Adjustments, adversity await Nuggets in Game 3

There are two ways to look at the Nuggets’ current 1-1 series tie to the Golden State Warriors. The cheery narrative gives a convenient regular-season excuse for Denver’s familiar playoff woes – it’s only one game, blowouts happen, and losing home-court advantage while squeeking out a 1-1 split really isn’t that bad.

It’s too bad this isn’t the regular season anymore.

Behind closed doors, both teams are immersed in the hard data that belies the notion that this is a close series. It’s been a one-sided affair by almost any metric you want to use. If we are to judge Denver’s first two playoff games as a whole, then the fair conclusion is that Andre Miller’s heroics are the biggest reason this series is less one-sided that the numbers say it is.

Golden State has dominated the series offensively, relying heavily on a small lineup with Harrison Barnes at the four which Denver has yet to find an answer for. There is an element of overly hot shooting to the Warriors’ recent offense (74.3% eFG in game 2), but that offense has merely maintained the comfortable cushion they’ve had all series. Golden State’s defense and dominance of the paint is what got them there.

For the record, I think there is only so much Karl can do when the effort and individual focus of so many different guys comes into question. Playoff energy and effort should be a given at this point, and there’s no doubt Golden State is winning the battle of wills and are collectively playing with much more confidence than the Nuggets. But the fact they have done so shorthanded and on the road further proves Karl can’t continue to coach this series as he has, leaning on “trust” guys with the faith that home-court mojo and “teamness” will carry-them past mismatch problems on the perimeter.

Clearly we can’t look at the series like that anymore. Golden State has moved into the driver’s seat with home court advantage and the onus is on Denver to react to a small lineup that thoroughly exposed them on both ends. At this point, the margin for error has eroded and coaching adjustments need to become a reality for Denver to gain any momentum in this series.

Two playoff games is a large sample size and Denver is fighting losing battles on too many fronts. Here are a few of the most obvious adjustments we should expect to see addressed in game 3.

Start Faried

It’s already been reported that this one’s a given, and I’m not surprised. If Faried is going to have success in this series, his best shot is against Harrison Barnes in the starting five.  He has not come off the bench since early in his rookie season and his energy in the starting lineup has been a huge part of the Nuggets’ identity all season.

If he can’t go he can’t go, but starting should be a given for Kenneth. It’s where he belongs and Denver has always had enough bench depth to protect themselves should he get off to a bad start.

Golden State owns the glass in this series, holding Denver to just a 15.5% offensive rebound rate. Denver led the league in that category with a 31.4% mark in the regular season. I am not thrilled about seeing Faried switched onto any of the four three-point shooters in Golden State’s new starting lineup, but Denver is stuck here. They have no choice but to live with him on Barnes and that means starting.

Don’t Start Andre Miller

This one was truly the hardest to understand. Karl “adjusted” to Mark Jackson’s now infamous small-ball with a second-half starting lineup of Lawson, Miller, Iguodala, Chandler, and Koufos. Golden State went on an immediate 10-1 run against this lineup to assert total control of the game.

This lineup, which Karl started in the second half, went 0-5 with 4 turnovers and allowed Golden State an offensive rating of 163.6 in game 2. It does not get any worse than that. That was just a five minute stint, but this was supposed to be the Nuggets’ big adjustment to get themselves going in the biggest game of the year. They had an entire halftime to gameplan and that’s what they came up with.

That is concerning. Defensively, that lineup doubly exposes the problem of dealing with the Warriors’ length. It’s bad enough to try and hide Lawson’s defense from the rangy backcourt of Curry and Thompson, but with Miller also out there you are essentially conceding open space to one of them. Denver tried to address this by putting Miller on Harrison Barnes but that didn’t work either, as Barnes exploded for 17 of his 24 points in the second half.

Mark Jackson’s gamble of starting his best lineup from game one and daring Karl to beat it the same way paid off. If Denver thinks they can play that game, they’ve already lost.

Bench Koufos

In many ways, Koufos’ plight mirrors that of the Denver Nuggets. He’s built himself a solid career with a workmanlike attitude and commitment to playing the right way. Then, we get to the playoffs where raw physicality and brute strength win out, and Koufos’ novel approach to big man play ends up looking like a useless gimmick.

