The first two games of this series couldn’t have gone any better for Golden State. Stephen Curry hasn’t missed a beat after missing the final couple of weeks of the regular season and Jordan Poole is having one of the best starts to a playoff career in Warriors history.
They won’t shoot lights out every single night as they have in the first two games of this series but their offensive firepower is reminiscent of their recent championship teams and while the Nuggets are a favorable matchup for them, that doesn’t take away from how they’ve performed.
Difference Makers Thus Far
The most interesting stat of the series so far has been the Nuggets’ minutes without Nikola Jokic on the floor. DeMarcus Cousins has played 22 minutes in the first two games combined (all without Jokic) and the Nuggets have done really well in those minutes.
Statistically, Denver has actually been better with Jokic on the bench as he holds the worst net rating on the team through two games at -53.4. This isn’t to say that Denver needs to play Jokic less or anything like that. He’s the likely back-to-back MVP for a reason, but if you told fans that Denver wouldn’t get killed with Jokic on the bench and that they would actually win a lot of those minutes, I think a lot of people would’ve expected a split heading into Denver or at the very least a much more competitive first two games.
Winning the minutes Jokic is on the bench could be crucial for Denver, but they have to be better in the minutes Jokic is on the floor because if they keep getting killed in those minutes, the minutes with him on the bench won’t make a difference.
Credit to Draymond Green and the job he’s done on Jokic. Green has done everything he can to bother Jokic and at the very least he’s finding ways to get into Jokic’s head, as seen by his frustrations when he got ejected from game two. Jokic may still be putting up good numbers, but it hasn’t been easy for him and that’s all coach Steve Kerr can ask of his defensive stalwart. Not to mention, Green has a 15-to-1 (!!!) assist to turnover ratio to start this series. Not only has he been a problem defensively, Green is giving the Nuggets fits as a passer.
Another massive difference-maker in this series has been the Warriors’ success from beyond the arc. In Game 1 the Warriors shot a whopping 16-35 from distance and the trio of Klay Thompson, Curry, and Poole went 13-23. Game 2 was a similar story, as the Warriors went 17-40 from three and their lethal trio of guards went 13-28.
Defending the three-point line is always a major key whenever you’re going up against the Curry-led Dubs, and as a top 10 defense against the long ball in the regular season, the Nuggets have had absolutely zero success slowing down the Warriors’ three-point attack. Golden State is shooting 44% from three in the first two games of this series and if they continue to do that, this series will end sooner than later.
But Michael Malone’s teams always respond. Denver is going to do everything they possibly can to defend their home court and I suspect we’ll get Nikola Jokic at the top of his game in games three and four.
New Splash Brother in Town?
Third-year guard Jordan Poole has been looking like a young Stephen Curry as of late. Poole is a legitimate star blossoming before our very eyes and if you’re not onboard yet, you will be soon.
Post-all-star break, Poole averaged 23.4 points, 5.2 assists, and 4.1 rebounds while shooting 40.8% from beyond the arc on 9.3 attempts per game. These first two games aren’t a fluke; Poole has been doing this type of damage to opposing defenses all season long and it’s time people start recognizing him as the lethal offensive weapon that he is.
Poole has scored 59 points in his first two career playoff games which puts him behind only Wilt Chamberlain for most points in his first two playoff games in Warriors history. He’s knocked down 10 of his 17 threes in the playoffs thus far, and between him, Curry, and Thompson it truly is a, “pick your poison” situation for opposing teams.
Poole’s impact doesn’t solely rely on him putting the ball in the bucket though. The Milwaukee, WI., native knows how to get his teammates involved too. He dropped eight dimes to go along with his 29 points in the Warriors’ 126-106 win in game two, and he racked up 34 assists in his last five regular-season games heading into the postseason. Poole is almost as much of a problem finding his teammates as he is finding his own buckets. He’s in quite the groove as of late and it doesn’t feel like he’s slowing down anytime soon.
Keys Going Forward
- Nikola Jokic needs his teammates to hit shots, plain and simple. While Jokic certainly isn’t without fault in the first two games of this series, he’s mostly produced at the level we expect him to. Jokic just hasn’t had enough help putting the ball in the hoop for the Nuggets to have a chance to win. On the flip side, the Joker can’t afford to get tossed from games either.
- Defensively, if Denver can’t slow down the Warriors’ three-point attack, this series might not make it back to San Francisco. And if Golden State continues to take care of the ball at a high level – just 10.5 per game thus far in the postseason – there’s little Denver can do to slow them down. Denver is the inferior team talent-wise and that’s been evident thus far.
- The Warriors’ new ‘Death Lineup’. Curry, Poole, Thompson, Wiggins, and Green have played a total of 11 minutes together in the first two games and they’ve absolutely exploded offensively in their two stints together. It’s an extremely small sample size, but they’ve played as well as any Warriors “death lineup” over the years. They’re a +29 with 14 assists on 17 made baskets including 27 points on 11-12 shooting in their six-minute stint on Monday night in game two.
Michael Malone isn’t going to let his Nuggets roll over but I just don’t think they have the personnel to make the adjustments they need to make; they’re simply undermanned and outclassed. It’s tough to find Denver an avenue to slow down the Warriors’ nuclear offensive attack and they don’t have the shot makers to go shot for shot with the Splash Brothers and company.
Originally I had the Warriors winning this series in six, but this series could easily be over by Game 5.
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