DENVER -- If Golden State coach Mark Jackson had chosen to be honest with people between Games 1 and 2, he would have said the biggest adjustment the Warriors would make in this Western Conference quarterfinal was to convince the fellows to shoot 24 percent higher from the field than they did in Game 1.
He didn’t lie about it. He just never mentioned it.
But now that the secret is out, it can be told. The Warriors, making two of every three field goals, are going to be hard to beat.
The Warriors clocked Denver, 131-117, and the final margin flatters the Nuggets. From the moment Tuesday morning when Jackson asked his coaches, “’Am I crazy to start (Harrison) Barnes at the four? Someone talk me out of it.’ But they smiled and co-signed it.”
It became the kind of check you frame rather than cash, and then you mount it in a place of honor in the house. And then you get back to work and figure out how to do it again.
After a fitful start for both teams in which Andre Iguodala and Klay Thompson did the heavy lifting, the game morphed into a Stephen Curry Joint, and once it did that, all the other Warriors climbed on for one of their happiest rides ever.
Without David Lee and his wonky hip flexor, the Warriors merely lined up behind Curry, playing small on offense and zone on defense, and made merely every shot, or close enough to it. They opened by shooting 58 percent on the first quarter (the quarter in which Curry was reduced to mere distribution), and that was their WORST quarter of the four.
Curry started 1-for-7 and finished 13-for-23 for 30 points, and 13 assists. And his 13-for-23 was poorer than the other Warriors combined. They finished with an absurd 64.6 percent from the field, and every team in the game bows before that level of marksmanship.
Barnes, the small power forward who took all 34 of Lee’s minutes, and Klay Thompson added 45 on 17-of-25 shooting. That’s 30-for-48 right there.
Add strong games from Andrew Bogut and Jarrett Jack, proper role-players’ minutes from the rest of the roster, and clever adjustments from Mark Jackson and his coaching staff, and you get a blowout so clinical and comprehensive that the entire tone of the series has been turned on its ear.
But as has been intermittently the case in is career, there is a backhand to Curry at his most incandescent, 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 on Anthony Randolph, and though he returned in the fourth quarter, his ankle served as a post-it note for anyone who think he is invulnerable. He is merely superhuman, and the ankle is a reminder that nothing is truly assured, not even one of his open looks.
“I just tried to plant and make a move, and I don’t even know what happened,” Curry said in explaining the injury. “But it was just a normal sprain. Hopefully I’ll get some treatment and it’ll be fine for Friday night.”
His ankle responded to some rubber-band stretching, but by the time he returned in the early fourth quarter, the game had already congealed into a ensemble piece in which no Warrior failed to impress. Thompson had started the process, Curry accelerated it, and by the time he went down and then returned, it was running on its own breathtaking inertia.
An inertia that the Nuggets realized and could do zero to prevent.
“If we try to outshoot them, we’re crazy,” Denver coach George Karl said. “They’re one of the best shooting teams in the NBA, one of the best I’ve seen in a long time. We have to wear them down. We haven’t made them miss enough shots.”
And when asked to validate Jackson’s claim that Curry and Thompson are the best-shooting tandem in NBA history, Karl could not refute it. He offered Ray Allen and Sam Cassell from his time in Seattle, “but Sam couldn’t really stroke the three.”
History aside, though, this was largely a game the Warriors won more than the Nuggets lost. Denver put six players in double figures, but never assembled a serious run or found a mismatch to exploit. Even Kenneth Faried, the irrepressible forward who missed Game 1, was of minimal effect, scoring four points and grabbed two rebounds in 21 minutes,. He was supposed to be a difference-maker in the absence of Lee, but was no such thing.
In sum, the Kids With The Casino’s Money hit the flush on the river again, and changed perceptions, math and reality in one 48-minute swoop. Stephen Curry grabbed the nation’s attention (and scared it witless for a few moments) yet again, but he was not alone. This was that often-mythical team victory, and a reminder that what the Warriors are best at is not blinking when everyone else thinks the light is too bright for them.