Quick thoughts before a pivotal Game 4

After a thrilling loss like that, you need a day just to absorb everything. A 2-1 series hole looms over all the good in game three, where I thought the Nuggets did a better job reacting to small ball than they did in game two. Ty Lawson is turning a pretty good series into a great one but the Golden State Warriors and the emergence of Steph Curry are the definitive stories of this first round matchup. The Warriors weren’t pleased with their game 3 performance and are still in position to take a commanding 3-1 series lead on Sunday, which would effectively make the Nuggets a long shot to get out of the first round… again.

For all the good the Nuggets did in game 3, they still can’t defend the Golden State Warriors, whose offense sure came back down to earth – all the way from 74.3% eFG in game 2 to 57.5% in game 3. That just won’t get it done in the playoffs. Obviously there’s a lot to worry about but as bad as the Nuggets’ issues have been, they still have a chance to essentially hit the reset button on the series with a win tonight.

While we wait to see if the Nuggets can seize that opportunity in a pivotal game four, which is obviously huge, here are some bullet point thoughts on what worked and what didn’t in game three.

  • One of the biggest stories of the game was Harrison Barnes getting 43 minutes, the most out of any Warrior in game three. Mark Jackson is committed to going small with him but also shifted him to the three at times with Bogut and Landry manning the four and five. That is a slower, less explosive bench unit that Denver should be able to take advantage of. They haven’t done so because the Nuggets can’t guard Barnes. He’s shooting 57.6% as the Warriors’ fourth-leading scorer in the playoffs.
  • The Nuggets are having Chandler help off Barnes and will stick Andre Miller on him when the benches are in. Denver can live with offense going through Harrison Barnes but they’ve given him way too much confidence early in this series. He cannot be allowed to see the volume of wide open threes he’s getting, which is why his efficiency is through the roof. We’ll have to see if Denver makes an adjustment here. The Nuggets put Chandler on him at the end of the game and Stephen Curry was able to get Barnes switched onto Andre Miller. Barnes drilled the cold-blooded pull-up right over him. The fact Golden State got him the switch and let him attack that matchup at the end of a close playoff game shows the kind of confidence they have in Harrison Barnes right now.
  • The Nuggets were able to test Kenneth Faried’s stamina and he held up pretty well. He played almost the whole fourth quarter and just having a productive big in the game seemed to reinvigorate the Nuggets’ attack. If Kenneth can give the Nuggets 35 minutes a night for the rest of the series it would be huge.
  • I was surprised to see Kosta Koufos come in off the bench late in the first quarter. The Nuggets put him on Carl Landry with mixed results, Landry finished with 19 points on 17 shots. He has played limited minutes but Koufos still can’t produce. He’s gone scoreless for two straight games and recorded only one legitimate rebound in that stretch.
  • I’m not sure what the Nuggets are hoping for out of Koufos. They imagine him as a defensive minded big but he is not exactly physical and doesn’t have a skill set suited to this series.  When both teams go small he looks way out of place. There was a particularly bad sequence where Jarrett Jack ran into a soft trap from Koufos on the perimeter and Jack put him on a leash all the way to the rim for a layup. It just seems like Denver should go with one of their more active bigs when they are small.
  • That being said, if the Nuggets are going to stick with Koufos it makes sense to start him. He and Faried started 80 games together this season and Koufos is going to play limited minutes whether he starts or comes off the bench. He was just pulled out of the starting lineup in game 3 though. Will Karl make another big adjustment or try to make it work with Koufos off the bench? As I said before, going small with Koufos is something Denver did not experiment with during the regular season. They are getting poor results with it now.
  • Anyone who’s closely followed Nuggets games for the last two years saw that second half collapse being set up in the first. Andre Miller had a rough start, getting to the spots he wanted but missing a couple of easy finishes at the rim. You wonder if Miller does not miss those layups perhaps he doesn’t keep forcing the issue in the second half. Karl knew he didn’t have it going and still put him out there in crunch time hoping for a change. Denver clearly had another option with Corey Brewer but I think we have to accept the fact Karl isn’t willing to consider sitting a cold Andre Miller in the playoffs under any circumstances.
  • The problem with playing Brewer over Andre Miller is the offense. Miller has been really good in isolation and can create his own shot against the Warriors if need be. Brewer on the other hand is prone to chucking, especially when the Warriors are daring him to shoot this much. Golden State is on top of this matchup, Jarrett Jack in particular. When Jack guards Brewer they are giving him tons of room on the wings and daring him to take that three off the first pass. Denver doesn’t want to get into a quick shooting contest with Golden State, especially not with Brewer. However if you are Corey Brewer, what can you do? If they leave you that open, you have to take the shot.
  • It may just come down to rebounding. We’ve mentioned it before but Denver was the top offensive rebounding team in the league during the regular season. They have lost the rebounding battle three straight times and the Warriors are beating them at their own game on the crucial offensive boards. If that does not start trending the other way, Denver cannot win this series. They were elite in that area and simply aren’t good enough at everything else to make up for the sudden, shocking deficiency there.
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Charlie Yao

