clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

The Golden Breakdown: How the Warriors put the Nuggets in their place as pretenders to the Western throne

In the last crucial matchup of the 2018-19 regular season, the Warriors solidified their claim to the top seed in the West, sending a reminder to the Nuggets and the rest that they are still the final boss.

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

While his recent play has garnered largely-positive reactions, you can be sure as hell that Kevin Durant pays more attention to those who continue to criticize it.

“KD is being too passive. He’s a scorer, for Pete’s sake. He should just keep shooting the ball!”

Against the Denver Nuggets, in only 21 minutes of play time that was cut short due to another unfortunate incident with a referee, Durant scored 21 points on a 9-of-13 shooting clip (69.2 percent) and a 2-of-5 clip from behind the arc (40 percent).

Seven of those 21 points came from earth-shattering dunks that brought energy and excitement to the team and the rest of Oracle Arena. They also served as wake-up calls to the Nuggets, who despite their status as one of the top two teams occupying the Western Conference standings, have found out — in perhaps the hardest way possible — that they have a long way to go before they could even think of seriously dethroning the Warriors from their lofty perch as the kings of the West.

Durant seemed like he had something to prove on Tuesday night. It seems like no matter what he does right, how correctly he plays within the Warriors’ system, and how he lets his skills do the talking, he can never really escape the slight nitpicks, the microscopes being focused by some on the negative aspects of his game.

While Durant is widely appreciated and is being given proper credit that is due him, the vocal minority has a knack for being louder than everyone else, and those voices have a tendency for seeping through the praises.

KD is being too passive.

There was nothing passive about this.

He’s a scorer, for Pete’s sake.

Indeed, he is. Perhaps the best to have ever done it, when all is said and done. In a world full of many things that is unfair, Durant is another example of what makes the world of professional basketball an unfair environment, especially for the Warriors’ adversaries — a towering 7-footer who has the handles, the nimbleness, and the speed of a guard. It’s just plain-old ridiculous.

He should just keep shooting the ball!

By no means is anyone saying that Durant should stop shooting the ball. The Warriors would only stand to benefit from someone of his stature — a scorer who can get points anytime, anyplace, anywhere, and in any way he wants — when he puts up ultra-efficient shooting clips, like he did against the Memphis Grizzlies last week.

You would want a Durant who’s engaged, someone who is in that special zone that only the best of the best in the league can fully and truly occupy and comprehend. Just like how Stephen Curry goes on one of his barrage of three-point bombs that he sinks in one after another in an unconscious manner, Durant goes into a mode where the only thing he sees in front of him is the bucket, and the only objective that he has is to place the ball through that bucket.

When Durant’s sole goal is to rip the souls of his opponents from their bodies, there is arguably no other player in the league who is as unstoppable.

Durant was in no way being passive and uncharacteristically conservative with his shot attempts. He was on his way to another monster scoring performance, another easy 30 or so points that he seems to attain as easily as breathing, as Bob Fitzgerald would say.

But another run-in with the officials robbed Durant the opportunity to further garnish his already-sublime stat line.

I’m not going to spend anymore time arguing with the judgment of referee Zach Zarba on this ejection. The Warriors have made it a point to be contentious with officials as of late — for better or worse. Suffice to say, Steve Kerr’s thoughts on the situation were probably what most fans had in mind when it came to Durant’s ejection — in a mildly put, PG-rated version, of course.

“I thought he deserved the first technical. I didn’t think he deserved the second one,” Kerr said after the game.

Thankfully, when Durant got ejected, the Warriors had erected a huge 21-point lead, giving them enough of a cushion for the rest of their stars and role players to work with. Save for the 24 turnovers they committed, the team’s performance was nearly flawless, and they were able to hold the Nuggets off and prevent them from even thinking about trying to mount a comeback attempt.

Steph Curry continues to be a hot stove

Curry finished the night with 17 points, 5 rebounds, and 5 assists, while shooting 6-of-11 from the field (54.5 percent) and 5-of-10 on threes (50 percent). He extended his career-best streak of games with 5 or more threes made in a game to 9 games in a row.

While Durant is becoming more of a versatile piece for the Warriors, a luxury whose value and utility increases with every game, Curry continues to be the focal point and engine that keeps the offensive machine running.

The first play of the game was designed to set Curry up for a catch-and-shoot three, using his ability to cross screen for Durant off the ball. Defenders are forced to make a decision when Curry and Durant come together, and whichever poison they choose, they will often be left reeling from the consequences.

