To think, the legendary performance by Warriors point guard Stephen Curry on Sunday almost didn’t happen.
Before he went off for 22 points in the third quarter — powering the run that turned a close game into a 115-101 Warriors win over Denver in Game 4 — coach Mark Jackson considered shutting Curry down for the game. Still bothered by his sprained left ankle, Curry wasn’t looking too good early on.
MARK JACKSON: “It was almost like a boxer who knew he was on the ropes. I guess he realized and sensed it. He captured the moment. He embraced the moment. … It was almost like he had been waiting for this his entire career and he wasn’t going to allow his body to tell him it was too hurt to match the moment. It was an incredible, incredible performance by him.”
With a shooting display befitting of a video game, Curry led the Warriors on a 25-10 run to close the third quarter and turn a close game into a spectacle. His memorable display gave command of the series to the Warriors, who are now a win away from upsetting the No. 3 seed and advancing to the second round to take on No. 2 San Antonio.
STEPHEN CURRY: “I was just able to get good looks,” Curry said. “I felt a little warmer, body wise, in the third quarter and was able to get a rhythm.”
More on the Game 4 win…
As if totaling 31 points, 7 assists and 4 steals in 33 minutes wasn’t beasty enough. Stephen Curry had to put it on extra thick and embarrass the Nuggets with 19 points in less than four minutes. He completely took over the game, in a way you just don’t see. His 22 points in the fourth quarter came with ridiculous 3-pointers and improbably finishes on drives to the baskets, and a pull-up mid-range jumper mixed in.
ANDRE MILLER: “I didn’t think that happened in the playoffs, but it did. Curry got into a rhythm and it was pretty much a wrap after that.”
After Curry’s ridiculous 3-pointer, the one where he pulled up in transition with little control of the ball and drilled it, Curry went nuts running around the court looking for someone to celebrate with. If you look at the replay, Curry goes to high-five Jarrett Jack, but Jack backs off with his hands in the air like Curry had Ebola on his palms.
JACK: “I was like, ‘I ain’t high-fiving you maaaan. That’s crazy. You need to quit.’ “
MDP: Harrison Barnes
He got a way with a bit of a stinker in Game 4. He played 30 minutes and had just 4 rebounds with 2 turnovers. On top of that, he was just 2 for 9 shooting to finish with four points. It has been very clear since Lee went down how pivotal he is to the Warriors’ success. Heading into Denver, they can’t afford an off night from him.
TELLING STAT: The Warriors’ shot 55.7 percent from the field in Game 4. They were 44 of 79 from the field and 11 of 26 from 3-point range. That means Golden State was 33 of 53 from 2-point range (62.3 percent).
In the playoffs, the Warriors are averaging 112.8 points, tops by more than four points over Oklahoma City. Golden State’s true shooting percentage is 61.7 percent, well ahead of No. 2 Miami Heat (58.3) in that category.
These boys are shooting the heck out of the ball.
THAT ONE HURT: Denver has been a very hands on team. Lots of swiping, holding and checking. In the fourth quarter of Game 4, Nuggets swingman Corey Brewer reached in to knock a rebound away from Curry and inadvertently poked Curry in the eye.
Curry said he couldn’t open his eye for a couple minutes. His right eye was blood shot red from being scratched and he had swelling and discoloration under his right eye. He did return to the game and said he could’ve played the rest of the way if needed. But he definitely has a war wound now.
NEED MORE FROM: Klay Thompson. He got better in Game 4 after disappearing in Game 3. But they still need him to do more. He had 13 points on 5 of 12 shooting. He did have five assists, but he missed some shots he normally makes. The Warriors need him to find his rhythm again.
The Warriors are 22-10, including playoffs, when he Thompson scores at least 20 points.
COACHES CORNER: Mark Jackson is taking George Karl to school. Yeah, you predicted that would happen. Four games into the series, the Hall of Fame coach would be searching for answers and the playoff rookie coach would be shaping the series. You called it.
Denver threw a wrinkle in Game 3 by trapping the Warriors guards aggressively when they cross halfcourt. It helped force 23 turnovers in Game 3 but the Warriors survived. By Game 4, Jackson had an answer. Bogut was stationed in the middle (anyone who’s played organized basketball knows you break a press with passing and you always want a guy in the middle as the outlet). So the Warriors guards got it to Bogut in the middle, and he hurt the Nuggets defense.
