Golden State was on the verge of stealing Game 1, despite a subpar performance from Stephen Curry and an injury to David Lee. But Miller broke their hearts with a driving layup with 1.2 seconds left, handing the Warriors a 97-95 defeat, souring an otherwise gutsy performance.
JARRETT JACK: “We’re not into moral victories. In a simple phrase, we played good enough to lose.”
The Warriors’ defense contained speedy Denver point guard Ty Lawson and silenced forward Andre Iguodala, holding the Nuggets 11 points below their average. But Golden State couldn’t come up with an answer for Miller. He scored 18 of Denver’s 26 fourth-quarter points and finished with a game-high 28, taking advantage of the one-on-one defense he faced.
It was a dramatic end and a riveting start to a series most expect to be highly entertaining. The Warriors, even with the loss, head into Game 2 on Tuesday with plenty reasons to be confident.
“I thought we did some things very well,” coach Mark Jackson said. “What I told my team was that nobody came in here thinking that we were going to sweep the Denver Nuggets. You have tow in four games to advance and you can’t act like it’s over. So take the blow and be ready to make adjustments and respond.”
More on the Game 1 loss …
WRITERS RANT: I know it stings. I know. Victory was right there and that was a great opportunity to steal Game 1. But calm down, Warriors fans. There is a such thing as a good loss in a seven-game series. You’ve got to look at this like a mini-season.
Obviously, it’s better for the Warriors two in that game. But think about it. How much better is that loss for the rest of the series than what could have happened? If the Warriors had any doubts they could win this series, it’s gone.
All the pressure is on the Nuggets in Game 2 (yes, going down 0-2 is usually a done deal), but Denver looks vulnerable and beatable. At home. Their heir of invincibility at the Pepsi Center if cracked, if not in the Nuggets locker room, definitely in the Warriors’ locker room. They walk away feeling like if Lee doesn’t get hurt, they win that game. And they still could’ve won without him. That matters for Game 2, for Game 5, for Game 7 if it gets that far. Confidence is everything with a young team on their first playoff go-round.
Even if the Warriors take a game in Denver, the series isn’t over. That’s why how they lose is relevant. Having that feeling of being right there, knowing they controlled the game, believing they’re a few adjustments away … that matters. And with Lee out, possibly for the series, that mental boost means even more.
Denver is going to be a tough out. It’s important Golden State is convinced it can beat Denver. Not just for Game 2, but the two games at Oracle as well. That’s the take-away. It’s not all bad the Warriors lost.
MVP: Andrew Bogut
He was a big question mark coming into this series. Not only because of his ankle, but because the pace figured to negate his impact. But despite being slow and plodding, Bogut was a factor. He was a difference maker. He had four blocks, 14 rebounds (a career-playoff high) and even gave the Warriors some fourth-quarter offense. He had a couple of bad moments. He’s No. 1 on SportsCenter’s Top Plays as the victim of a JaVale McGee dunk. He had a critical turnover late and his poor rotation opened the door for Miller’s game-winning layup. But Golden State is not even in the game if not for Bogut.
MDP: Stephen Curry
He was doing well against the Nuggets gameplan. He took two shots in the first quarter. He moved the ball, made the defense work. Wound up with eight second-half assists. But he seemed to get a little restless, frustrated by the constant contact, and was looking to make something happen. That resulted in finding a rhythm on offense, finishing with 19 points on 7 of 20 shooting after missing his first nine shots. But his five turnovers hurt. Two especially: one at the end of the second and one in the final minute. He’s got to take care of the ball, he’s got to be patient and he’s got to draw some fouls instead of expecting them.
TELLING STAT: The Warriors outrebounded the Nuggets 55-45. Golden State held Denver to 7 offensive rebounds and five second-chance points. Part of that was because Kenneth Faried was not there. But it was primarily because the Warriors’ were diligent about boxing out and closing out the possession. Wilson Chandler and Andre Iguodala had a quickness advantage, so they gobbled up a lot of long rebounds (22 combined defensive rebounds). But Bogut and Lee combined for 28 rebounds, despite Lee missing all but a few seconds of the fourth quarter.
