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Warriors steal Game 3 from Denver late, 118-113

Nikola Jokic had a huge game for the Nuggets, but Draymond Green had an even bigger steal to seal it. Oh, and the Warriors guards combined for 80 points.

2022 NBA Playoffs - Golden State Warriors v Denver Nuggets
Warriors celebrate after surviving the Joker’s vicious attack.
Photo by Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images

Naming the Golden State Warriors new lineup has become its own industry recently, but there was a common thread in names like “PTSD,” “Death Poole,” and “3G” - they all ignored Andrew Wiggins. But late in Game Three, Maple Jordan became much more than an after-thought, delivering three huge plays in quick succession that helped give the Dubs a hard-fought 118-113 victory over the Nuggets, and a 3-0 series lead. After Nikola Jokic layup - his 37th point of the night - gave Denver a two-point lead, Wiggins hit a huge corner three to re-take the lead. On the other end of the floor, he switched onto Jokic and forced him into a missed shot. Then Wiggins, playing power forward at a weight of 204 pounds, stole a rebound away from three other Nuggets, setting up a back-breaking Jordan Poole layup.

Since we’re nicknaming everything these days, that rebound should be heretofore known as “Boards Of Canada.” Note that even though Wiggins ended up stumbling to the three-point line after his big play, he was right there crashing the boards again had the acrobatic Poole shot rimmed out. The Warriors had a three-point lead they’d never relinquish, and thanks to some stifling defense down the stretch, the Nuggets would score only two more points. First the Dubs forced them into a shot clock violation. Then Steph Curry drew a charge on the resurgent Aaron Gordon, and on the next possession, Klay Thompson not only guarded Jokic down low, he boxed him out and denied him the offensive rebound on Will Barton’s missed three.

After Curry zoomed past Jokic for a layup - thanks to Wiggins expertly screening Gordon away - the Dubs had one more moment of defensive brilliance left, with the game-icing play going on the extensive list of Draymond Green defensive highlights. Jokic tried to back Draymond down, but when he took his third dribble, Dray pounced, poking the ball away with his left arm and securing the loose ball, as Kevin Harlan screamed “Green stole the ball!”

Even though Poole and Curry each uncharacteristically missed a free throw down the stretch (“That was weird” - Klay Thompson), that was enough to hold back Denver, especially when Andre Iguodala blocked Will Barton’s three-pointer in the final seconds. On a night where the Nuggets shot 50% from the field and got 11 offensive boards, the Warriors ultimately iced it with defense and rebounding.

Jokic had a huge night, scoring 37 points, with 18 rebounds and five assists. While Draymond self-deprecatingly admitted Jokic “got the better of me,” there were two big differences with the Joker in Game Three. First, he shot 2-3 from behind the arc, after going 0-8 from three-point range in the first two games (and 0-8 in the last regular season battle with the Dubs). It opened up a lot more space for the other Nuggets, especially Gordon, who had 18 points and six offensive rebounds, doing most of his damage right at the rim. Mike Malone’s adjustments also got Jokic the ball on the move much more often, and it’s a lot tougher to stop a bear-sized Serbian wizard when he’s got momentum on his side.

The Warriors still weren’t respecting Gordon’s jumper, even though he hit his one three-point attempt. He took advantage by cutting to the rim and crashing the boards hard, and his 7-13 line would look even more impressive if it weren’t for a Charles Smith-esque early sequence where he got three layups denied in three seconds. Gordon got going in part because, right away, he got to do his favorite thing: Do an amazing dunk early, and eventually lose.

For the Warriors, they primarily split the scoring among their guards. Klay Thompson made 6 of 13 shots from long-range on his way to 26 points, a stunning accomplishment for Klay just one day after the 4/20 holiday, in a state that decriminalized marijuana. He kept the team afloat in a third quarter where they had more trouble scoring than A.C. Green at a True Love Waits convention, scoring eight of the team’s 18 points. Four of Klay’s threes came after halftime, as he passed Ray Allen to take third place on the all-time playoff three-pointers list. He also proved that it doesn’t matter how closely he’s guarded - if he catches the ball behind the arc, he’s open.

Klay also can’t be contained during the post-game, crashing into Jordan Poole’s interview while shouting “Poole Party! Poole Party!”

