“No one wants to get their ass kicked on national TV.” - Michael Malone
The Denver Nuggets came out tough in Game Two of their first-round series with the Golden State Warriors, jumping out to double-digit leads in the first two quarters behind dominant post play from Nikola Jokic and perimeter scoring from Monte Morris. With seven minutes left in the second, Denver led 43-31. Then Steve Kerr brought in Klay Thompson and Steph Curry to play alongside Jordan Poole, and the Nuggets simply never recovered. By the end, the Warriors’ biggest concern was what nickname to use for the new squad - Bob Fitzgerald, stop trying to make “lethal lineup” happen!
Two nights after this group closed the second quarter on an 18-4 run, they scored 12 straight points to complete a team-wide 16-0 run, and closed the quarter having outscored the Nuggets 26-8 in the final seven minutes. Along the way, Denver picked up a technical, turned the ball over three times, kicked the ball twice, and disintegrated both defensively and emotionally. Then the Warriors kicked off the second half with a 10-2 run. Overall it was a 36-10 advantage over ten minutes of play. By the middle of the 4th, the Warriors had a 20-point lead, the Nuggets had had a fight on the bench, and presumptive MVP Nikola Jokic had been ejected. All that was left was for Facundo Campazzo to run around in garbage time trying to injure people.
Steph Curry made the most of his restricted minutes, scoring 34 points on 12-17 shooting and logging a plus/minutes of +32. In 22 minutes. Just for fun, he threw in four assists, a steal, and a blocked shot. Amazingly, Curry is just outside the top 250 in career playoff blocks now. His most impressive play came in the 3rd, when he sank a three while getting fouled by JaMychal Green, with his and-one completing a 16-4 Splash Brothers-only run that put the Dubs up 20 points.
Jordan Poole continued to impress in his second career playoff game, following up his 30-point effort with 29 points on 10-16 shooting, and matching Curry from three-point range with 5-10 shooting from deep. His ten three-pointers are the most in NBA history for a player’s first two playoff games. Still, the most impressive part of Poole’s effort last night may have been his passing, as his eight assists included some absolute dimes, like this behind-the-back dish to Klay Thompson.
Later, Poole took on four out of the five Nuggets defenders on one play before hitting Nemanja Bjelica for an easy layup.
We should have known Jordan Poole had Splash Brother potential once we saw how difficult it was for him to grow a real beard. To become a baby-faced assassin, the smooth cheeks of a baby face are a necessary component. Poole’s worst victim was probably DeMarcus Cousins, who had to haplessly chase Jordan into and then out of the paint before watching him nail a three right over him. Boogie must have wished he’d been ejected again.
Jordan Poole just toying with DeMarcus Cousins pic.twitter.com/y6zMiYju0F— Action Network (@ActionNetworkHQ) April 19, 2022
The third member of the Warriors’ hot-shooting trio, Klay Thompson, said he had a “quiet 21,” because he shot only 9-19, with three triples. While he went 5-7 in the second on a lot of cuts to the basket and mid-range jumpers, Klay got his hottest in the third quarter. When Denver threatened to cut the lead to single digits, Thompson hit three straight jumpers, one off of a ridiculous save and touch pass from Otto Porter Junior.
Combined, the Golden State Killers (this nickname will not stick) scored 84 points on 31-52 shooting, including 13-28 from three-point range. That’s why Draymond Green called playing with this group a “passer’s paradise.” Dray also went out of his way to mention the fourth shooter, Andrew Wiggins, This group probably won’t be quite this unstoppable as the playoffs continue - the Nuggets have wing defenders who are either too short to guard Klay or too slow to guard Poole, or both, and no one can guard Steph Curry by themselves anyway. Unless they dive on his legs like Marcus Smart, currently launching himself at and under Kevin Durant’s legs in Boston.
Speaking of Smart, he won the Defensive Player of the Year award, which was supposedly going to light a fire under runner-up Rudy Gobert. He made some plays, but the Jazz once again blew a double-digit second half lead to lose to Dallas. Draymond Green isn’t getting a DPOY trophy this year, but he left no doubt who the NBA’s best defensive player was by stoning Jokic for a second straight game. While Joker got some offensive rebounds, especially early, Green made him work for everything, and frustrated him to the point that Jokic got two second-half technical fouls and an ejection.