I am not one for overreaction, but Koufos has been beyond terrible in this series. His game two performance should go down as one of the worst in Nuggets playoff history. In 14 minutes, he recorded only two rebounds and a steal. Both of those rebounds came off of errant airballs that were on their way out of bounds. That means Koufos’ effort failed to produce a single meaningful stat in the biggest game of his career. I do not believe that is something you can brush off as a bad game.

Koufos is expected to provide toughness down low, but he hasn’t looked fit to stand in the same gym as Andrew Bogut, who has hardly broken a sweat in 53 carefree, dominant minutes of this series. Bogut had a pretty poor game 2, getting whistled for some careless illegal screening and fumbling a number of easy passes that would have led to bunnies at the rim.

Even so, Koufos has been totally helpless to keep Bogut from dominating the paint on both ends. Offensively, he does not register on the Warriors’ radar and Bogut doesn’t even feign interest in guarding him outside the paint. Of course all of this is secondary to Koufos’ simple inability to put up any sort of fight against the Warriors in the paint. Koufos has played 40 minutes in this series and has more personal fouls than defensive rebounds.

In this series, he has no role against the physical Bogut or the “four-out” spread offense of Golden State. He has already failed to provide toughness and stability to the Nuggets defense and the simple fact is you can’t allow Bogut to keep seeing such a ridiculously easy matchup.

I strongly believe Koufos should not be the starter anymore and jump to the end of the line as another big body off the bench. It’s unfortunate, but the matchup demands adjustments and this is one the Nuggets simply can’t afford to ignore.

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Charlie Yao

Managing Editor at Roundball Mining Company and writer since 2010. Unhealthily obsessed with Nuggets basketball since 2002. Follow me on Twitter and Instagram at the links on the left.
  • Scott

    Playoff Pierre is Denver’s secret weapon. Yet it could be like a North Korean weapon and completely backfire on us.

  • Megan

    Koufos was just awful. It was painful to watch. When he stood on the perimeter on offense, Golden State could just hog the paint. I really like the guy, but that was a disaster.

  • Jeff

    Lawson Iguodala Chandler Faried McGee. With plenty of Brewer, some Fournier, and regular season Andre Miller minutes. Sprinkle in a dash of Anthony Randolph and bake for 48 minutes.

    • Evan Woodruff

      How about going big against their small ball. By that I mean Iggy at the 1, chandler or brewer at 2 chandler or faried at the 3 and mcgee/kk 4 and 5. and you know fit lawson in at the 1-2 as much as possible. But I like the idea of iggy on steph, chandler/brewer on thompson and chandler/faried on their other small dude, while still having the shot blockers inside to stop the driving penetration.

  • heykyleinsf

    Good stuff Charlie..

    But you know what I like???

    Worrying about adjusting more in the
    course of the actual GAME.. instead of
    the plan to play this guy or not play that

    Especially these guys.. from night to night..
    you never know who is going to be on and who is not

    We have the bench like nobody else that allows
    us to switch to what’s working.
    It’s all on GK to tune in to that a little better.

    I hear lots about K2 being awful and responsible..
    yeah, ok.. great..

    He played 14 minutes and their starting guards
    made 77 points.

    I agree.. I want a lot of McGee and Faried..
    but blaming K2 for this loss is silly to me.

    • heykyleinsf

      Iggy finished 9th in the voting for DPOY.

      I like him.. I want him to retire a Nugget.
      But clearly I’m not the only one who sees
      him as far less than the best defensive
      player in the NBA.

      Hopefully I will eat my words on Friday..
      but on Tuesday.. he sucked.

  • OriginalJakeSauce

    I smelled our doom when Dre24 started the second half. If it wasn’t enough that they were red hot, put a guy out there who doesn’t play any perimeter D and see if they can snipe their way to a 30 point win…. somehow we kind of clung in there… but honestly GK threw that game when he threw Miller out there. Reggie Miller would have been more suitable D. Evan Fournier showed good D to start the game, why not play him with some length and a purpose to inhibit perimeter shots?

