Let’s face it. This could have been a whole lot uglier.
Instead the Warriors gave themselves a decent chance to steal the game late and now head back to Oakland for Game 6 with a whole lot more confidence than they could have after a curbstomping at the hands of the Nuggets.
The Nuggets took Game 5, 107-100, the cut the Warriors’ advantage in the series to just one game at 3-2. Not a bad outcome considering the Warriors were down by as much as 22 in the third quarter. The series now shifts back to Oracle Arena, where the Warriors will try to use to home-court advantage to close out the Nuggets for good. FWIW, the Mavericks took Game 5 in 2007 by six points before the Warriors mollywhopped them in Oakland to take Game 6 and the series.
For that to happen, though, Golden State needs to take advantage of the energy that feeds off the Oracle crowd, because on Tuesday in Denver the Warriors looked absolutely listless and befuddled until it was too late.
The team whose back was against the wall played like it. The Nuggets played better defense, dominated the front court, harassed Stephen Curry, moved the ball well and attacked the Warriors’ zone. The Nuggets had the intensity that a team should have in a lose-and-go-home situation and no doubt they’ll bring it in Game 6.
The Nuggets set the tone early by going big with Kenneth Faried and JaVale McGee in the starting front court. That created size mismatches elsewhere with Andre Iguodala on Jarrett Jack. McGee, in particular, was a nuisance on both ends, disrupting shots in the paint and producing rebounds and points on offense. The size factor also left Bogut, who’s been having a great series, ineffective and helped Denver jump out early. Denver dominated the points in the game, 50-24. Much to our surprise, Mark Jackson has been winning the coaching battle in this series. But in Game 5 George Karl was the one who made the major chess move.
It’s not like the Warriors were getting any favors from Curry, either, though. Curry was pressured all game long and finished with a meager, by his standards, 15 points. As the Nuggets maintained multiple 20-plus point leads, Curry was largely a nonfactor. The Nuggets were getting into Curry’s head, as well. Things got chippy often between him and several Nuggets (and even a fan!). Mark Jackson said after the game he thought the Nuggets were sending “hitmen” at Curry. I think other people just call that playoff basketball.
Harrison Barnes, meantime had a surprising 23 points to lead the Dubs and at times seemed like he was the only one keeping the team afloat.
But Curry, as he’s done maybe once or twice this series, came alive in the second half, even if in a moderate sense this time compared to his 22-point third quarter in Game 4. He had 7 points as the Warriors scrapped back to within single digits in the fourth. He hit a trey that brought the Dubs as close as five with just over five to play, and Golden State suddenly looked in business, even it was the business of torturing their fans.
But for every move the Warriors made down the stretch to steal the game away, the Nuggets had an answer. They found a way to score when they needed it. A couple of boneheaded turnovers by Festus Ezeli, who inexplicably saw crunch time minutes over Bogut, didn’t help, either. Those are moments where you wish you had an ear drum-exploding crowd on your side. No question the Oracle crowd plays a huge role in that situation. But that wasn’t possible Tuesday. The Warriors fell short of pulling out in a game in which they were supremely outplayed. I’m going to go bite my pillow now.