Former Boston Celtics great Larry Bird used to say that Game 4 is the most important game of any NBA playoff series.
Well, the Warriors and Denver Nuggets will play Game 4 on Sunday night at Oracle Arena. And it’s likely to be the game that swings the series.
Should the Warriors beat the Nuggets on Sunday, it means they would take a commanding 3-1 lead back to Denver, knowing full well they’ll have another home game in their back pocket should they not be able to close it out in the Mile High City.
If the Nuggets knock off the Warriors, though, it sways the series back in their favor and reinstates the homecourt advantage for the No. 3 team in the West. And from where the Nuggets are right now, that would certainly be a big-time change of outlook.
The Warriors have won two consecutive games over the Nuggets – one in Denver and then Friday night’s 110-108 thriller in Oakland – by getting positive contributions from seemingly every player who has gotten into a game. The main players – Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Jarrett Jack, Carl Landry and Andrew Bogut – have produced consistently. They’re carrying the load like you’d expect them to … well, expect them to if you’re thinking about advancing to the second round.
But it has been the lesser-known rookies who have done more than just chip in a little, they’ve helped alter the series. First-year small forward Harrison Barnes has been the picture of composure and poise. But even more important, he’s scored 24 and 19 points, respectively, in the Game 2 and Game 3 wins. Festus Ezeli and Draymond Green have also been in the middle of winning plays. Green has hit a 3-pointer in each of the past two games and he’s been rebounding at a high rate. Ezeli has been a factor on the interior, whether that means blocking a shot, taking a foul or tracking down an offensive rebound.
But when you turn your attention to the Nuggets, you find more players than not who have struggled to contribute in a positive manner.
Evan Fournier and Kosta Koufos have been non-factors, and Kenneth Faried appears to be a shell of himself. In addition, some of the players who are supposed to be consistent for the Nuggets – Andre Iguodala, Wilson Chandler and Corey Brewer – have been pretty so-so.
Through three games in this series, the analysis seems pretty simple: The Warriors have more guys playing well than the Nuggets.
Golden State has done a tremendous job of rebounding in this series, turning that usual negative into a plus. Their 3-point shooting has been off the charts, following up a 56 percent evening from 3-point range in Game 2 with a 40 percent night (8-for-20) in Game 3.
Aside from a few too many flareups with the turnovers, the Warriors have played a very, very well so far … and they’re halfway home to a first-round upset.
The Warriors came into the postseason as underdogs, but this thing is looking more and more like it’s a toss-up. And should the Warriors bring home a win on Sunday at Oracle, they’re going to look very much like the favorites.