Contributor at Roundball Mining Company since 2010. Unhealthily obsessed with Nuggets basketball since 2002. Follow me on Twitter and Instagram at the links on the left.
  • Mark B

    What the Nuggets just don’t seem to understand is what it is exactly that being “deep” means. Well I’ll tell you what it means. Being deep means being able to be MEAN. Koufos is not a talented NBA basketball player. Therefore his greatest asset is being able to play extremely hard defense. This means probably 3-4 fouls per half and potentially fouling out. This bothers George for some reason that I cannot fathom. Has he forgotten that he actually prefers to go small?! Has he forgotten that his starting Center from last year is healthy, with fresh legs, eager to prove himself, and sitting just 3 or 4 seats down from him?! If George wants to win this series, he has to convince his bigs to play fearless. Fouls are irrelevant when you have other people to go to. It should not matter if anybody at the 4 or 5 position pick up two quick fouls if it means rattling their opponent and keeping them from scoring.

    Bottom line that the Nuggets need to realize in order to win tonight: WE HAVE MORE FOULS TO GIVE!!

    Screw playing small when the warriors are forced to play small. Literally pound the paint and forced their undersized players to try and stay on the court.

  • Joey

    I agree. All year the nuggets have dominated rebounds, points in the paint, fast break points, and points off turnovers. Mcgee is absoultely to blame. He is making 11 million, and he is getting embarrased by the warriors guards. He has not made his presence felt on the defensive end, and he is an absolute joke n this series. I dont expect KK to produce, because I never understood how GK could let someone play so much with a big whose ceiling is so low. Javale Mcgee was the one who got the big contract by dominating in the playoffs against the lakers last year. If he doesnt show up in this series tonight and make his presence felt, the nuggets will lose this series, and they should consider trading him and go after someone like Al horford.

    • Mark B

      Joey you are taking what you see of Javale and concluding that what you see is Javale. What are neglecting to take into account is that George has just spent the last 5 months ignoring the player with the most talent on his team. George uses Javale as merely a distraction and therefore that is all he can be. If George switched up the game plan to focus on our bigs rather than our guards, I predict you would be saying that it is Iggy, and Brewer, and their lack of outside shooting that is to blame. More than that though I predict you would be sitting happily with a smile on your face because we would have just won game 4.

      For 10 years George Karl has lost in the playoffs because he thinks that his team can beat their opponents at their own game. For ten years he has failed to realize that Denver Nuggets ball is what got us to the playoffs and is what will carry us through the playoffs. Instead he see’s 3 guards on the other side and decides that his only option is to play 3 guards on his side. We’ll never win by playing the other teams game. We need to exploit their weakness by using our bigs, especially Javale Mcgee, with reckless abandon. Zone defense, not man switching.

      • bobby

        why on earth would we play zone defense against the hottest shooting team (and “best shooting backcourt ever”) in the league? all a zone defense does is dare a team to make shots; they will welcome that with open arms.