Truly there’s no better defensive effort than literally taking your opponent out of the game. Just ask Marcus Smart! Jokic was mad about the non-call there, but it was really frustration from one possession earlier, when Draymond notched his 200th career steal in the playoffs by taking the ball away from the big man. Green also fired up the crowd relentlessly, particularly when he ran to midcourt and pointed out the Denver huddle fight as it was happening.
Jokic finished with 26 points and 11 rebounds, five of them on the offensive glass. It looked like things would be different early, as Jokic drew two fouls on Kevon Looney right away. 90 seconds into the game, he’d doubled his free throw attempts from Game One. But he couldn’t quite take advantage of Looney, who stayed in the game another three-and-a-half minutes, while Jokic only got one more bucket. The Joker got no help, but he also looked tired - five of his 11 rebounds came in the first 5:14 of the game, and he had six in his last 23 minutes. Sure, some of that was the Warriors simply not missing, but it’s a worrying sign going forward.
The presumptive MVP scored his 12th point of the quarter with just under three minutes left, and the Nuggets took a double-digit lead. Of course, that’s the Warriors signature move - go down double-digits in the first, then rally, then profits. What happened after that was quietly the start of the Nuggets meltdown. Gary Payton II blocked Jokic down low, which led to an Otto Porter three-ball. After a Denver timeout, GP2 slapped Jokic’s butt as he passed, absolutely enraging the big Serb, who had to be held back by Steph Curry.
It’s the most consequential slap since Chris Rock made a joke about a 25-year-old movie at the Oscars. Before the slap, Jokic was 4-6, with 12 points and six rebounds, +3 on plus/minus. The rest of the way? 5-14 for 14 points, five rebounds (in 17 minutes), three turnovers, four personal fouls, two technicals, -29. Maybe GP2 was showing his dad that you don’t need to talk trash, or talk at all, to get inside an opponent’s head.
More than anything, the Warriors neutralized Jokic’s passing. He averaged 7.9 assists per game in the regular season; he has ten total in the first two games. And when the Warriors go small, they’re getting enough deflections - and Andrew Wiggins is getting enough rebounds (17 in two games) - that the Nuggets can’t exploit the Joker’s massive size advantage. It could also be that he has no one to pass to: No Nugget scored more than 12 points besides Jokic. Aaron Gordon’s jumper looks like his finish from every All-Star Weekend dunk contest: Lost. Will Barton (12 points, 10 rebounds) showed more fight against his own teammates than he did against the Warriors’ offense, and Bones Hyland, pressed into duty when Monte Morris had early foul trouble, went for 12 points on four shots, but simply didn’t get the ball enough. Only Morris looked comfortable shooting, while Bryn Forbes and Austin Rivers combined for only two points before the final quarter.
The whole Nuggets team simply looked demoralized, and the frustration was obvious. Monte Morris got a technical for firing the ball off the stanchion after Klay Thompson got an easy layup. Jokic got his first T for slamming the ball down onto the court. Honestly, they probably could have avoided a technical had they simply caught the rebounding balls cleanly, but when the ball gets loose during a tantrum, the technical is automatic.
With Andre Iguodala out with neck spasms, Steve Kerr shortened his rotation to nine players. Those decisions are easier when one of the four reserves is Steph Curry. Once again, they held serve against Boogie Cousins and the Denver backups before the flamethrower Curry-Klay-Poole came in. Nemanja Bjelica had a great, smart scoring game, putting up ten points on 5-6 shooting, with all his buckets coming within six feet of the basket. All four backups played more minutes than Kevon Looney, which is shocking considering the giant-sized Jokic-Cousins combo Denver has at the pivot, but that’s why Draymond Green is so special. OPJ again didn’t shoot well but his passing, defense, and rebounding were huge. Coaches cleared their benches with about five minutes left, which seemed to mainly be an opportunity for Campazzo to hit people and try to get suspended again.
The first two games went about as well as can have been expected, but as they say, it’s not a series until the road team provokes the other team’s star into an ejection. It may be a different series when the Warriors have to play at altitude among the 5280 Relentless, but it’s more likely that the Warriors offense will suck all the oxygen out of the arena when their jumpers catch fire. Game Three is Thursday night.