By: J.R. Smooth
No five topics for this week’s edition. No in-depth statistical analysis, either. Appreciation for both teams in the Golden State-Denver series is all I have.
Golden State is a legitimately great team. Stephen Curry is a budding superstar in the NBA. Mark Jackson is a coaching marvel. His squad has very few weaknesses. They have one of the best shooting backcourts in NBA history in Klay Thompson and Steph Curry. They have one of the better big men in the league in Andrew Bogut. Carl Landry and Jarrett Jack – two players who could be starting for a lot of teams – form one of the best bench units in the Association. Warriors’ General Manager Bob Myers and owner Joe Lacob have built a fantastic roster – one the city of Oakland should be proud of. They play the right way. They share the ball. They execute in the half court. And they defend well. It doesn’t hurt that they also have one of the loudest, best fan bases in all of sports.
Denver has been outclassed, outcoached, and out-executed (if that’s even a word). But they have not – I repeat not – been outworked. Every single player that’s earned minutes in this series for the Nuggets has played as hard as they are conceivably able. Ty Lawson, Andre Iguodala, Kenneth Faried, Kosta Koufos, JaVale McGee, Wilson Chandler, Corey Brewer, Anthony Randolph, Andre Miller, and Evan Fournier have all earned their paychecks. None of them take a possession off. Not a single one sulks about playing time, touches, or (to a fault) needing to sit due to injury. Each and every single player goes until the final buzzer – including starters Iguodala and Lawson, who were still playing when games two and four were clearly out-of-reach.
Likewise, every single member of Denver’s coaching staff has worked their fingers to the bone in drawing out every ounce of potential existing within their players. There is not a single staff in the NBA I see more involved than Denver’s. They are that way because their roster requires it.
The city of Denver should similarly be proud of them and how hard they’ve all worked since the beginning of preseason last October, through their murderous early season road schedule, and the magical franchise-best 15-game winning streak. However this series pans out, it should in no way diminish the incredible run they put together. A team-record 57 wins is nothing to sneeze at. It’s just not. They were worthy of their third-seeding just as much as they were of the adulation and heavy favoritism that goes with it.
However, as I elucidated in this space four weeks ago, Golden State was a terrible matchup for Denver. The Nuggets would have been better suited playing Oklahoma City, San Antonio, Memphis, Houston, and all of Los Angeles before the Warriors. The best shooting team in the league going up against the worst at defending said perimeter-shooting spells trouble, no matter how you slice it. Kosta Koufos’ sudden regression killed any and all hopes Denver had of competing. People trying to scapegoat a head coach who tried literally everything he had at his disposal should reassess the situation. Has George Karl been outcoached? Yes. But is it to such an extent that his job should be on the line for it? No. The man has won too many games (including a Nuggets’ franchise-record 57 wins this season) for a brutal matchup to cost him his job. That argument – and what Denver should do once this season commences – is for another day.
The playoffs have a tendency to highlight flaws that often go unnoticed during the nightly slog of the regular season. This Nuggets’ roster is a corollary for said regular season, where stat sheet stuffers rue the day. But when the playoff lights turn on, and the heat gets turned up, Denver’s roster deficiencies grow louder and louder. That’s not really a George Karl problem.
While the Nuggets may have the higher seed, the Warriors are clearly the better team. Golden State is proving to be far better than their regular season record indicates, as Andrew Bogut’s utter dominance can attest. They are shooting a blistering percentage from everywhere on the floor. Their team true shooting (61.7%) and effective field goal percentages (59.2%) are a playoff-high to this point, as no one comes particularly close in either category. They’re beating Denver at the Nuggets’ own game – rebounding and second-chance points – while also thoroughly whipping Denver at what they do best, shooting the basketball. It’s been a perfect storm for Golden State. We’ll see how the Nuggets respond in game five.