        • dave

          i wish that brewer played more than miller. not shoot more, but play more. corey can get a little carried away sometimes in his shooting. but his defense is good. he really traps well and intercepts well. i have really appreciated miller. i would like to see if smaller doses of him would help. here is my question that i really do not know the answer to for certain. why are we not driving the ball every time until they adjust. we would we not punch it down there throats and suffocate them. they foul a lot! we do it in the first two halves but then in the 3 and 4 quarters we back off. curry had 5 fouls at the end of 3 qrts last game. keep driving the ball lawson and chandler. get them fouls and make your free throws. i cant believe that is a problem for professional players. that has always bothered me. you get paid millions but you cant make a shot when non one is defending you…. really…. we better win tonight, if not i hope we have major changes to our roster and staff.

  • Aaron

    Mosgov should start just to knock around Bogut. Fournier should play more, but if Karl won’t play him in the 4th we have to go really, really small with Ty, Dre, AI, Chandler, Faried. We just have to have AI and Chandler to play defense if Andre is in the game.

    If Javale wakes up, I could see him instead of Faried in the 4th. One thing no one is talking about is that late in these games, there’s no rim protection from the Nugs. The Warriors shoot 3s the whole game and then penetrate in the 4th. Throw McGee in there with 4 guards, I don’t care. But, we must have someone that will at least jump at layup attempts. That’s killing us.

    Here’s hoping. This group has been resilient.

  • Ckwizard

    I posted this in the game 3 thread but it is worth putting here.

    Warriors Curry, Thompson, and Jack Vs Nuggets Lawson, Miller and Brewer is advantage WARRIORS on both offense and defense. Those two lineups is destroying the Nuggets and it doesn’t matter who is playing the 4 and 5 positions when those 3 players are matched up against each other. Golden state is faster and have better shooters and this gives them the advantage when running te Pick and Roll.

    All it takes is substuting Igoudala, Chandler, or even Fournier for just one of the 3 nuggets players to even up the Matchups because the length and positioning makes te Nuggets defense more effective. The Advantage becomes Denver’s when Ty and Miller are not on the floor at the same time because if Brewer doesn’t gamble he is an Excelent defender.

    When George goes small the advantage for the warriors is in positions 1 thru 3 But if the line up was Ty, Fournier, Iggy, Chandler, McGee nuggets would be fine. If. The lineup was Miller, Iggy, Chandler, Faried, KK the Nuggets would be fine. The lineup Ty Iggy Brewer Chandler Faried is even good for the Nuggets

    ANY LINEUP with Ty , Miller, Brewer , Whoever, Whoever is ADVANTAGE GOLDEN STATE

    Any line up with Ty, Miller, Whoever, Whoever, Whoever is advantage neither team .

    Problem with this series is Golden State is utilizing George Karls tendencies against him by creating the only possible advantage they can have and IT IS AN EASY FIX that has Nothing to do with Faried, Mozgov, KK , McGee, or Randolph… it is all about the use of Ty, Miller , and Brewer and Golden State Capitalizing on being able to. Break down the Defense when those three are in the game. Once the Nuggets are out of position on defense it is easier to get offensive rebounds.

    The Nuggets were a good offensive rebounding team because they used penetration to get the 4 or 5 to commit to the ball and move out of position for defensive rebounds. isolation ball with Miller or settling for jump shots allows the 4 and 5 positions to establish defensive rebounding position and keep the Nuggets off the Glass.

    • dave

      totally agree with the thing of lawson and miller on at the same time. its bad.

  • http://yahoo.com prospector

    quick memo:

    proven fact:

    TY plus MILLER equals NO PERIMETER DEFENSE…….
    IT doesn’t freaking matter who we have in the front court….. Add riverboat gambling BREWER and you have no hope against GS….. Unless GS goes ice cold… That’s our only hope…

  • Stompy

    They really need to play Fournier more this game and also play the lineup of Lawson/Fournier, Iggy, Brewer, Chandler, Koufus/Mcgee. Chandler has been scuffling, yes, but those three wings is far and a way there best defensive lineup without losing much offense.