Curry also got it done on the defensive end, garnering 3 steals against the Nuggets. In this possession, he doesn’t lose track of his back-cutting assignment — he tracks down the bounce pass, easily snatches it, then proceeds to set up the offense. The ball is fed to Andre Iguodala on the low post, and the Warriors perform a simple dive/pop split action. Alfonzo McKinnie dives, while Curry uses Looney’s screen to catch and shoot the three.

Curry was up to his old ball-handling tricks in this possession, where he uses a high screen from Draymond Green to get matched up with Paul Millsap. Curry’s magic with the ball allows him to make a fool out of Millsap, and his gravity draws virtually every defender toward the paint. Curry kicks the ball out to McKinnie in the left corner, where he proceeds to knock down the three.

(Peep at Durant’s celebration on the bench during this sequence as an added bonus.)

After Durant’s ejection in the 3rd quarter, Curry took it upon himself to make sure that the Warriors didn’t lose a step offensively. In this possession, Curry completely takes the ball away from his defender, leading to a fastbreak opportunity for the Warriors that is completed by Cousins. This is immediately followed up with another interception by the Warriors, which leads to a fastbreak three for Curry.

Any game wouldn’t be complete, however, without a couple of vintage deep threes from Curry, who proceeded to launch them from what seemed like two different timezones.

Boogie feasts on the Nuggets

DeMarcus Cousins is getting better and better, amid concerns pertaining to his viability in a playoff series for the Warriors.

It’s a concern that has slowly become less and less valid as Cousins continues to regain his wind and feel for the game. This version of the four-time All-Star — while not exactly an identical copy of the pre-injury version — is starting to look like it’s rounding into a form that will be ready to contribute during the playoffs.

Cousins’ monster stat-line of 28 points, 12 rebounds, and 5 assists was easily the standout of the night. Along with Curry’s efforts in the second half, Cousins was largely responsible for keeping the Warriors’ ship afloat after Durant was tossed out of the game.

A mini-storyline of the game was Cousins’ matchup against the Nuggets’ star center, Nikola Jokic. Along with Joel Embiid of the Philadelphia 76ers, Jokic is considered one of the best centers in the NBA, a position that was left empty when Cousins was sidelined by his Achilles injury. But both Embiid and Jokic didn’t waste any time in trying to claim that title for themselves.

It is a title that Cousins — upon coming back from his long rehabilitation process — is eager to reclaim for himself.

“He’s dominated that matchup these last couple times, and it’s good to see,” Green said after the game when asked about Cousins doing well against Jokic. “Since his injury a lot of people try to put some of those guys before him and he goes at every one of them. It’s personal for him. When you can back that up with the talent that he has, it’s special to watch.”

While Cousins’ road to reclaiming the title of being the best center in the league remains long and arduous, his efforts against Jokic last night most certainly helped his case.

Jokic’s frustrations with dealing with Cousins translated into a poor showing on the offensive end. He finished the night with 10 points on 4-of-10 shooting from the field, with 5 rebounds and 5 assists — a far cry from his season averages of 20.3 points, 10.9 rebounds, and 7.4 assists.

Will the real Nikola Jokic please stand up?

I would be remiss if I didn’t give the entire team credit for their effort on both ends of the floor. While Durant, Curry, and Cousins were the highlights of the night, the Warriors were able to make this latest blowout victory a striking success by sticking to their tried-and-true principles of ball and personnel movement, personified by their 36 assists as a team.

They were efficient on the floor, shooting 54.3 percent overall while taking 3 less shots than the Nuggets — they shot 38.3 percent on threes, while making 6 more of them than the Nuggets (13-7). Their offensive rating of 109.4 was decent by their standards, but against a sputtering Nuggets offense (offensive rating of 97.1), it was more than enough to chase them out of the building.

The Nuggets have had a season to remember so far, arguably the best regular season that they have had in their history. Their somewhat unexpected rise to the top of the Western Conference standings deserves praise and merit — but with it comes the possibility that it may all just be a red herring.

The Nuggets have plenty of questions left to answer. Their failure to prove themselves against the cream of the Western crop hasn’t wiped away the multitude of doubts that linger over them. And what they found out on Tuesday night against the defending champions is that all roads in the Western Conference are still firmly controlled by the Warriors.

By winning against the Nuggets, the Warriors reminded them and the rest of the West that they all must still go through them.

Seventy-seven down, 5 more to go.

Stay Golden, Dub Nation.

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for the Golden State of Mind Daily Roundup newsletter!

A daily roundup of Golden State Warriors news from Golden State of Mind