Bogut matched his career playoff high with 12 points. He made 6 of 9 shots. Most of that came in the first quarter when he had 8 points on 4 of 6 shooting. He took advantage of the space and open court by attacking the Nuggets interior, including a thunderous dunk over JaVale McGee — who was there, saw him coming, got sized up by Bogut and dunked on.
Bogut stared him down afterwards. If only the sound guy at Oracle had 2Pac ready: “Revenge is like the sweetest joy ….”
MARK JACKSON: “I’m sure when he went up to dunk on McGee, he remembered when McGee dunked on him.”
With that game plan thwarted, the Nuggets backed off the press and focused on protecting the paint. They even had to play centers McGee and Kosta Koufos more, both of whom have been rendered ineffective.
That freed up the guards. Curry wound up with one-on-one coverage in the second half, and the help (if there was any) was usually a slow-footed center. That was a HUGE mistake.
I mentioned the Warriors’ offensive production and efficiency earlier. This has proven to be a big problem for the Nuggets. The Warriors’ small, high-scoring offense is forcing Denver to sacrifice defense for offense. They have to play Ty Lawson and Andre Miller, both of whom are liabilities on defense. They are also playing without a center, but Faried and Chandler aren’t producing enough offense, nor are they factors on defense (like Bogut is for the Warriors).
With Miller and Lawson on the floor, Jackson is having Jarrett Jack go at whichever is guarding him. Since most of the time Curry is receiving extra attention, Jack is left to go one-on-one and he is torching them. He’s averaging 20 points on 62 percent shooting with 8.3 assists in the series. His 39.8 minutes is even more than Curry.
The Nuggets haven’t been able to counter Jack. If they pay too much attention to him, they’ve been burned by Curry and Klay Thompson.
FARIED: “We need to throw everything out of the playbook, because right now the game plan is not working. … It just looks bad out there.”
Not only are the Nuggets having to play Miller despite his defensive woes. But Jackson has limited Miller’s impact with rookie Draymond Green. I don’t know what Jackson said to Draymond, but his confidence seems to have gone up since Miller scored the last basket on him.
Since then, he’s hitting open shots, he’s grabbing clutch rebounds. He’s active and hype on defense. Usually a moment like that, giving up the game-winning bucket, is something that hurts a player’s confidence. It seems to have fueled Green, and Jackson has given him the opportunity for redemption.
WHAT HE SAID: “Our confidence level and our mindset is the same exact level it has been. That is a heck of a basketball team on the other side. They’re the No. 3 seed for a reason. They are an extremely well-coached team. They have a lot of weapons, a lot of depth and a lot of versatility. By no means is this series over. It’s going t take the type of energy and effort that we put forth thus far to close this thing out..” — Warriors coach Mark Jackson
FOR NEXT GAME: The Nuggets have to do something about Stephen Curry and Denver’s best defender, Andre Iguodala, said he wants to defend Curry. He’s 6-foot-8, athletic and savvy on defense. He could give the Warriors problems. But him defending Curry is good news for the Warriors. That means at least two other match-ups that favor the Warriors elsewhere, Ty Lawson will either be guarding Jarrett Jack or Klay Thompson, neither of which has been good news for Denver. That means Harrison Barnes could get more open looks since Wilson Chandler would likely be the help.
If the other players are making shots, it could be a long night for Denver.
SEE, WHAT HAD HAPPENED WAS: Kenneth Faried after the game did to wall in the visiting locker room what he couldn’t do to the Warriors — impose his will.
Frustrated with the loss and the Nuggets 3-1 series hole, Faried kicked a hole in the wall. He now joins Dirk Nowitzki as frustrated members of a visiting team who clearly didn’t leave it all on the court.
SERIOUSLY?!: Draymond Green is shooting 3-pointers at a higher clip in this series than Stephen Curry. For real. Green has made 4 of his 8 3-pointers, all the last three games. That has to drive Denver nuts considering Green shot 20.9 percent from 3-point range.