There is no stopping Nikola Jokic. However, making him one-dimensional makes Denver eminently more beatable. If the Nuggets are to level their first round series Monday night (10:00pm Eastern; April 18th, 3:00am UK) in San Francisco, his teammates must stop the Warriors from replicating that feat.
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Denver Nuggets team news
No player more profoundly impacts his team’s fortunes when he’s on the floor than the Nuggets’ virtuoso big man, Nikola Jokic. The NBA’s reigning MVP (who’s also one of the favorites for the award again this season) single-handedly makes the Nuggets a viable contender. When he is on the floor, this is top-third-of-the-league team. When he is off the floor, the Nuggets – especially in the absences secondary stars point guard Jamal Murray and power forward Michael Porter, Jr., both of whom the team has missed virtually the entire season (and remain sidelined) – are one of the worst team in the NBA. The responsibility he shoulders is staggering.
In their playoff opener, Denver ran into a Warriors team possessing not only the a perfect plan for making the Nuggets beatable (rather easily, at that), but also the personnel to implement it. Now, not every team can count on a Stephen Curry-esque shooting performance from its fourth- or fifth-best player and efficient performances from two other perimeter stars, with the luxury of having the actual Steph Curry (being brought back slowly from an injury) coming off of the bench. That’s fair. At the same time, that is the challenge that Nuggets will continue to face.
Jokic, as usual, put up an impressive stat line, with 25 points, 10 rebounds, three steals and a blocked shot. However, that the offensive maestro only managed six assists took all of the sting out of the Nuggets’ attack. Though starting guard Will Barton turned in an excellent performance, with 24 points on 18 shots, plus six rebounds and five assists, Denver’s other perimeter players – fellow starters Monte Morris and Aaron Gordon, and reserves Bones Highland, Austin Rivers and Bryn Forbes – offered virtually no threat on offense and did little to slow down the Warriors stars at the defensive end.
The Warriors will be content to let Jokic try to beat them on his own. The Nuggets perimeter players must accept the challenge of ensuring that that plan is not as foolproof as it seemed in Game 1.
Nuggets predicted starting lineup: Monte Morris, Will Barton, Jeff Green, Aaron Gordon, Nikola Jokic
Notable injuries: Jamal Murray, Michael Porter, Jr.
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Golden State Warriors team news
Steve Kerr and the Warriors could not have scripted a more ideal Game 1 experience.
As one would expect, Steph Curry – who’d been sidelined with a foot injury since March 16 – returned to the floor for the playoff opener against the Nuggets. Interestingly (though understandably), rather than burden him with a massive workload right off the bat, the Warriors chose to bring Curry along slowly, and started their superstar on the bench. In most cases, this strategy, while prudent, would present obstacles – or, at the very least, preclude an utterly dominant victory.
Curry’s fellow splash brother, Klay Thompson (who himself recently returned from multiple lengthy layoffs) was on hand, and efficiently (7-of-15 shooting; 5-of-10 on 3-pointers) scored 19 points. Curry’s fellow 2022 All-Star Andrew Wiggins also turned in an efficient performance, scoring 16 points on just 11 shots, while also grabbing nine rebounds. For good measure, Steph himself made three of six 3-pointers en route to 16 points on 13 shots in just under 22 minutes off of the bench. And then, of course, there’s Draymond Green. Dray turned in a quintessential ‘Draymond Green’ game, with 12 points on just seven shots (this relative outburst was the least Draymond portion of his evening), six rebounds, a team-high nine assists, three blocked shots and, ever so vitally, stellar physical defense inside on Jokic.
At the other end of the floor, though Will Barton did have a fantastic game, the Warriors perfectly executed the oft-attempted-seldom-successful strategy of simultaneously harassing Jokic, while also putting enough pressure on Denver’s other perimeter players to turn the game into a blowout.
Of course, the most impressive performance of the night belonged to none of these four household names, but to third-year guard Jordan Poole. Poole did emerge during the regular season as a legitimate scoring threat, averaging an efficient 18.5 points per game off the bench with 18 and a half points per game. His game also hinted along the way that the 22-year-old could one day be capable of more.
However, stepping in for Curry in a playoff opener and burying nine of 13 shots (including an awesome five of seven 3-pointers) on his way to 30 points and totally terrorizing the Nuggets’ perimeter defense was special. It’s likely the Warriors run back their Game 1 starting lineup and allow Curry a bit more rest. In light of Poole’s spectacular performance – and given the wealth of non-Curry perimeter talent on hand – it’s likely a smart decision..
Warriors predicted starting lineup: Jordan Poole, Klay Thompson, Andrew Wiggins, Draymond Green, Kevon Looney
Notable injuries: None
Prediction: Denver Nuggets +7.5 points, with a combined score OVER 224.5
We should probably assume that literally everything will not fall the Warriors. Nuggets head coach Michael Malone is undoubtedly going to make adjustments geared towards freeing up his perimeter players and better allowing Nikola Jokic to orchestrate the offense.
At the same time, based on what we saw in Game 1, it would appear the Warriors have a rather significant margin for error. The likeliest outcome for Game 2 is an improved showing by Denver and a much closer game, but ultimately another Warriors victory.