DENVER -- The Denver Nuggets, with their power forward named Manimal back, were supposed to physically intimidate the Warriors in Game 2 Tuesday night even more than they did in their 97-95 Game 1 win.
Never happened. Instead, the Warriors swarmed the Nuggets on defense and then fed them their own medicine by flashing down the court for transition baskets before Denver could get organized.
Kenneth “The Manimal” Faried, after missing Game 1 to allow his sprained ankle to fully heal, was available for Game 2. He did not, as expected, resume his starting role but came off the bench late in the first quarter.
Carl Landry, assigned to match up with Faried because of David Lee’s season-ending torn hip flexor, made a statement at the start of the second quarter by putting a forearm in Faried’s chest, transforming him into The Minimal.
Faried had as many turnovers as rebounds (2) in 21 minutes. Every other Warrior responded in kind, including center Andrew Bogut, who flattened Andre Iguodala with a jarring third-quarter backscreen in the backcourt.
“True sign of togetherness,” said rookie Draymond Green. “That’s been the strength of this team all year.”
The Warriors also made a subtle but key adjustment that de-fanged the Nuggets’ trapping scheme that stymied point guards Stephen Curry and Jarrett Jack in Game 1. Instead of trying to attack when the Nuggets double-teamed the ball, Curry and Jack dribbled laterally or even backward, pulling the defenders away from the lane and opening the floor. A quick pass left the rest of the team to play 4 vs. 3.
No one exploited the subsequent gaps more than Harrison Barnes, but Green, Richard Jefferson, Festus Ezeli and Andrew Bogut all made the Nuggets pay for focusing too much on the Warriors’ point of attack.
Although the Warriors suggested the decision to start Jack rather than Landry was a last-minute decision spurred, in part, because Faried did not start, Jack said he was aware Tuesday morning that he’d be in the starting lineup. Having both point guards on the floor also was effective in disabling the Nuggets’ ball pressure. Curry and Jack combined for eight turnovers in Game 1 but sliced that total in half in Game 2.
The absence of Lee, which was expected to be a huge setback, proved to be a tremendous motivator. The Warriors understood, to a man, that to cover for his absence it would require a collective effort.
“If losing your All-Star doesn’t motivate you, I question you as a man and as a teammate,” said Green. “If nothing else, we want to get this series for him.”
If there's one point of concern, it's Curry's left ankle, which he rolled in the second half. It was still difficult for him to put his full weight on in the lockerroom afterward, but he was confident he'd be ready for Game 3 on Friday.