    Also, what happened to rapid reaction with grades? Would GK have gotten his playoff D-?

  • Evan S

    Javale has been good vs Bogut, which makes it even more confusing he played only 14 minutes. If Karl insists on playing Mcgee around 20 minutes then they should all be while Bogut is in the game. But what do we do while Javale is tired, like he will be, and who moves into the starting lineup?

    • toluenehawk

      You play small with Anthony Randolph at center. He has a lot of gusto and fire and plays aggressively.

      • morningcoffee

        EXACTLY what I have been thinking! Starting five of Lawson,Iggy,Chandler,Faried and Randolph at center. Tough and fast, and decent floor spacing on offense with Lawson and Chandler.

        Golden State is going to play their starting five almost the whole game, judging by the last game, and these are the best guys to go up against it, I think. They play until Golden State goes to the bench.

        When we look to the bench, I would go Miller,Fournier, Brewer, Mcgee and Koufos. Millers job would be to lob to Mcgee, kick to Fournier or post it up. Golden States second unit is way worse than their starters, and this combination should be able to do well.

        • Thomas

          Yes guys, let’s play with no center and use Randolph for his defensive “prowess”

          GK, have you taken control over this board?

        • Ryan

          Randolph’s defense consisted of being consistently out of position, routinely getting beat, and getting posterized by Barnes. Not sure how starting him is going to help us…

    • ryanvdonk

      the trick is to not play him for 10 minutes straight. karl just runs him into the ground too often, he should aim for 6 minutes and keep javale fresher, there’s no reason he needs more than 3 or 4 minute breaks if he has shorter runs and is not completely gased every time he comes out.

      • Evan S

        Starting Randolph would be a disaster going up against Bogut. IMO there are two, maybe three options. The best I think would be starting Mozgov, but would create chemistry issues offensively and I doubt Karl is even considering it.
        The second best option I think is starting Javale and playing him for the exact stretches Bogut plays. That would jump his minutes up to about 27.
        The third and what Karl will probably end up doing is starting Faried and Chandler at the 4 and 5. If Faried matches up with Bogut he will likely do a good job of boxing out, but not great defense. Bogut isn’t really that skilled regardless. Chandler guarding him and he might just get outweighed which could lead to offensive rebounds.

        • Dave

          If I remember last season’s playoffs correctly…LA dominates us down low the first two games, and while playoff Pierre is about to make his presence felt, who does karl go to because kofous can’t play playoff caliber center…Mozgov…lets put him out there and just have him lean his big body on bogut the whole time. That allows faried to wear out barnes and dominate the glass….curry and thompson looked unstoppable but if we can rebound the 5 shots they miss all day…I feel good about our chances of getting home court back

          • Evan S

            I completely agree. I think what Karl is worried about is offensive chemistry. Mozgov hasn’t played minutes with the starters all season.

            • Ryan

              Yeah, it’s interesting. Playing Mozgov would mean playing 4 on 5 offensively, but maybe that’s better than playing 4 on 5 defensively when Koufos is out there? Tough call…

  • Thomas

    We win this game and this series comfortably if we stick with what brought us here.

    Let the starting five play extended minutes and win the rebounding edge.

    When we sub, we stay big and we bring in Fournier in for Ty, not for AI.

    If we bring Miller in, we take out Ty and we stay big.

    We don’t put Chandler as PF. We don’t use Randolph. We don’t use Faried and Mcgee together.

    Limit their 3 point effectiveness and win the inside game and it’s over. Simple. Play Faried 35+ minutes.

    • prospector

      Right on THOMAS!!!

      Only problem, Karl hates a big backcourt… HATES it… Right now he is trying to figure out how we can play SMALLER… By Karl’s logic I am shocked that there is anyone over 6-9 in the NBA… If KARL was MAGIC Johnson’s head coach he would have used him like Chandler…. If TY and MILLER both sat today we would probably win by 20, just due to backcourt length… Iggy would have 18 assist, and EVAN would have 25 points…

      BUT this is just a dream… Masai next season give us a team with only TY and J stone at point…. THAT’S it… We probably win 60 games with a big backcourt. You think I’m wrong??? We were like 9-1 without TY… HELLO IS ANYONE HOME?????