  • NugZeit

    Keys to winning:

    1. Miller has to play less than 20 mins (unless he is playing out of his mind) – preferably 10 or less. (I know that is wishful thinking, Thanks George!)

    2. Go with the Trees! Don’t switch them just let them patrol the paint – with show and recover technique – if they recover late, just foul the sh!t out Bogut/Festus/Landry/Barnes – I’m even happy to go 2 Tree for stints – play super tight on the perimeter so their screens become more difficult to execute/less effective – force them to adjust to us!

    3. Perimeter defenders should always be a mix of Ty/Iggy/Fournier/Brewer – Why aren’t we seeing more Fournier – what is wrong with GK – does he have cataracts or something? This just couldn’t be more obvious.

    4. Matchups, Matchups, Matchups – I said it before, Chandler can dominate Barnes on both ends – why are we not seeing this as the standard matchup? Gotta go with our strengths – not try to match theirs.

    Final Thoughts:

    1. Clearly this is pretty much do or die tonight

    2. Soooooo frustrating to pay attention to this team all year – I watched part or all of at least 40 games – and then have them just bust out of the playoffs – it’s like getting your pocket Aces busted, depressing.

    3. The most frustrating part is that the main culprit of this failure is GK to this point. He’s up for CotY and this is what he pulls?

  • Fed up Nug
  • S

    Well if we lose tonight its essentially over. What a waste of a great season.

  • doop snog

    If we lose this game and Andre “Savior” Miller plays more than 20 minutes, the Nuggets have lost a season ticket holder. I will also try my best to make sure nobody I know goes to a Nuggets game next year.

    Sports is the last true meritocracy. So why is Andre Miller getting 30 mpg? I would ask George Karl: “Exactly what has Miller done that merits him playing more than 20 minutes a game?”

    GK, the good ol’ boy system doesn’t work in today’s league. Sit Miller more. Now. Thank you.

    • http://espn herpderpnuggets

      Ill take your season tickets, hell their regular season games are a ton of fun to watch

  • Z

    Chandler has to be the 2nd option with plays called for him but in spots where he can make a quick move.

  • TR

    As a die-hard Nuggets fan, it makes me soooo upset that I can’t even watch my team play anymore due to Karl and his coaching decisions. It blows my mind knowing how many wins this guy has accumulated throughout his career with such an impaired ability to actually “coach” his team. It makes complete sense to me now why he has never won a title, and why he never will. I’ve tried, time and time again, to get behind this guy; to believe in him. I finally thought this season might be his year to shine, having finally assembled “his” team. But throughout the season, all 57 wins, I realized that he is a lost cause. Yeah I love being in the playoffs every year, but losing in the first round year after year is becoming a joke. The blame is on Karl and him alone. His love for players who are a detriment to the team (Miller, Anthony Carter) while holding unfair grudges against other players (J.R. Smith, JaVale, ALL rookies); his lineups that high school coaches scratch their heads at, and his out-of-timeout play-calling that is honestly laughable. This team will never win it big as long as Karl is here, and that is truly sad given the overall talent level of this squad, and the hard work that Masai has put in to build it. When will enough be enough and we FINALLY get rid of him? Isn’t getting out-coached EVERY single year (sans one) in the first round and losing to seemingly inferior squads enough? PLEASE, for the sake of all Nuggets fans, SHOW KARL THE DOOR!!!

    • Thomas

      ‘I can totally relate to your description of finally realizing that GK is a lost cause”. It happened to me maybe a couple of seasons ago. I don’t even like watching anymore bc it is all too predictable – he cares about his system, not winning championships (or at least contending), and therefore will always do the things that you and I know will not lead to playoff success.

