Curry's Warriors prove they'll be a feisty playoff opponent with win over Nuggets

The Dubs unleashed their next wave of Strength in Numbers in the team's first home game with fans this season.

The Golden State Warriors welcomed their fans back to Chase Center last night with an emotionally charged 118-97 victory over the 4th seed Denver Nuggets.

The box score numbers for the Warriors were rather gaudy. Stephen Curry tallied 32 points on 11-of-18 shooting, Draymond Green tied his career high with 19 assists, and Kelly Oubre Jr. scored 23 points off the bench (his second straight game with 20+ as a reserve). Andrew Wiggins continued his steady play with 19 points on 50% shooting with 7 rebounds.

Denver had no idea where the Warriors were going to attack from, which is a staple of Coach Steve Kerr’s whirring motion offense. While it may have been frustrating for Dub Nation to watch this injury-tattered rotation lurch and wheeze through the rudimentary paces of the intricate system, we’re seeing all that discipline pay off.

If you haven’t read Baxter Holmes’ epic piece on the genesis of Kerr’s schemes with the Warriors, that’s required reading for all members of Dub Nation. Here’s an informative quote from Kerr and Warriors GM Bob Myers on the Golden State ethos:

"There's a makeup in every player who's ever played," Kerr says, "that if you get to touch the ball and you get to be a part of the action -- whether it's as an assist man, ball mover, shooter, dribbler -- the more people who are involved in the offense, the more powerful it becomes."

As Myers puts it: "All of us want to be part of something."

Kerr’s offense is being actualized as the season closes

A recent article SF Gate article about the rookie James Wiseman’s difficulties picking up the intricacies of Kerr’s schemes touched on what GSW’s offensive mentality is:

They don’t have a plug-and-play offense. It requires incredibly basketball-savvy players to work. Not only that, but most of the desired outcomes of their offense are quick-trigger threes and layups via backdoor cuts. It’s not exactly the kind of halfcourt offense that allows a player with a true inside-out game to thrive.

Quick-trigger threes and layups via backdoor cuts, eh? Let’s see how Denver dealt with those two prime directives.

Death by screens and off-ball movement #1

Check how fluidly the Warriors pick apart this Nuggets defense on this possession. Draymond Green is up top, watching with an attentive eye as Curry has the option of going around a wide Kevon Looney screen at the three-point line. The Warriors are well aware that lumbering Denver center Nikola Jokic isn’t really quick enough to seamlessly chase Curry out that far if Curry’s defender gets blasted by that screen.

Now here’s where people who think the league has caught up to Kerr’s offensive principles would probably get angry. “PUT THE BALL IN CURRY’S HANDS”, “DRAYMOND’S NOT A THREAT OUT THERE”, “MOAR PICK-AND-ROLL!!!”. 

Mmhmm. Meanwhile the Nuggets try to anticipate what high-speed trickery is coming as the Warriors set up the chessboard.

Curry pivots away Looney’s off ball screen and swiftly cuts through the paint.

That’s five Denver defenders lurking in and around the paint. The spacing in a Klay  Thompson-less world can look pretty bad, and Denver’s defense is basically daring anybody but Curry to shoot over the top of this defensive wall. But what they don’t know is…IT IS ALL SUBTERFUGE! Curry is coming to set a backscreen on Wiggins’ defender!

Ruh roh, suddenly there’s a wide open lane for the athletic Wiggins to cut to the rim, something that just a second ago the Nuggets appeared well equipped to defend. Green anticipates this sliver of an opening, and lasers in a perfect pass through the carved up Denver defense. COME FLY WITH WIGGINS!

Golden State using the most electrifying scorer in the history of basketball as a decoy for a teammate to get loose is a mind-trip for the defense, and an emotional boost for the Warriors’ chemistry. If Curry is so willing to move without the ball and sacrifice his body to get his teammates open, they return the favor with gusto.