      • swilly32

        Wrong! You can’t sit Ty. He’s the most explosive Nugget out there. I think Denver went 7-3 w/o Ty (if memory serves). Ty is one of the best nuggets at getting his own shot. We need to find a way to combat there screens. Ty brings pressure on the ball and the quickness to go from Defense to Offense instantly. Andre Miller needs to get fewer minutes. Lawson, Iguodala and Fournier need to get the bulk of the minutes in this series.

    • Evan S

      1. Faried isn’t healthy.
      2. Koufus is playing against an above average center. He can get away with being bad against most of the NBA but not against Andrew Bogut and especially in the playoffs when games slow down and each possession matters, making rebounds more important.

      • Thomas

        Noah wasn’t healthy either.

  • Paul

    Alright, assuming Faried plays a little better this next game… I personally think you stick with the lineup


    I know Kk didnt have a great game, but he is our best rebounding center. I like Chandler coming off the bench, he seems to bring more energy from there. I like Fournier to start the game. He usually comes out aggressive.

    Karl should have a quick hook for KK and Fournier, since we can easily slide Iggy back to the 2. But if the Warriors play small, this is how we have to play- lots of length and energy.

    I like the Javale vs Bogut matchup, but if Mcgee is on the floor, Iggy and Chandler need to be there as well. We need our SF and PF to rebound since Mcgee goes for the blocks.

    All in all, I think it was more a matter of effort coming out. The nuggets thought they would have an easier time with Lee out and that isnt gonna happen. Once they realized, they were too far behind to truly make a push (and the Warriors were on fire.)

    We all knew at least one game would be lost with hot shooting from the warriors. If you didnt, you were naive.

  • PlainsNugFan

    I’m going a little off topic…Anyone else hate how much different Playoff play is from Regular season play? The amount of contact that is allowed at the rim and in the paint makes the playoffs almost impossible to watch, atleast the Nuggets since they live in the paint. The first two games of this series has exposed Denver for exactly what I feared all season: a team that is not built for the playoffs. Unless you have 1) a superior offensive center or power forward (which the Nuggets don’t have) 2)Lebron James (last I checked he’s in South Beach); or 3) nock down shooters (name the last one the Nuggs had); you aren’t going anywhere in the playoffs. I love the nuggets, and loved watching them in the regular season but…they HAVE to get one or two great shooters, and a good offensive big man, or forget competing in the playoffs.

    • RAR

      You’re right about more contact being allowed. But what I’m seeing in this series is inconsistent calls. Guy gets absolutely mugged on one end, another guy gets called for ticky-tack touch on the other end. It’s not going especially differently for one team vs. another, but I think it’s been driving the Nuggs a little crazy because they don’t know what to expect: good cop or bad cop…

    • heykyleinsf


      I think an example would be that ridiculous foul call
      on Faried when he clearly had his feet planted..
      But also I am seeing them blow the whistle on
      offense much more.. there were a lot of charging calls.

      You know what I would like to see in the NBA?
      Just competent officiating.. regular season and playoffs.
      I watch all four major sports..

      The officiating in the NBA makes me want to laugh, cry
      and vomit all at once.

  • NugZeit

    Effort Vs Coaching – I think the effort was there for the most part in game 2 and the Nuggets didn’t come out treating the Warriors lightly. Our guys played hard and it showed in the 1st qtr.

    Coaching decisions on the other hand were awful. As a coach you have to know what your players are capable of and then put them in a position to succeed. What we saw in the last 3 qtrs of game 2 was GK thinking he had the better concept, but his players either weren’t capable or weren’t coached up to the concept. He showed 2 different approaches, switch everything and the double team trap (desperation).

    As everyone can see, this is all about match-ups. I think JJ is the perfect matchup for Lawson – way better than Curry or Thompson. JaVale should be on Bogut and when they try to run the pick and roll, use the show and recover technique – Bogut doesn’t move well, so McGee can easily recover to him – and the guards are hesitant to shoot or pass over McGee because of his athletic length. I’ve seen him run the show n recover D very well before – if he’s focused it works – he just needs to be told to always recover to the roll/paint – don’t ever try to trap – that’s GKs gambling side coming out.