THAT ONE HURT: After Thompson got a piece of Andre Miller’s pull-up, Golden State had the ball with 50 seconds left. They had two chances to take the lead and change the tenor of the game. Both opportunities were squandered.
First, Curry ended up with the ball and hit Thompson running down the left side. He had one player to beat, Nuggets point guard Ty Lawson, who his about 8 inches shorter than Klay. He missed it.
THOMPSON: “I will probably practice 50 layups (Sunday) from that left wing.”
But Jarrett Jack hustled down the rebound. The Warriors had the ball back with 44.5 seconds left.
After a timeout, they got to ball to Curry on the left wing out by the three point line. He was guarded by Lawson, but the Nuggets switched on the screen and Chandler ended up on him (more on that later). Curry, who had been facing traps all day, inexplicably settled with his back to the court and the defense. He didn’t see Lawson creeping up behind him. He didn’t see Draymond Green wide open under the basket, doing jumping jacks trying to get Curry’s attention. Lawson stripped Curry from behind and turned into a layup.
If the Warriors come away with a bucket on that possession, they take the lead in the final minute. That changes things drastically. The pressure would have been on Denver to score or lose.
NEED MORE FROM: Harrison Barnes. He played 28 minutes and had just two rebounds and four shots. He was not aggressive. Three of those four shots were jumpers, all of which he made, and the other a runner in the lane.
Granted, he sat for a long spell in the second quarter, which probably got him out of rhythm. But he can’t let that be the reason. He knows the deal. He got nothing at the rim, no post-ups, no offensive rebounds, no slashing layups, no lobs. They need his athleticism and his high-percentage offense, especially during their seemingly inevitable jump-shooting droughts.
COACHES CORNER: Once again, Jackson had his guys ready to play. On the biggest stage they’ve been on this season, with many guys who’d never been there before, Golden State was game. Against a better, deeper team, on their homecourt. No one would have been shocked if the Warriors had gotten blown out of the water in the first game, since they are new to this and Denver is a tough place to play. But Jackson played the underdog card well and had his team out there with some swag.
JACKSON: “If I were picking, I’d pick them. They have the advantage at coach, too.”
Plus, the Warriors had a good game plan. They got back on defense. They were conservative with the ball early, preventing turnovers. And they were physical with one-on-one defense, making the Nuggets players feel a presence.
Unfortunately for the Warriors, getting your team ready to play is only 50 percent of it. And having a good game plan is only another 20. About 10 percent is the breaks. But another 20 percent is in-game adjustments. In that area, Jackson got the better of Karl.
This hasn’t really been Jackson’s strength all year. The Warriors’ coaching staff prepare thoroughly and create a game plan with multiple options. And they stick to that. But sometimes, especially in the playoffs, you’ve got to be creative on the fly.
For example, once he saw Miller was the only player who had it going, Karl turned the offensive completely over to Miller. After the TV timeout with 5:56 left, the Nuggets had 13 possessions the rest of the way, three of them were fast-breaks. So over the final stretch, they had 10 set pieces. On eight of those, they got the ball to Miller and let him work. Who would’ve thought Andre Miller would be the horse they ride down the stretch? In-game adjustments.
Jackson’s responding adjustment came late and fell miserably short. Miller was torching Jack. It wasn’t until AFTER he hit a pull-up from nine feet out, giving him 16 points in the quarter, that Jackson made the switch and put Green on him.
Then with 14.5 seconds left, Jackson left his rookie all alone on a guy who can get where he wants on anyone. And Jackson, who calls Miller the most underrated point guard in history, knows this.
GREEN: “I’ve got to stay in front of him. … He’s been doing it for years. But at the end of the day, you want to get that stop. You don’t want all that work to go down the drain with one shot. You’ve got to do whatever you can to come up with that stop. I didn’t do that.”