  • fluffhead

    i really hope GK gets fired this offseason, Andre is cut/traded, regardless of this rounds result. GK is no postseason coach…never has been. His style has worn it’s welcome. I had season tix for 7 years, a 12 pack this year and if we lose this series, MAYBE a 12 next year. No playoffs for me, bc the last 8 years paying thousands of dollars for playoff tix (1 and done) is miserable. We need a change. I hope Masai can grow a pair and do something about it.

  • Chas

    We are being embarrassed. We play no D and we play with no fire. We deserve to lose.

  • Aaron

    This is unreal. . . GK must go, and I’ve been an apologist all year long. But, AMiller comes in the game = we get a run put on us of at least 10 points. And, GK won’t take him out. It doesn’t have to be Brewer, Fournier, JHam, playing Wilson at his natural position (the 3) etc. . . . Something.

    I really don’t get it. But, we’re going to lose again tonight, and we’d be winning if Andre M. wasn’t on our team.

    • leeds

      Aaron finally sees the light…

      same old crap with Karl every year.

  • Fed up Nug

    George Karl – Coach of the Year

    Lol

  • Brad

    Agree with Chas, this is embarrassing. George Karl is one of the best regular season coaches in history but has proven to me that he’ll never win in the playoffs. He has to go.

  • http://espn herpderpnuggets

    this team is a fucking joke….done with them

  • Steve

    I love how we gotta be down 19 for him to make a change. Woooo he put stone in against curry and finally dumps andre. Gosh darn i hate george karl. Masai should be fired if he brings GK back.

  • LDT710

    Does Igoudala realize that turnovers don’t count towards triple doubles? The highest paid player on the team should not disappear in the second half of every playoff game.

  • Fed up Nug

    Don’t even bother coming back from Oakland Karl you incompetent hack.

  • doop snog

    George Karl, ladies and gentlemen.

    Look, I respect the guy. 2 bouts with cancer, and a good career. It’s time for him to go. This is absolutely unacceptable from any standpoint.
    George Karl couldn’t get the Heat out of the first round, and I say that only half-jokingly.
    Andre Miller is good trade bait (i hate to even give him that credit right now).
    Fournier is a great piece. Hopefully we can put him in a package along with Miller and Wilson Chandler and some draft picks to get a star.
    Masai, you’re a helluva player. But you need to blow this team up. Tank. Keep Lawson though. ANDREW WIGGINS IS WAITING!!!!

    • Jake Arscott

      or jabari parker. someone who can shoot the ball outside of the paint. look at curry. the warriors look like the 3 seed right now

  • Jake Arscott

    wow. two technicals. Im done with this. Total self- destruction. Golden state is dominating us so much that they’re playing a d league man in the 4th quarter. Thanks George Karl for wasting the best record in franchise history. Wilson chandler at center. they’ll probably cut mozzy cause they don’t give him a shot. worst d in the playoffs. Hey GK, defense WINS CHAMPIONSHIPS!!!!!

  • Chas

    Being an nba sports fan really sucks. You watch your favorite team go through the grueling 82 games and grind out one of the best seasons you have ever witnessed only to see them throw it all away in the first round, AGAIN.

    What REALLY sucks is that we have gone away from everything that got us here in the first place. Everything we did well during our franchise record win streak and all the little effort/hustle plays we made before are all but evaporated.

    Sure, we can blame not having Gallo. We can blame Kosta disappearing again in the playoffs for the second year in a row. We can say it’s old man Miller’s fault or Iggy not living up to his contract or Lawson being tentative or Brewer chucking up 3s or my personal favorite, George Karl not adjusting properly. It doesn’t matter though because at the end of the day, we will continue to support our Nuggets, even if they make no changes for next year, because being a sports fan sucks.

  • Samuel

    After a while you just get sick of it. I mean, you put Miller in when Curry is hot, I just don’t understand it sometimes. We deserve to lose. Obviously we can still win this series, but with how they are acting and their body language it’s probabl not gonna happen. I hope they show some anger at the press conference, and GK really needs to go. He just doesn’t know how to win in the playoffs, he just doesnt get it. We spend 6 months devoting our lives to this team and they just throw it away. It’s just amazing

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