    Miller saved gm1 for us, but over 7 games Fournier is the best option – simply for his defensive effort (though Miller wasn’t bad in game 1, he just can’t or won’t sustain it).

    Assuming they start:

    Then we start:

    I don’t care about rebounding stats, +/-, blah blah blah – these matchups are winnable for us – and we just play them straight up – minimal switching – maximum communication on D. Their subs play 18mins or less each – when they sub, we can sub similarly. Obviously if a guy needs to come out, he can, we have good depth and match ups on the bench. For instance – I’d be comfortable with Randolph on Barnes and Brewer on any of the perimeter guys. Faried can play when Barnes goes out (Faried just gets lost on defense outside the paint)

    So if GK just goes with my ideas we should be all set! You’re welcome.

    • Thomas

      Here is to hoping GK doesn’t go with that – although he probably will.

      We are easy prey with those match-ups. Chandler at PF alongside McGee means we lose the inside battle (yes, this is crucial), worse yet it impacts Chandler’s offensive output as he has to focus so much effort on interior defense.

      Not welcome.

      • NugZeit


        1. McGee will actually disrupt Bogut, while making us more difficult to defend. McGee is just more dynamic right now, on both ends – though I’d love to see KK prove me wrong. And Bogut plays about the same number of minutes as McGee.

        2. Chandler can have his way with Barnes. Both ways.

        • Ryan

          Why didn’t Chandler have his way with Barnes last game?

  • Ban Johnson

    Lawson, Fournier, Iggy, Faried, Koufos should start

    Now is not the time to panic and give up on your starting center. If he stinks up the joint again, then ok, you make a drastic change. But Denver simply isn’t in desperate enough straits yet.

    If Faried doesn’t have it again…then he’s going to have to sit until he does. He was worse than Koufos Tuesday, and Chandler has shown himself a capable fill-in at 4 (for the most part.)

    Don’t give up on Fournier! Those traveling calls were the indiosynchratic work of one ref — don’t overreact to random stuff like that. (GK starting Miller in the 2nd half Tuesday was a terrible confidence-killing sort of move that I hope Fournier brushes off.)

  • Hobbs

    I find it a bit troubling that we don’t seem to have a starting 5 that makes them adjust to us. It reminds me of another Golden State small ball team, that forced the #1 seed Mavericks to adjust to them and then beat them in the first round a few years back.

  • Stompy

    I don’t know why more people haven’t mentioned this, but why not play your best defensive team more that doesn’t lose scoring? And by that I mean Lawson, Iggy, Brewer, Chandler, and Mcgee. This should be the closing lineup anyway, in my opinion, but I also believe with the lineup that GS is playing with that this lineup with 3 good perimeter defenders gives the Nuggets the best shot against the Warriors range. Chandler has shown his ability to rebound, so I don’t think you lose too much on that end, and this is far and away your fastest offensive lineup.

    On the other hand, if you feel that Mcgee may not be able to play that many minutes, then put Mozgov in there. Koufus has been invisible on offense and pushed around on defense. Mozgov is huge and can at the very least has some semblance of range in his game and can play decent defense on Bogut.

  • Stompy

    O, and I don’t think the Warriors can shoot like that for three more games. That was the only way they were going to beat the Nuggets.

  • allAround

    You get so many 3s and you emphasize on Faried and Koufos.

    How many minutes did KK and Faried played in the whole game . Did they lost the game ? I mean the problem is you let them shoot 3s and they are good at that.

    The game was lost clearly on the perimeter defense and you speak about bigs.

  • James

    Good comments above. I think we all know the Nuggets can still win this series, but have to bring the effort and some better defense. Definitely concerned.

    I think you still start Koufos. He has been awful, but I think you stick with your rotation that got you there – maybe bring in Javale earlier if Koufos starts stinking up Game 3.

