What Can We Learn From the Warriors’ Series Win Over the Nuggets?

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The Golden State Warriors’ series win against the Denver Nuggets is official. The 4-1 margin of victory was just one game off of our series prediction. Stephen Curry returned from a sprained foot and looked every bit a two-time MVP in the Warriors’ series win. He teamed with Draymond Green, Jordan Poole, Klay Thompson, and Andrew Wiggins to form an unguardable lineup the world cannot wait to name. The Warriors’ series win featured the kind of casual dominance that defined their dynastic run from 2015 to 2019.

The Nuggets were the perfect foil for the Warriors in many ways, despite the presence of last season’s MVP. The Nuggets don’t have any perimeter player taller than spindly Will Barton at 6’6”; that lack of length hindered Denver’s ability to contest shots. Nikola Jokic has improved defensively, but his slow feet require him to defend the pick and roll in drop coverage. Jokic could only look on with leaden legs planted to the free-throw line as Green or Kevon Looney set a screen for Curry or Poole. The guards were then free to fire open threes after their primary defender ran into a brick wall. If their defenders contested, the guards would slash to the rim and loft a layup or make a kick-out pass to an open three-point shooter. 

There were few options available to Denver to stop Curry and Poole in the Warriors’ series win, to be sure. They are guaranteed to face tougher defenses going forward, including in the next round. They’ll have to guard much more threatening perimeter players as well. What can we learn from the Warriors’ series win?

What Can We Learn From the Warriors’ Series Win Over the Nuggets?

Stephen Curry is back

Nothing matters more to the Warriors’ playoff chances (and their opponents) than the health of Green and Curry. With that in mind, Warriors fans should be happy with how dominant Curry has looked in the first round. Curry last played on March 16th, exactly one month before Game 1 of the series against Denver. I mentioned above how Curry was able to generate easy looks for themselves and others during the Warriors’ series win. Curry is capitalizing en route to 28 points per game on 50% shooting, including 40.4% from three. 

Curry looked sensational in his return from injury, draining high-arching threes and slashing to the basket against Nuggets defenders. He hasn’t had to rely on the off-ball movement and relocation spot-up threes, either. Curry slayed Denver with the ball in his hands, to the satisfaction of Warriors fans everywhere. He dragged Jokic and Cousins as far out from the basket as they could venture, and rained fire on Denver.

Curry and Poole will face better defenses going forward. Minnesota’s Patrick Beverley relishes any opportunity to guard former roommate Curry, and Anthony Edwards’ improved defensive effort is a big reason why Minnesota has beaten Memphis twice. Memphis boasts the burly duo of Desmond Bane and irritant Dillon Brooks, with ballhawks De’Anthony Melton and John Konchar coming off the bench. Still, Curry’s combination of quick-trigger threes, sensational drives to the rim, and dizzying off-ball movement will prove extraordinarily challenging. He may be the most aesthetically pleasing player in the NBA, and fans are lucky to see him fully healthy in the playoffs.

Draymond Green is healthy

Green was, by his own admission, “playing terrible” in his first few games after returning from an injured calf and back. You would not know it by judging his defense in the Warriors’ series win. He is playing to his Defensive Player of the Year potential. Considering he was the most destructive defensive force in the playoffs numerous times during the Warriors’ dynastic run, it’s quite a statement. Green has demonstrated his unique defense with his masterful work defending Jokic in this Warriors series win. 

The size difference between the two is obvious: Jokic dwarfs Green by five inches and 54 pounds. This video of Green’s defensive highlights from Game 1 tells a story unto itself. Watch Green’s active hands anticipate where Jokic plans to hold the ball to set up his next move. See Green uses his long arms to contest Jokic’s jumpers and hook shots. See him summon his unbelievable strength to body the MVP off his preferred spots, forcing him to contort and shoot only from the places on the court Green prefers. Jokic found more success attacking Green in Denver, but Green was still able to effectively end Game Three with this strip on Jokic that was striking in its rarity. You do not see other players, even great defenders, make that type of play against devastating scorers (except for Green’s injured teammate Andre Iguodala).

Green has a more defensively challenged roster around him. Their closing lineup now features Wiggins moving to power forward, instead of seven-footer Kevin Durant or the rugged Harrison Barnes. Iguodala is replaced by Poole, who is dynamic offensively but could be targeted by opposing offenses. Green’s defense may be the most important factor to a Warriors title run given the limited defensive personnel around him.

The Warriors will give opposing teams a chance

The Warriors’ series win was impressive, but they showed weaknesses that future opponents will look to exploit. Fouls, turnovers, and opponent threes were stains on the Warriors’ regular-season performance. They finished 29th (out of 30 teams) by turning the ball over 13.5 times per 100 possessions. They were 27th in fouls per game with 21.3. The Warriors did finish tied with Boston and Miami by allowing the lowest opponent three-point percentage (33.9%), but they allowed the ninth-most attempts in the league.

More than the number of three-point attempts, though, the Warriors displayed a penchant for giving up big threes in crunch time. They made mental mistakes like not fouling when ahead three against the Pacers, or over-helping when ahead two against Denver. The Pacers’ three was a result of over-helping as well. There’s no reason for Curry to leave Justin Holiday to double Isaiah Jackson when Jackson shot 15 threes all season. 

These weaknesses were apparent in the Warriors’ series win over Denver, as well. Per Basketball-Reference, the Warriors committed 12 and 9 turnovers in Games 1 and 2, and 22 and 20 fouls in those games. In the road games, turnovers increased to 16 and 15 in Games 3 and 4, with fouls increasing to 25 and 27. Not coincidentally, the double-digit wins at Chase Center turned into a pair of five-point games, one win and one loss. The Warriors’ ball movement leaves them vulnerable to turnovers, and the winner of the Memphis-Minnesota series will be well-positioned to take advantage. Those teams finished fourth and second in turnovers forced during the regular season, respectively. Ja Morant and Anthony Edwards are athletic marvels well-positioned to take advantage of the Warriors’ fouling as well.

The Warriors are still susceptible to dominant bigs

Jokic was amazing offensively throughout the series. He put numbers up in the first two games and used that production to fuel Denver into becoming into true opposition in the final three games, all nailbiters. That isn’t surprising, given the MVP’s skill and playoff-tested abilities.

More surprising was Demarcus Cousins’ success. Cousins briefly balled with the Bucks, then found a home backing up Jokic and helped anchor the Nuggets’ floundering second unit. He still has limited lift and mobility since his torn Achilles, however, and it was easy to imagine the Warriors sprinting him off the floor. Like most of the Nuggets, he struggled the first two games in San Francisco, but gained confidence in Denver, and erupted for 19 points in just 15 minutes in Game 5. 

Karl-Anthony Towns beasted the Warriors this regular season, averaging 28.3 points on 51.8% from the field and 39.3% from three. Draymond Green missed three of those games, but Kevon Looney looked outmatched guarding Towns in the post. Jaren Jackson Jr. is another scoring big that could cause problems. Down the road, a possible matchup with Deandre Ayton looms. Almost all possible opponents have big men that could present matchup issues after the Warriors’ series win.

The Warriors’ series win featured a team fully healthy for the first time all season gelling against an overmatched opponent. They were dominant against Denver, but once Curry proved his health they were supposed to be dominant. Tougher matchups are ahead, and the Warriors have given plenty for their fans to be excited about. They’ve also displayed weaknesses their future opponent will look to exploit.

 

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