The Golden State Warriors have succeeded where others have failed for the most part. The Splash Brothers have been making it rain in their first ever playoff appearance and Mark Jackson looks better for it.
Entering Game 2 of their first round matchup with the Denver Nuggets, George Karl’s group had won 39-of-42 home games including the postseason. The Dubs came close in Game 1 but a series of mistakes cost them an opportunity at victory.
Instead they “settled” for a win in the second contest.
As unlikely as this sounds, the Warriors nearly won back-to-back games in a venue where most teams simply cannot hang. Several factors have given Golden State an opportunity to compete with the Nuggets.
Jarrett Jack’s production so far in the 2013 playoffs has been on par with Steve Francis during his days with the Houston Rockets. He’s been scoring the ball, rebounding in traffic, running the offense and findings his teammates whenever they’ve shaken free.
Andrew Bogut has been a defensive monster. His rebounding and rim protection have consistently stymied the Nuggets and forced them to practically pay a toll every time they’ve ventured inside the paint.
Harrison Barnes was mostly invisible in Game 1 and victimized repeatedly by Andre Miller. But in his second ever playoff game, the rookie took no prisoners. As a small-ball power forward playing with wide driving lanes, he made his presence felt with multiple drives, jumpers and long-range shots.
The Warriors are not in this series without the contributions of these players.
Mark Jackson knows this all too well. But the Dubs’ head coach also knows his team wouldn’t be in this situation without his starting backcourt.
The guard tandem done messed up the game for the Nuggets.
Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson have effectively turned George Karl into Homer Simpson: pulling out whatever hair he has left.
Curry struggled in the opening playoff game and converted a mere 7-of-20 shots from the field. Game 2 saw a different player come out on the floor. His confidence never wavered, but his swagger and intimidation levels were certainly raised a few notches.
In the second game in Denver, Curry was simply defiant. He refused to be caged up by any form of defense. He aggressively attacked the Nuggets’ blitzing pick-and-roll defense by making jumpers over the outstretched arms of the Denver big men.
When the opposition switched on screens and sent Kenneth Faried, Andre Iguodala or Wilson Chandler at him, he never blinked. He stared them down and created enough air space with his ball fakes to rain jumpers.
The Warriors’ leading scorer finished Game 2 with 30 points and 13 assists on 13-for-23 shooting from the field. With his feathery jumper drawing nothing but net, George Karl ordered his troops to run him off the 3-point line.
Steph obliged by driving past defenders and sharing the ball with the open man, or setting up the initial action that led to the pass that eventually created an assist for a teammate.
Klay Thompson benefitted from this by catching a couple of passes for open looks. Whether it was Curry or Jack feeding him, Thompson simply could not miss. There were even instances where teammates grabbed offensive rebounds and threw the ball out to him and he connected.
In the first two playoff games of his career, Thompson is pouring in 21.5 points per game on 60 percent shooting from the field. Unlike the regular season, the Dubs’ shooting guard has been incredibly patient with the ball.
Instead of forcing up shots, he’s waited for optimal opportunities to put the rock up and the end result is a field goal percentage suited for a Hall of Fame center.
Given that shooters are prone to off nights, conventional wisdom suggests that Thompson might be due for a clunker at some point in time. Although that possibility exists, the Warriors have a few things going for them on this front.
David Lee is sidelined for the remainder of the postseason and consequently Harrison Barnes is now playing the role of stretch-four. The Dubs aren’t better because of this, but it presents them with an interesting set of matchups.
Kenneth Faried missed Game 1 and played some ineffective minutes in Game 2. Consequently, George Karl hasn’t been shy about using a small lineup with Wilson Chandler at power forward.
Because of the diminutive units, Denver has sent their players into the paint for defensive purposes. Hence, when Barnes put the ball on the deck in Game 2, he was afforded some great driving lanes, which allowed him to finish at the basket.
This created situations where defenders had to temporarily abandon Thompson and well, he made them pay.
This specific scenario might repeat itself unless Faried regains his form. And even then, there’s no guarantee that a healthy Manimal will be able to snuff out drives without the benefit of help from his teammates.
Also, one has to assume Karl will once again unleash his trapping defense against the Warriors, a strategy he shied from using in the middle of the floor in Game 2.
Many are quick to argue that Golden State can’t reproduce the shooting night they had in the second game in Denver and there may be something to that.
But would you bet against the best shooting team in the NBA when it’s consistently getting open shots?
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