Green is a good defender. But he doesn’t have the lateral foot speed to stop a guard from penetrating, especially when he can’t his size and be physical (which he couldn’t do because the Warriors didn’t want to foul). To compound it, he’s way out past the 3-point line. Miller wasn’t going to pull up for three and one hitch had Green beat at the free throw line. If Green started his defense at about the 18-foot range, Miller has less room to slither past him.
It was a bad idea, or at least the most unlikely of three. Why not put your best perimeter defender, Klay Thompson, on him? He’d helped hold Ty Lawson to 5 of 16 shooting. But on the most critical defensive possession of the game, he was on Andre Iguodala, who was 2-for-4. (Curry was on Lawson, and there was no switching, because Denver ran a clear out). Klay had five fouls. But if he gets his sixth, there is no overtime anyway, so what does it matter.
But what Jackson should have done is exactly what the Nuggets were doing to Curry. Once Miller got hot, run a second defender at him. Miller dribbled away nine seconds. Plenty of time to orchestrate a quick trap. He wasn’t looking to pass, so take the ball out of his hands and make another player beat you. The other Nuggets on the floor — Lawson, Chandler, Iguodala, McGee — were a combined 17 of 39 from the field (43.6 percent). Throw in the pressure of the final seconds, and that percentage drops.
It’s not all on Jackson. An individual could have taken charge and made something happen, like Lawson did on the other end moments earlier. Klay Thompson was in the vicinity, but instead of collapsing and cutting off the lane, he hugged back out to Iguodala near the 3-point line. Iggy was 2 of 4 and missed his only 3. Bogut was so late rotating over, so worried about the lob to McGee. That help should have been ready and eager. You WANT Miller to give the ball up. You especially want him to give it up to McGee, who was outside the key when Miller made his move.
BOGUT: “I came over but Andre went under. He’s such a smart player. As I saw him start coming left, I was about to step up and then he Euro-stepped and just went under to the other side of the basket. The only way I would’ve got it was to go through the basket. Smart play by him. He took me out of the play.”
The end of close games in the playoffs are magnified because, really, that’s what it’s all about. But Jackson did a good job of getting Curry good looks despite the pressure. They mixed up where and how they got him the ball. And when Thompson was feeling it, and had Lawson on him, Jackson milked that like he should have.
One adjustment he needs to make in Game 2 is iso Curry more against Lawson. The Nuggets are starting with Lawson and trapping on pick-and-rolls. So in essence, the Warriors are bringing the double-team to Curry. If they iso, and Curry can get his shot against Lawson, it forces the Nuggets to either leave him one-on-one or bring a double Curry can see coming. That’s what was happening in the first half and Curry got 8 assists out of it. I understand the screens against a Brewer or a Iguodala. But let Curry take Lawson, and don’t be deterred by a stop or two. Make him play defense. Don’t let him hide. And don’t help him by bringing the screen that allows him to switch.
WHAT HE SAID: “We can dwell on it for a couple hours tonight. It’s tough, especially when you feel like you deserved to win the game. But the great thing is this is a long series. We know we can compete with this team every night. We know we can win against this team every night. We did a lot of good things, but we’ve got to clean up a lot of things. … We’ve got to sharpen up some things the next two days and come out on Tuesday and forget about this.” — Warriors PG Klay Thompson
FOR NEXT GAME: Curry needs to learn when and how to sell fouls. There was contact on that play. It shouldn’t have been called, but if Curry feels and goes down, it puts the refs in a tough spot. He endured a lot of contact in Game 1 and only had one free throw to show for it, and that came on a defensive three seconds penalty.
SEE, WHAT HAD HAPPENED WAS: With Andre Igudala trying to make something happen, McGee was outside the paint on the left baseline. Iguodala couldn’t penetrate, and Bogut was watching keenly in the middle, so he re-set and pulled it back out a bit. That’s when McGee flashed across the paint. Bogut didn’t see him right away and, already slower, tried to recover. But McGee took the pass from Iguodala and was already in the air with bad intentions. Bogut tried to block it, which made the thunderous right-hand slam look worse.
Bogut said in the past he would get dunked on. Just part of being a shot-blocker. He was so right. Because he got BANGED on so hard, it was No. 1 on SportsCenter top plays.