    Someone above said Faried is still hurt and I agree – it doesn’t seem like it’s been talked about. Yes, it’s the playoffs and everyone’s sore, etc., but almost no one in the league relies on athleticism more than him. A sprained ankle is just terrible for that, and I thought he looked slow and hurt on Tuesday. Still put up a +10, but I don’t think much of that was him. Hopefully 3 more days rest really helped, cause I think you have to start him, too, as Charlie advocates.

    Part of the rebounding problem is all the 3’s and long shots by the Warriors. They either go in, like on Tuesday, or the rebound often comes way out, making normal positioning less effective. Perimeter guys really have to rebound against the Warriors, and the bigs really have to block out. That said, if the defense is a bit better, and the non-Curry shooters come back to earth, we should be close in Games 3 and 4, and should win one or both.

  • NugZeit

    Just read on DP that GK is considering trapping Curry to get the ball out of his hands and playing Chandler at the 5, because he’s the best p-n-r defender.

    Right, because they don’t have any other shooters and clearly Chandler can handle true 5s – Chandler at 5 could work if they go small, even so…

    Talk about tanking the series.

    GK – seriously – Please don’t do this.

    Nuggets, I believe – get it together!

  • CJP32

    I think the best move for the 2 road games is to start McGee (for 6 minute spurts). The altitude back in Denver is harder for him. During the season, on the road he was much more efficient:

    19.6 mins, 63% FG, 5.4 rebs, 2.0 blks, 10.4 pts

    I think he thrives being on the road – and he isn’t scared of Bogut.

    I would prefer Ty, Iggy, Chandler, Faried, McGee to be the starting 5. But people here don’t like the combo of Faried/McGee for long stretches and I agree, but McGee makes GS attacking the rim so much harder. It allows Ty, Iggy and Chandler to concentrate on the perimeter and Faried to grab rebounds, McGee to block shots.

    I like the kid Evan, but this is the Playoffs, its a totally different pressure to the regular season. Dre and Brewer should get majority of bench minutes and KK/Mozzy.

  • swilly32

    Look, the nuggets can put any lineup they want out there offensively and be okay. They need to do what no one thought they could do……slow the game down.
    With David Lee out of the inside for G.S. the nuggets could take their time and beat G.S. up on the inside. Defensively they need to go to some type of zone. This would allow Denver to run G.S. off of the 3pt. line and keeps the middle occupied. With G.S. not having a formidable big guy (outside of Bogut) this gives Denver the best chance to win. Let’s hope Karl will make changes…..something he despises.
    GO Nuggets!!

  • swilly32

    I’m sorry, the reason for the zone is Denver’s bigs keep getting isolated on Curry and Thompson. With a zone, this would allow Denver’s bigs to stay inside (for the most part) and periodicaly running to the baseline 3 to contest. Just an idea.
    Hate seeing McGee/ Koufos and even Faried on Curry. Gotta fix that.

  • blackhill

    If Nugs shot like they usually do in Game One, it would have been a blowout. When the Warriors are hot, they are the best team in basketball. I doubt any team could have beaten them the way they played in Game Two. Most likely, their shooting will fall down to what it usually is. If that happens, Nugs, if they play like they normally do, will beat the Warriors fairly decisively.

    Karl will do whatever it takes to keep bodies close to the shooters. This is the key and can be accomplished if guys like Koufus who aren’t defending the lick and roll well are yanked. Nugs had a very good offensive night on Game 2. If Nugs can’t handle this zone, I would think getting a sharpshooter will be priority number one this offseason.

  • Mark from Charlotte

    GK needs to play AR15 and Jham in this game. Jham can shoot the ball and he is 6″ 7 he could cause a match up problem for Golden State. I hope GK doesn’t blow this first round series

  • Zorba

    We lost because of our awful perimeter defense and that’s all!
    Now, if you want to crucify somebody, just don’t look at our bigs…

    • Ryan

      Maybe undeservedly so, but the bigs ARE part of our perimeter defense with how much switching we do. Better positioning on P&R defense and guards fighting harder through screens would limit the bigs being exposed by perimeter players. Watching the Grizzlies last night reminded me what playoff defense SHOULD look like…

  • pgwarner

    They are listing Curry as questionable with a bad left ankle sprain. Who knows.