three-point range, well below average for the team from the Mile High City.
Nikola Jokic, the Nuggets’ impressive big man, was held in check by the Warriors in this game. Jokic scored 10 points against the Warriors on 4/10 shooting, quite a precipitous drop for someone who averages around 20 points per game. The Nuggets’ All-Star was kept off the glass as well as he had just 5 rebounds in the loss. No Nuggets player scored more than 20 points and the team was led in scoring by Jamal Murray, who scored 17 points on 6/14 shooting.
The Warriors blocked 11 shots and stole the ball 11 times from the Nuggets in the win. We see one of those blocks here by Shaun Livingston, who sends back a Malik Beasley layup attempt.
This play is a great example of what the Warriors do when they’re focused and playing well—the defense leads to offense. In this case, the Livingston block sets up a fast-break opportunity that ends with a Klay Thompson layup.
Cousins in control
The main reason why the Warriors were able to limit Jokic’s effectiveness was the play of DeMarcus Cousins. Cousins was a force down low that Jokic was not prepared to deal with and he made sure that the Nuggets’ All-Star wasn’t much of a threat on Tuesday night.
Beyond his important as a big man who could match up defensively against Jokic, Cousins was an offensive force against the Nuggets. Cousins scored a season-high points, including going 2/4 from three-point range. Cousins has been struggling from long distance for much of his season. Seeing him knock down those shots from beyond the arc is a welcome sight for Dub Nation and a terrifying one for the rest of the league.
Cousins also pulled down 13 rebounds in Tuesday night’s win, his third game of the season in which he had 20+ points and 10+ rebounds. While there will be matchups in the playoffs where Cousins isn’t a major factor, it’s clear that when the Warriors have to play against proper big men in a series he will be an important contributor.
A short but impressive game from Durant
Kevin Durant was the Warriors’ best player in the first half of Tuesday night’s win. Durant scored 17 of 21 his points in the first half including this vicious dunk that had the fans at Oracle Arena along with the Warriors bench rocking and cheering.
But it wasn’t just Durant the scorer who was out there against the Nuggets. We once again got a good look at “Point KD” as Durant continued to look comfortable and in control while occupying the role of facilitator and distributor. Durant had 6 assists in the win, all of them coming in the first half. For a player who has averaged around 5 assists per game for most of his career, exceeding that number in one half of basketball will always be impressive.
However, Durant’s game was cut short when he was immediately ejected for, ahem, voicing his displeasure on what he thought was an uncalled foul.
KD wasn't happy about the non-call and got ejected pic.twitter.com/YKynWzO0SO— Warriors on NBCS (@NBCSWarriors) April 3, 2019
While Durant probably deserved one technical foul, getting two that quickly and thus earning an ejection, was not warranted. This sentiment was shared by Warriors head coach Steve Kerr, who said as much during his postgame interview:
Kerr said he thought KD deserved the first T, not the ejection— Marcus Thompson (@ThompsonScribe) April 3, 2019
The early exit cast something of a pall over Durant’s game game against the Nuggets. But Durant’s teammates were more than ready to pick up the slack and made sure that the Warriors went on and secured the dominant victory even after Durant had been, quite questionably, sent home early.
Turnovers and offensive rebounds remain an issue
The only reason the Nuggets were able to keep things somewhat close during the first half (or why the game didn’t turn into an abject blowout earlier) was the Warriors’ unfortunate propensity for turnovers. The Warriors turned it over 24 times against the Nuggets, resulting in 28 points for the visiting team. Those 24 turnovers were the most the Warriors had in one game this season. Cousins led the team with 5 turnovers while Curry and Draymond Green each had 4 turnovers of their own.
Those turnovers gave the Nuggets extra shot opportunities, especially in the first half when they attempted five more field goals than the Warriors. The Nuggets’ offensive rebounding was also key to getting those additional attempts, as they pulled down 8 offensive rebounds in the first half before cooling down as the Warriors pulled away in the second half.
The Warriors are certainly talented and skilled enough to overcome turnovers and an opponent having a decided advantage on the offensive glass. But when the playoffs begin around, you don’t want to leave too many things to chance and hopefully the Warriors will be better about this in the postseason. But even with those issues, the defending champs were able to hand the second-best team in the Western Conference a crushing loss in a game they needed to have to keep their fleeting hope of claiming that number one seed alive.