In the immediate aftermath of the Warriors’ 97-95 loss in Game 1 to the Denver Nuggets, things didn’t look so bad. The Warriors, with six players making their NBA postseason debut, held their own in an intimidating arena, and not only that, had a chance to go ahead with under a minute remaining.
They hung tough despite poor shooting games from David Lee, Stephen Curry and Jarrett Jack, a testament to how well rounded a team they’ve become. They were right there, poised to steal a game, in a building where the Nuggets are now 39-3 this season, winning their last 24 straight.
Unfortunately, this is one of those times when the forecast got a lot gloomier after the final buzzer had sounded. Lee sustained a hip injury in the fourth quarter and will miss the rest of the playoffs.
So, just like that, the Warriors went from a thin team to a thinner-than-thin team. Conventional wisdom would suggest coach Mark Jackson will start Carl Landry at power forward for Game 2 on Tuesday night.
But if you put Landry into your starting lineup, you take an awful lot of firepower away from your bench – and basically reduce the second unit to Jack.
It’s possible Jackson could elect to start rookie Draymond Green at power forward and hope to milk a few minutes out of the four spot that way. Regardless, the Warriors’ front line just took a hit, and making matters worse, Nuggets power forward Kenneth Faried is expected to return for Game 2.
He didn’t play in Game 1, and the Warriors enjoyed a rebounding advantage – in large part because of Andrew Bogut and Lee’s 14 rebounds apiece. So rebounding now certainly becomes an issue.
Playing the rest of the series without Lee is problematic for the Warriors because he’s such an integral part of the team. In truth, they’re going to miss his scoring, rebounding and passing. Sure they might be better defensively, but that’s a heck of a lot of offense to give up in the playoffs, where scoring often becomes a challenge.
Where Lee’s absence might particularly hurt the Warriors is in the ball security department. The Warriors had 18 turnovers against the Nuggets in Game 1, and that’s a problem that has been around since Day 1.
Lee is a very good frontcourt decision-maker and probably has the ball in his hands more than any other player besides Curry. And for the most part, he’s very solid with it.
He did have four turnovers in Game 1 (although he was miscredited with one of Curry’s), but a couple of those seemed to be early-game jittery ones. It’s not a stretch to say he would have settled into the series.
What the Warriors won’t be able to do anymore in this series is run the high pick and roll with Curry and Lee. That was the Warriors’ bread-and-butter play this season and it worked quite well for them.
In short, Curry spent a lot of time finding Lee, roughly 16 to 20 feet out on the perimeter, this season. And Lee thrived in those situations, either consistently knocking down that extended mid-range shot or finding the right guy to pass to.
The Warriors don’t have anyone who excels in that area like Lee does. Bogut can pass, but he can’t make a perimeter shot like Lee. Landry can make a perimeter shot, but can’t pass like Lee. It’s going to be hard enough for the Warriors to figure out the best way to play without Lee. It’s going to be harder still to figure that out while winning Game 2 at the Pepsi Center.