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.