Part of the third quarter struggles came because Jordan Poole went to the bench with a scary-looking elbow injury after Will Barton hooked his arm before a drive, and was fitted with a strange warming device. After the game, Poole insisted it was ”nothing.” With visions of Damion Lee dancing in fans’ heads, Poole returned to the game five minutes later. Poole’s shooting remained wildly efficient, scoring 27 points on 13 shots (and 16 shooting possessions). He turned the ball over three times, but countered that with three assists, a steal, a block, and his usual variety pack of dribble moves.

Draymond also turned his ankle and limped around for a minute, but after a timeout, he stayed in the game. Perhaps we shouldn’t get too worried about injuries if and until they face the Celtics and Assassin of Ligaments, Marcus Smart. Andre Iguodala showed no lingering signs of injury after missing Game Two with neck spasms, and played eight strong minutes in the tense fourth quarter, punctuated by a dunk where he “dropped the sledgehammer” in a way no other 38-year-old in the league can or should attempt.

On a personal note, my mom texted me to tell me it was “the sexiest dunk I’ve ever seen.” Take a cold shower, Mom!

Of course, the Warriors also had the benefit of the greatest 6th man in NBA playoff history, Wardell “Steph” Curry. He had 27 points in just under 31 minutes, taking full advantage of his extended minutes limit. It’s a good thing Kerr elevated the limit, because they needed him in the fourth, both for his skills and because he provided one of the most meme-able reactions of the year after scoring on Jokic.

Curry was especially good in the second quarter, when he and Poole combined for 16 points and only missed one shot. Not coincidentally, Draymond Green had five assists in the quarter. Gary Payton II made both of his threes (he was 4-4 with 11 points for the game), and as a team, the Warriors shot a scorching 77% from the field. The only reason they scored only 35 points is that they also had seven turnovers, the traditional Dubs method of sloppily endangering a playoff win.

Still, it felt like the Warriors scoring avalanche was imminent, but clearly Denver coach Michael Malone gave a halftime speech worthy of Dillon Panthers East Dillon Lions Coach Tim Taylor, because the Nuggets came out firing. Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t miss, especially from within six feet of the hoop, where Denver got six buckets. Jokic and Gordon couldn’t miss, combining to shoot 7-7. Jokic had as many assists (3) as the entire Warriors team in the third, and he had twice as many rebounds (8 to 4). The Warriors lost the quarter 30-18 and it would have been worse without Klay’s shooting and Curry and Poole drawing fouls. Aside from those three players, Golden State got exactly one point, from Draymond splitting a pair of free throws.

Though he is still ice-cold from three-point range (2-20 in his last six games), Otto Porter Jr. has been great at everything else off the bench, getting two steals and three assists on his way to a team-high +16 plus-minus in his 22 minutes. We’d call him the Dubs’ most valuable reserve, but you know, Steph Curry. His shot doesn’t look that bad though, and if he can become Otto Corner Junior again, this offense could go up to another level. Nemanja Bjelica had just two points in his 12 minutes, but he dished out two assists, played passable defense on Denver’s bigs, and blocked a shot, while avoiding his biggest weakness, turnovers.

It’s been a tough series for the Ground Bound Mound of Rebound, Kevon Looney, whose main role seems to be eating Jokic fouls early in the first and third quarters, so Draymond doesn’t have to. He fouled Jokic four times in his nine minutes of play, but to his credit, all of them happened on the floor, so the result of all the whistles was still zero free throws for Jokic. It’s an impossible matchup for Looney, but it’s also so much easier for the Dubs if Draymond only has to guard Jokic for 25 minutes instead of 35, and the difference between Draymond lasting the whole game with five fouls instead of getting kicked out in the final minutes.

After the game, Malone said he was proud of how much his team had battled, though he acknowledged that there were “no moral victories” in the playoffs. Meanwhile, Steph Curry broke out the thesaurus when explaining that the Warriors didn’t want to be too “demonstrative” or “exclamatory,” and then conducted an impromptu spelling bee.

The Nuggets will try to stay alive in the series when Game Four tips off Sunday afternoon. Expect another furious effort from Denver’s bigs, while Mark Jackson subtly throws shade at Steve Kerr on the ABC telecast, Mike Breen yells “Bang!” a lot, and Jeff Van Gundy tells a meandering story about a disappointing sandwich he ate back in 2004.