The Golden State Warriors are going into the All-Star break having lost four of their last five games after falling to the Denver Nuggets on Wednesday 117-116. Despite controlling the game for the majority of regulation, the Warriors once again failed to put the game away and left their opponent an opportunity to strike.
To try and address the Warriors recent defensive struggles, head coach Steve Kerr relegated rookie Jonathan Kuminga to the bench for defensive specialist Gary Payton II. The move paid dividends. Golden State jumped out to a 17-8 lead. However, roughly halfway through the first quarter, Payton appeared to land awkwardly and twist his left ankle. As soon as he left the game, Denver went on a 5-0 run.
Coming off the bench, Jordan Poole and Jonathan Kuminga stopped the bleeding. They combined for 12 points on 5-for-7 shooting from the field with 5 assists and 2 steals in the first quarter. Still, despite their strong offensive effort, Denver’s offense continued to open up while Payton remained on the bench. At the end of one, the Dubs led 33-25.
The game followed a similar pace for most of what remained in regulation. Payton returned to the game with his usual energy and the Warriors maintained a single-digit lead for most of the remaining three quarters. However, as has been the case recently, Golden State could not find a way to put Denver away.
As things got tight in the final minutes, the Warriors were on their heels. After cutting the lead to three multiple times, Nikola Jokić cut the lead to one with just 40 seconds remaining. A missed three by Klay Thompson set up Monte Morris for a long rebound that he took the length of the court to take a 114-113 lead with 14 seconds remaining.
Golden State had one more chance to answer. Stephen Curry dribbled up court, drew a foul, and knocked down a mid-range jumper to retake the lead. Curry nailed the free throw for his 25th point, putting the Warriors back ahead 116-114. Curry led the Dubs in scoring despite shooting 1-for-7 from three. He was 9-for-12 inside the arc.
However, the Nuggets and their star center still had five seconds to work with. Coming out of a timeout, Jokić caught the ball in the left corner, drove inside, and found an open Morris on the right wing. Morris knocked down the three as the buzzer sounded, clinching the 117-116 victory.
Golden State’s recent struggles against opposing bigs continued on Wednesday with Jokić. Despite missing some time in the first half with an injury scare of his own, Jokić recorded 35 points, 17 rebounds, and 8 assists. Sharpshooter Bryn Forbes added a huge 22 points off the bench, while Morris finished with 13 points, 4 rebounds, and 6 assists.
For the Warriors, Payton finished with 12 points and 4 assists, but as always, his impact on the defensive end was unparalleled. He recorded a block and 6 steals over the course of the game. Payton also had a +13 plus/minus. Klay Thompson was second on the team in scoring with 16, but had another ugly shooting night, finishing 5-for-15 from the field.
The Warriors can now enjoy a much-needed break over All-Star weekend and they will hope the rest can help them get back on track heading into the final stretch of the regular season. They are still 42-17 with the second-best record in the Western Conference but have also been playing their worst basketball of the season over the past 10 days.
Want to talk more about the Dubs latest game? How do you feel about Golden State heading into the All-Star break? Join the conversation over on Twitch with our own Marc Delucchi.