Death by screens and off-ball movement #2

Here we have three Nuggets surrounding Curry as he reveals his deadly drunken master dribbling routine. He draws four defenders and kicks it to Kelly Oubre Jr. who has migrated to the left corner. Immediately Curry points out for Oubre to swing it, and KOJ doesn’t hesitate to keep the rock moving.

As Wiggins catches it to swing it to Green, Oubre is already looking at Curry to set a screen for him. Wiggins then sets his own screen for Curry, and Green has been patiently waiting the whole time to give it back to Curry for a dagger triple.

Golden State had 40 assists last night; since Kerr took over in 2014 they are 11-0 in games they have 40 or more assists. Over that time span, the rest of the NBA combined has had 18 such games COMBINED. We’ve been over how much Kerr believes sharing the basketball inspires strong chemistry, perpetual motion, and defensive engagement. It’s clear that every member of the Warriors roster, from the All-Stars to the former G-League rotation guys has bought in and comes in ready to perform...just as Kerr prophesied. 

Know your role

Speaking of former G-League rotation guys, did y’all see Mychal Mulder, Jordan Poole, Juan Toscano-Anderson get busy?

  • Mulder got the start in the absence of Kent Bazemore due to Covid protocols. He scored 14 points on 6-of-10 shooting (2-of-6 from downtown) and showed off some vicious bounce.

  • After dealing with a faulty jumpshot in his rookie year last season, Poole is routinely providing an offense punch off the bench. He’s fearless and is going to make the defense work to guard him. He scored 15 points on 5-of-12 shooting last night, with some daring attempts from deep.

And then there’s JTA, the Oakland hooper who was a +29 in his 26 minutes off the bench. 9 points, 8 rebounds, 4 assists, on a tidy 4-of-7 shooting? This dude is a KEEPER.

And I can’t forget about the contributions from the ultimate role player Kevon Looney. A member of the Golden Empire’s heyday, Loon has brought some of that championship resilience in his role as starting center.

His 8 rebounds and 4 assists were the statistical icing on the cake for an evening he spent in the trenches against Denver’s formidable front court. In his 27 minutes Looney kept tabs on MVP candidate Nikola Jokic as well as the versatile Paul Millsap and Aaron Gordon. Denver shot 5-of-11 against the long arms of Loon. NOTHING EASY.

Injuries are a painful part of NBA life

As awesome as the Warriors youth movement is turning out to be, the truth is GSW wouldn’t have had a chance to develop these new faces as thoroughly without being struck by crippling injuries and Covid issues. Last night Denver took some more injury pain of their own, as their wing Will Barton hobbled off the court with a bad hamstring in the first quarter and did not return.

Although this matchup was billed as a battle between two MVP candidates Curry and Jokic (Denver’s center had an unimpactful 19-6-6 box score in the loss), the underlying story was how these teams are surviving without important pieces. While Thompson’s absence headlines a long list of Warriors injury woes, Nuggets star Jamal Murray tore his ACL against the Warriors earlier this season, perhaps dooming Denver’s title hopes.

The sadness of watching players go down reignites my disgust with the mob who suggested the Warriors dynasty was built on a lack of healthy opponents. What franchise doesn’t go through injury issues? It’s clear that those who thought the Dubs were skating by on “injury luck” were just haters cosplaying as unbiased observers.

Because if anybody got lucky, it’s the Warriors opponents over the last two years as Klay Thompson rehabs through season-ending injuries.

Moving On

Damn, the Warriors have won 2 outta 3 against Denver this season? That’s a good sign for a Golden State team primed to make the playoffs. Beating good teams gives the squad experience and confidence heading into the postseason. It cracks me up that Denver has been considered a dark horse contender for a few seasons now, but even with the Warriors rebuilding, still can’t overcome Curry and Co.

It’s looking like the Dubs will be a sure bet to make the play-in tournament if they can keep their good momentum rolling…and if they can somehow stay healthy in this truncated season.

Alright folks I’m outta here. Enjoy your Saturday and pour out some liquor in honor of the legend Klay as he rehabs to be ready next season.