Golden State’s Ruthlessness Is A Problem The Nuggets Might Not Be Able To Solve

The merits of Golden State’s Stephen Curry-Jordan Poole-Klay Thompson-Andrew Wiggins-Draymond juggernaut lineup have been on full display in the Warriors’ two blowout victories over the Denver Nuggets.

In 11 minutes together — which doubles as the first time this exact lineup has ever seen the floor — they’ve outscored Denver 47-18. The per 100 possession numbers are frivolous at this stage, but they remain exceptionally fun nonetheless: 204.3 offensive rating, 75 defensive rating, 95.4 percent true shooting, 58.8 percent assist rate, 0 percent turnover rate. This is no area where this grouping has been anything other than dominant.

Swapping out Kevon Looney for Curry is an obvious and beneficial change for a litany of reasons. Among those is the radically different pace at which Golden State operates with its star guard in the fold. The starting unit of Poole, Thompson, Wiggins, Green, and Looney touts a pace of 89.59 this series. Toss Curry in place of Looney and that mark vaults up to 103.28.

Across many lineups, the Warriors flow into their offense quickly and absolutely crush Denver. Whether it’s attacking before the Nuggets’ defense is organized, upping the tempo to generate favorable cross-matches, or simply coasting into easy looks, Golden State is thriving in the open floor. This handy data from my friend, Div, underlines the degree to which the Warriors are cooking.

By pushing the pace, Golden State is increasing the likelihood of Denver miscommunicating defensively, which has frequently occurred in this series. Similarly, it’s forcing players like Nikola Jokic, Will Barton, JaMychal Green, and Jeff Green to guard in space, an area in which they’ve all struggled. This team is not designed to comfortably toggle across assignments defensively. Golden State is exploiting that deficiency by imposing beneficial matchups for itself. If those don’t arise, a wide open triple or path to the rim becomes available.

The Warriors also roster many savvy off-ball players and the Nuggets counter with many poor off-ball defenders. When those traits are emphasized early in the shot clock, Golden State rides a massive advantage to success.

The Curry-Poole-Thompson-Wiggins-Green quintet is overflowing with shooting, playmaking, and passing. Even when Golden State substitutes in Otto Porter Jr. or Nemanja Bjelica, the themes that stretch Denver thin persist. The Nuggets aren’t at all equipped to handle it, especially before their defense is set.

On the flip side, their offensive limitations — lack of scoring punch on the wings, general perimeter creation and insufficient rim pressure — can’t expose any of the potential flaws for Golden State. Privy to this notion, Green is constantly encouraging his teammates to run. He’s leading the break, attacking the paint, forcing the defense into rotation, and opening passing lanes. Curry is helping to spearhead those efforts. By the second half of Game 2, they’d seemingly exhausted Denver into submission.

Take stock of the outcomes above derived from a ferocious fast-break approach. They’re a whole lot of prosperous shots for the Warriors.

Jokic has to rotate on Poole and (understandably) doesn’t come close to contesting his jumper. Thompson’s shooting gravity draws two, opens a cutting lane, and results in a layup for himself. Thompson again draws two and springs Wiggins free for a jam. Barton isn’t settled and surrenders another Poole long ball. Nobody picks up Thompson, which tasks Jokic with the burden and Thompson glides past him for the bucket. Poole uses a ball-screen to boogy into a stepback jumper.

The Nuggets’ mental lapses snowballed as Golden State’s lead climbed in the second half of Game 2. They’d fail to pick up assignments in a timely fashion. They jogged back as Golden State beamed back. Any remnants of crisp execution on their switches evaporated. The offensive potency of the Warriors’ lineups were overwhelming, both in transition and the half-court.

The wide disparity in decision-making was evident. Denver buffers before its next move defensively. Golden State doesn’t do the same offensively or defensively. That difference is proving costly for the Nuggets. Occasionally, Golden State’s penchant for pace doesn’t directly spark a quick, welcomed shot. Sometimes, the mere threat of a quick, welcomed shot coaxes Denver into cross-matches, something its defense is not prepared to absorb whatsoever.

Regardless of whether the Nuggets blot out some of the transition gaffes plaguing them through two games, Golden State’s prolific attack will likely continue. According to Cleaning The Glass, its half-court offense is generating 123.3 points per 100 possessions this series, which leads all playoff teams.

The lineups rich with spacing, passing, and dribbling are an enigma for Denver. Its perimeter defenders are struggling to efficiently navigate screens, stop ball-handlers at the point-of-attack, and coordinate rotations. All of those shortcomings are glaring brightly when Golden State thrusts the spotlight on them early in the clock. Game 1 hinted at that trend. Game 2 fully featured it and further illuminated the divide between these teams.

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