The Golden State Warriors fell to the Nikola Jokic-less Denver Nuggets 112-110 on Sunday, Klay Thompson’s game-winning three-pointer with a few seconds left coming up just short. Here are three reactions from the cold-shooting Dubs’ hard-fought loss in the Mile High City.
Steph Curry, beyond the box score
The Warriors led 36-26 after the first quarter, a great start towards their only three-game road winning streak of the season. They scored 16 points in the paint, assisted 11-of-13 baskets and committed just one turnover. Golden State wasn’t immune from a few defensive breakdowns, but the Nuggets aren’t nearly as dynamic without Jokic.
Offense is what drove the Dubs’ double-digit edge after the opening stanza, a surprise on the surface considering Steph Curry went scoreless, missing all four of his field goal attempts. But just because he’s not putting up numbers hardly means Curry isn’t impacting the game.
A majority of those 16 paint points came from Golden State exploiting the Nuggets strategy of switching one-through five—one specifically designed to keep the greatest shooter ever from breaking free.
Draymond Green opts for a touch screen on this early pick-and-roll with Curry, knowing full well he’ll have Jamal Murray on his back after Aaron Gordon switches onto the ball.
Curry warps the game just as much without the ball in his hands.
Thompson slips a would-be down screen here as Michael Porter Jr. jumps high for a switch onto Curry, but Murray follows the reigning Finals MVP, too. Though the ageless Jeff Green comes out of nowhere for a soaring block, the damage is already done.
The singular threat Curry presents might as well register as an assist on Thompson’s broken-play corner three.
That’s similar to the Warriors’ previous possession, but with Curry in Thompson’s place and DiVincenzo in his.
Golden State routinely has its guards peel back to re-screen for Curry on these wide pin actions rather than flowing to the wing or into a dribble hand-off. Aaron Gordon knows it, keeping an eye on Curry after switching with Porter while staying on the high side of DiVincenzo, anticipating another pick for Curry.
DiVincenzo reverses course backdoor for a layup from Green instead, another easy score courtesy of Curry.
Even with the game suddenly on the line, Denver couldn’t help but send two defenders with Curry at the expense of an open, game-winning jumper—from not just any shooter, either. This is a fantastic look for Thompson.
It’s hardly revelatory, but the first quarter of Sunday’s game was a stark reminder of just how crucial it always is to look beyond the box score while assessing Curry’s impact. How many other superstars could fail to score over a 12-minute period yet lead their team to a dominant quarter offensively?
Just another example of Steph being one of one, even in a game he goes 8-of-28 from the field and misses all but two of his 14 tries from beyond the arc.
Golden State’s lineup construction problems
Don’t mistake Curry’s sweeping offensive influence with and without the ball as evidence the Warriors can get away with slotting pretty much anybody next to him. Case in point? When Golden State opened the fourth quarter with Green, Gary Payton II and Anthony Lamb next to the Splash Brothers.
Denver was intent on smothering Curry from the opening tip. Thompson was clearly next in line on the pre-game defensive scouting report. While that’s hardly shocking, it didn’t stop Steve Kerr from putting three questionable shooters (at best) and limited self-creators alongside them.
Empty possessions like this are bound to happen with any trio of Green, Payton, Lamb and Kevon Looney on the floor. Teams still dare Jonathan Kuminga to shoot from deep, but at least he has the burst, length and coordination needed to attack a winning numbers game toward the rim.
Andrew Wiggins’ (hopeful) presence will change everything for the Warriors. What his availability means for basic lineup construction arguably looms largest.
Klay Thompson’s iffy off-ball defense
Even at his pre-injury physical peak, Thompson was never a disruptive off-ball defender. His ability to hound opposing point guards across the floor and switch onto bigs without negative recourse was still extremely valuable for Golden State during the first few years of its dynasty.
But advanced stats never painted Thompson as a top-tier defender back then despite his on-ball prowess and versatility, largely due to his marginal impact as a helper. Still, it’s not like he was a liability one pass away, digging down to the nail or manning the back-line. Thompson was largely in the right place; he was just wasn’t making plays defensively.
Many years and two serious injuries later, Thompson still isn’t racking up steals and blocks in help. That’s not the problem, nor is his more limited individual defense. Thompson’s increasing penchant for off-ball miscommunication, though, deserves some additional scrutiny.
Green clearly points for a switch on this early possession as he sees Murray rising to set a back screen for Jeff Green. Thompson doesn’t notice and sticks with Murray when contact is made on the pick, giving Green an open runway to the rim for an and-1
Thompson’s lack of attentiveness came back to bite the Dubs in the third quarter, too.
Green overloads the strong side of the floor once Looney gets stuck on Murray after the Nuggets star grabs his own missed triple. You can hear Green calling “Klay!” on the broadcast, let alone see him pointing for Thompson to sink down to the left block and play two on the weak side. But Thompson doesn’t move, yielding an uncontested dunk for Gordon and more frustration from Green.
Thompson has never been an air-tight help defender. A full season and-a-half into his comeback, though, off-ball mistakes that normally dog young players have been a bit too common.
Expect that reality to be a focus of Golden State’s coaching staff entering the playoffs, and Thompson to react accordingly. Especially in potential postseason matchups with the Nuggets and Phoenix Suns, he’ll simply need to be better in help defense than he was on Sunday and other times throughout the regular season.
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