SAN FRANCISCO – In the raw, emotional aftermath of the Nuggets’ humbling Game 2 loss to Golden State, nothing was off limits.
Monte Morris said Monday’s 20-point drubbing led to an honest postgame locker room where “everybody gave their piece.”
There was frustration from reigning MVP Nikola Jokic, who was ejected five minutes into the fourth quarter for disputing a non-call.
“I think I got fouled in the moment because I heard the slap,” said Jokic, who was spared watching the end of the 126-106 embarrassment that dropped the Nuggets into a 2-0 hole.
And then there was the public in-fighting between Will Barton and DeMarcus Cousins that suggested a fraying fabric amid the Nuggets’ tight-knit locker room.
“Just some goofy (expletive) that happened on the bench that I shouldn’t entertain,” Barton said. “I can’t let that happen in the series, in the playoffs, in the game. I’ve got to be better than that.”
Now down 2-0 and facing a team whose confidence is tipping over the edge, there was talk of pride, of accountability, of splintering and of succumbing to an avalanche authored by the Warriors’ trio of lethal shooters. Steph Curry, Jordan Poole and Klay Thompson accounted for 84 points and 13 3-pointers to match Denver’s entire total beyond the arc.
And then came the first public suggestion of where this series could be headed.
“We’ve got to figure it out, because getting swept again, not a good look for nobody, and it’s embarrassing,” Morris said. “If we’ve got any pride, we’ve got to find out real soon because it’s not going to get no easier for us.”
It was the 44-point third quarter that broke them. The Nuggets wilted under the same rush of energy that’d buried so many other teams during the Warriors’ dynastic run. Dropping their discipline amid the chaos, the Nuggets fouled three separate 3-point shooters in the quarter alone.
There were seven 3-pointers in total, each one feeling more powerful and punishing than the last. The Nuggets folded under the weight of them, losing their offensive structure and composure as a result.
“We were right there in the game, and like you just said, you look up and then they go on huge runs and we’re getting helter-skelter and everything — we’re all over the place on offense, we’re not in the right places on defense, and the game just gets out of control,” Barton said.
It was amid their relentless run, with 6:14 left in the third quarter and the Nuggets down 72-62, that Barton headed into a timeout and was met by whatever Cousins said to him. Morris and Jamal Murray intervened before anything physical materialized, but the spat was the first public signal of something snapping within a team that’s known for powering through adversity.
Nuggets coach Michael Malone could only hope his team would come out whole ahead of Thursday’s Game 3 in Denver.
“Just find a way to stay together no matter what’s going on, good or bad, find a way to stay the course, stay together, because that’s the only chance we have to be competitive in this series,” Malone said. “If we’re fragmented, if we’re breaking off into groups or individuals, then we have zero chance of winning a game in this series.”
Meanwhile, as overwhelming as the treys from Curry, Poole and Thompson were, Draymond Green’s third-quarter triple stung just as badly because of how emboldened the non-shooter was. While Green celebrated at mid-court after his bucket, Curry found his vintage shimmy on a finger-roll with 3:17 left in the third.
“They’re out there laughing, dancing around,” Morris said. “It’s just embarrassing.”
Smarting from the ugly loss, Barton had no problem with the preening.
“I mean, when you’re winning, you can celebrate,” he said. “I’ve never been the type to be mad at someone for celebrating when they win because we do the same thing. You want them to stop celebrating, win.”
The Nuggets are a far cry from stealing a game in this series. Through two games, they’ve put together four competitive quarters. And that’s without a healthy Curry, either.
Beyond Jokic, Barton and Morris, the Nuggets have gotten nothing out of Aaron Gordon, whose confidence offensively appeared badly shaken. The same could be said of Denver’s locker room, whose strength was tested on the team’s long flight home from San Francisco.