Warriors coach Steve Kerr sat down behind a microphone Sunday afternoon and gave the Nuggets credit for their Game 4 victory at Ball Arena.
“They deserved to win,” Kerr said.
A notable admission from a coach whose team had a chance for a first-round playoff sweep. The biggest mindset change for the Nuggets?
“We see they’re beatable,” point guard Monte Morris said.
There’s no secret to how Denver turned the momentum, if only briefly, in their Western Conference playoff series. It started from the first play of the game. Reigning MVP Nikola Jokic took a finger to the eye from Golden State’s Draymond Green, got back up, and finished with 37 points, eight rebounds and six assists.
The sequence personified two important aspects of the Nuggets’ victory: 1) Force the Warriors into foul trouble; 2) Respond to their physicality with a counter-punch. Denver passed both tests.
Kerr lamented his team’s defense, in particular its propensity to foul. Golden State had 27 fouls leading to 29 Denver points at the free-throw line. Green earned his sixth whistle with 2:05 left in regulation. He wasn’t surprised the Nuggets avoided the sweep.
“It’s a good team with an MVP player (Nikola Jokic). They’re not going to just lay down,” Green said. “They came out and played well. … You’ve got to give them some credit. They played with more force on both ends of the floor.”
The Nuggets also flustered Golden State point guard Steph Curry. He finished with a team-high 33 points — but on 10 of 23 shooting from the floor. Nuggets reserve guard Austin Rivers earned his team’s defensive player of the game honors for his hounding defense against Curry, which included five steals.
Curry also missed four free throws, which might have been the biggest upset of the day.
“On the road, with a team playing as desperate as they were, it leads to a tough night,” Curry said. “Missed free throws, I hate it. It’s the worst feeling in the world because it’s what I do really well.”
Don’t expect Golden State to exhibit any panic entering Game 5. The Warriors are embracing a chance to close the series at home.
“This is the situation you want in any playoff series when you’re hosting,” Kerr said. “Sweep the first two, get one out of two on the road, and go home with a chance to clinch. We’re right where we need to be.”
Green added: “This isn’t the worst thing for us. We get more reps together and more playoff-like reps together. It isn’t all bad. But we’ve got to go home and take care of our business. Close out the game and not come back to Denver.”