DENVER -- So the Warriors lose one of their most important players before a playoff game in the toughest place to play in the National Basketball Association. Your point?
Golden State took the lemons of David Lee’s season-ending hip flexor injury and turned them into a fine Scotch whiskey, cuffing the Denver Nuggets, 131-117, in Game 2 of this Western Conference quarterfinal. And in doing so, the Warriors re-established Stephen Curry as a dominant figure and his ankles as ongoing tax bills to the team’s hopes.
It also enhanced the reputations of Mark Jackson and his coaching staff as nobody’s tactical subordinate, showed the players as their deepest and most versatile, and sent them all to Oakland to see if they could take control of a series they’d been given less chance of winning than the Dallas one six years ago.
Curry started slowly, as he had in Game 1, but involved others with smart cross-court passes to open shooters until the Nuggets started backing off him, at which point he shifted into that gear he has. You know that gear, the one where he finds the open place, quick-draws a shot and then runs back down court on defense while the other guy waits for the ball to free itself from the net.
He finished with 30 points (13 of 23 shooting) and 13 assists as the focal point in a game-long shooting festival in which they turned an arguable game into a monologue. Put another way, they were 11 of 19 (58 percent) in the first quarter, and that was their worst of the four. They finished hitting 51 of 79 shots for an ungodly 64.6 percent, and nobody was under 50 for the game.
In sum, Curry raises all boats, as Warrior fans have known for some time.
[RATTO: No Lee, no problem for Warriors in Game 2 victory]
But as has been intermittently the case in is career, there is a backhand to Curry, and it is the junction between leg and foot. His ankle offended with 2:26 left in the third quarter, as he rolled the left (alleged good) one trying to turn the corner on Anthony Randolph, and though he returned in the fourth quarter, his ankle served as a post-it note for anyone who thinks he is invulnerable.
He wasn’t the only one, of course. Andrew Bogut asserted himself as he hadn’t in Game 1, Klay Thompson and Harrison Barnes served as very useful offensive adjutants (45 points on 17 of 25 shooting), and the team as a whole kept track of every Nugget save Andre Iguodala. Between the zone defense the Warriors used to keep the Nuggets from penetrating or rebounding, and the faster pace on the offensive end, Golden State dictated terms in a game that could have hastened their demise.
The game began benignly enough with Jackson opting for a lineup that replaced David Lee with Jarrett Jack, but with Barnes playing a small power forward. The offense, though, didn’t look dramatically different on the tactical end, so the search to find a replacement for Lee was not accompanied by a radical rethinking of the position. Just a difference in the level of haste.
The two teams changed the pace from Game 1 by hitting their shots and forcing tempo through the subtlety of taking the ball out of the net and heading up court. Both teams shot well over 50 percent, and if there was a noticeable difference at the end of the first quarter, it was the two fouls on Bogut (bad screens) and Barnes, items that could have but didn’t come up later.
Denver rode the indefatigable Andre Iguodala, who had 12 at the break, including three forceful dunks, while Thompson found more open looks just like the ones he had in Game One, and ended with nine.
But when the quarter turned, so did the game. Curry, held to two points on 1-for-5 shooting, molded the game to his liking, first by finding open shooters on the run and then by making himself open, and by the end of the half had made Game 2 his own. He made seven of his next 10 shots, and with seven assists had accounted for more than half of Golden State’s points in the half.
The other differences were tactical ones. The Warriors pushed the pace offensively, but used their zone defense better to force Denver into jump shots, the worst part of their game. The result was a slow but steadying widening of the margin from nothing to eight by halftime, 61-53. The total was the highest by any team in any half of the playoffs so far.
In addition, Kenneth Faried, the irrepressible Denver forward who missed Game 1, played 12 minutes in the first half without a single point or rebound, thus negating the presumed advantage of his addition and Lee’s subtraction.
But in the end, the Warriors played their cards in good order, Stephen Curry grabbed the nation’s attention (and scared it witless for a few moments) yet again, and in total remembered how not to blink when everyone else thinks the light is too bright for them.