Basketball

Warriors Escape Game 5, Clinch Series

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It wasn’t the sexiest win Warriors fans ever witnessed, but the Warriors escaped a game five scare from Nikola Jokic and the Nuggets to close out the series with a 102-98 come-from-behind win. Golden State trailed Denver 78-70 after the first three quarters and the Warriors were held to just 39.7% shooting through the first 36 minutes of play.

However, the fourth quarter played out to be a much different story. Stephen Curry led the way as the Warriors would go on to shoot 63.2% in the fourth quarter as they simply out shot the Nuggets down the stretch. Gary Payton II was the unlikely hero, chipping in 10 timely points in the fourth, including a pair of humongous triples as his father chirped from the sidelines. Never change Mr. Payton, never change.

Golden State had a chokehold on the Nuggets through the first two games of the series holding a convincing 2-0 lead heading to Denver, but the Nuggets managed to find some life in games three, four and five. But, what questions were answered and what should fans be looking for heading into round two?

Starting Lineup

With Curry returning from injury in game one, the Warriors opted to bring the future Hall of Famer off the bench. They continued to bring Curry off the bench until game five, and Steve Kerr chose to start their new version of the ‘Death Lineup’ which includes Curry, Jordan Poole, Klay Thompson, Andrew Wiggins and Draymond Green. It’ll be interesting to see what lineup Golden State rolls out as their starting five going forward but my hunch is that it won’t be the Death Lineup.

The Warriors most frequently used lineup throughout the regular season was Curry, Poole, Wiggins, Green and Looney. Warriors fans should probably expect that lineup but with Thompson in for Poole as their main starting lineup going forward. Poole is better suited to come off the bench than Thompson who has started in every game he’s played in this season, while Poole started 51 of his 76 games in the regular season.

The Death Lineup didn’t start out game five poorly by any means but Kerr substituted Kevon Looney in for Poole at the 8:22 mark of the opening quarter. The Warriors were up 10-9 at that point in the game and it was little surprising to see Kerr make that early of a substitution, but three trips to the free throw line that early in the game for Nuggets’ forward Aaron Gordon likely is what forced Kerr’s hand. It would’ve been interesting to see what that lineup could’ve done had they stuck with it a bit longer.

Warriors fans will definitely get their dose of the Death Lineup throughout the remainder of the playoffs and it may even be their go-to closing lineup, but a more traditional lineup to start games is the way for this team to go.

Lack of Size Continues To Be Glaring

For as much success as Golden State’s offense had against Jokic in the first two games of the series, Jokic and backup center, DeMarcus Cousins, feasted on the Golden State’s defense more and more the longer the series went on.

In Wednesday night’s game five, Boogie Cousins was the game’s third leading scorer with 19 points despite playing a mere 15 minutes while Jokic dropped possibly the most impressive stat line any individual will put up in these playoffs with 30 points, 19 rebounds and 8 assists while shooting 12-18 from the field.

For the series as a whole, coach Michael Malone couldn’t have asked for better production from his two centers. In five games, Jokic averaged 31 points, 13.2 rebounds and 5.8 assists while shooting 57.5% from the field. Cousins averaged 10.6 points, 3.4 rebounds, and 1.2 assists in just 11.4 minutes per game while shooting 65.5% from the floor and 66.7% from long distance. Cousins proved he still has a lot left in the tank and almost helped push Denver over the top in game five. Golden State will need to be very mindful of the bigs they face going forward.

Jokic is the most physically imposing and talented big the Warriors will have to face in the Western Conference but Karl-Anthony Towns and DeAndre Ayton remain as possible match ups in the next few rounds. And the Memphis Grizzlies group of bigs is no crew to scoff at either.

Golden State may not have to face Jokic and Cousins again but make no mistake, they’ll be at a size disadvantage regardless of who their opponent is. Draymond Green’s efforts on Jokic throughout the series were incredible but that lack of size is an obstacle that they’re going to have to continue to overcome.

Everyone Holds Their Weight

If one were to have watched the Warriors for the first time this season in game one of their series with Denver, never in a million years would they have guessed the Warriors ended the season as poorly as they did. Golden State looked like a team that had been playing together for years as soon as the series started. And sure, a lot of these guys have been playing alongside each other for years but it’d been a few months at least since the Warriors faithful were as confident as they were watching their team go to battle.

While the Death Lineup stole the show early in the series, most everyone else was quietly making a difference. Wiggins didn’t put up crazy numbers but he was efficient – 52.9% from the field, 53.8% from three – and rebounded extremely well, even coming up with multiple big rebounds to help keep Dub Nation moving along.

GPII provided excellent minutes on both ends of the floor throughout the series and if there were any questions about his spot in the rotation coming into the playoffs, he answered those questions with his play in the first round. Every team in the league could use a player like Payton in their rotation and he’s going to continue to be a difference maker throughout the playoffs. Thompson knocked down 4.4 threes a game for a total of 22 thus far in the playoffs, currently the most in the league.

Looney was the only guy I would say that underperformed and the Nuggets front court just wasn’t an ideal matchup for him. He averaged just 13.4 minutes per game in round one and I suspect that number will be closer to 20 for the remainder of the postseason.

Even rookie Jonathan Kuminga got the opportunity to contribute in his first ever playoff run. He played just 25 minutes in the entire series but found himself playing important minutes in game four when he dropped 9 points in 11 minutes. He didn’t get a ton of playing time but it’s valuable experience for the young fella.

Onto the Next

While the Warriors have officially advanced to round two, they await to find out who their opponent is. Memphis currently holds a 3-2 lead on the Timberwolves.

The Warriors did not fare well against Memphis in the regular season going 1-3 in their four matchups and went 2-2 versus Minnesota. Memphis has quite a bit more experience than that of Minnesota and I think they pose a legitimate threat to the Warriors title hopes whereas I don’t feel comfortable saying the same about Minnesota.

With that being said, the games are played for a reason. Golden State will be the more talented and experienced team regardless of which of the two they face and should be seen as the favorite in the Western Conference Semifinals.


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