OAKLAND -- Ty Lawson, in his way, is wreaking just as much damage as Steph Curry in the Warriors-Nuggets series. What Denver does not have is anybody else who has been able to facilitate the offense when too much attention is paid to their point guard. The Warriors do. They are one win away from pulling the playoffs’ most surprising upset because of it.
“We’re missing the extra pass,” said Nuggets power forward Kenneth Faried. “We’re not finding each other.”
The Warriors, on the other hand, are doing that better now than they did during the regular season, despite the absence of one of their best passing big men, David Lee (torn hip flexor in Game 1). That was particularly important in Game 4 Sunday night with Curry’s hamstring and ankle issues limiting his mobility in the early going. With back-up point guard Jarrett Jack starting alongside Curry and Harrison Barnes shifting from small to power forward, they have an array of players with floor vision and decent ballhandling skills. Throw in an unfettered willingness to share the ball and the result is more assists and a better assist/turnover ratio than they had in the regular season. In Game 4 alone, they had five players with two or more assists; Denver had three.
Now, heading into Game 5, it’s pick-your-poison time for the Nuggets: leave Curry in single coverage and he’ll light you up, as he did in the third quarter with 22 of his 31 points. Double him and either Jack (9 assists) or Klay Thompson (5) will take over the distribution duties. The most demoralizing play had to be when Denver forced the ball out of Curry’s hands, Jack took it and drove to the rim – and then kicked to Curry, who had snuck over to the left corner for an open 3.
“Harrison has been much more aggressive and Jack is facilitating better than in the regular season,” said Lawson, still unshowered and slumped in his lockerroom chair after nearly all of his teammates had left. “All that is taking pressure off Curry. And now Bogut knows he can roll to the basket. Draymond Green knows he’s going to get that skip pass for a three. I’ll bet he’s in the gym every day working on that shot. They know where they’re going to get their shots. We don’t really know where we’re going to get ours.”
It’s not just the guards who are moving the ball. Boxscores can be horribly misleading about how a game is won or lost, but it’s impossible to miss the difference in assists, particularly when it comes to the big men – or, since both teams have been going small, the men asked to play big. The Nuggets’ bigs – JaVale McGee, Kostas Koufos, Anthony Randolph and Faried – have one assist among them in the series. Swingman Wilson Chandler has logged minutes at power forward and has five assists, but even including him Warriors center Andrew Bogut has more (7) than all of the Nuggets’ big men combined.
“Their best players are standing tall,” said back-up point guard Andre Miller, whose scoring average has nearly doubled in this series compared to the regular season but both his assists and assist/turnover ratio have slid. “They’re sharing the ball and playing aggressively.”
Faried suggested that the Nuggets are feeling the absence of Danilo Gallinari (torn knee ligaments), a three-point shooting power forward and their best passing big man. Since the Warriors are down a passing big man, too, what the Nuggets actually are feeling is the absence of a suitable substitute. With the multitude of contributions the Warriors are getting in that department, even one might not be enough.