Steph Curry rejoined the starting lineup in Game 5, which was a small-ball lineup of Curry, Klay Thompson, Jordan Poole, Draymond Green, Andrew Wiggins. However, things didn’t quite go as planned for the Golden State Warriors in the first half.
The Denver Nuggets made it an ugly game, and Nikola Jokic feasted on the small-ball lineup as he finished with 12 pts, 13 rebounds, five assists, a steal and a block in the first half. Aaron Gordon had himself a good time too with 15 points, four rebounds, a steal and a block.
Both teams shot 40% in the first half, which saw the Nuggets turn a 30-25 first quarter deficit into a 48-48 tie at halftime. The Nuggets continued to play hard and gave themselves a double-digit lead midway through the third quarter. It doesn’t take the Warriors much to get going, though, especially in third quarters. In a flash, they cut a 64-54 deficit to 68-67 with 4:05 left in the third quarter as the shots that wouldn’t go in earlier started to find the bottom of the net.
However, the Nuggets managed to recover to keep the lead at 78-70 heading into the fourth quarter. DeMarcus Cousins was instrumental in that third quarter, scoring eight points in the final two minutes as Jokic sat due to foul trouble. He would finish the game with 19 points and four rebounds.
The Nuggets had another round of bad luck to start the fourth quarter as Bones Hyland rolled his ankle while trying to attack the paint. The Warriors kept chipping away at the lead, but couldn’t retake it because Cousins was nearly unstoppable on offense. Jokic picked up his fifth foul less than a minute after coming back into the game, which put Cousins back on the floor.
The Warriors again cut it to a one-point deficit at 84-83 with 7:43 left off a Thompson jumper and they finally retook the lead at 86-84 with 6:57 left after a corner three from Gary Payton II – which drew a lot of cheers including from his dad in the crowd. The game got ugly again and the scoreline stayed the same for more than two minutes until Thompson hit a layup to make it an 88-84 lead with 4:05 left in the game.
Jokic tied the game at 90-90 with 2:26 left, but Payton had a quick answer on the other end. Curry made it 94-90 with 1:33 left. Payton hit another big three to make it 97-92 with 1:06 left, and Curry showed supreme patience before hitting a layup that made it 99-94 with 29.9 seconds left, and the Warriors had an answer for everything on the way to the 102-98 victory.
Denver deserve a lot of credit for how hard they battled, and they showed that they could be dangerous next year if Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. manage to come back healthy. Even with foul trouble, the Joker still ended the game with 30 points, 19 rebounds and eight assists.
The Splash brothers Curry, Thompson and Poole combined for 27 points, but none of them shot the lights out in the first half. They combined to shoot 18 of 45 overall, but Curry overcame a 4 of 11 first half to finish with 30 points, five rebounds, five assists and two steals while shooting 10 of 22 overall and 5 of 11 from long range. In his first start of the series, Curry showed his worth in clutch time. From when there was 2:10 left in the game, until the final whistle blew, Curry scored or assisted in nine of the Warriors’ final 12 points.
Draymond Green again proved to be the backbone on both defense and offense. He finished with 11 points, six assists, a steal and three blocks and a game-best plus/minus of +12.
Warriors will be set to meet the winner of the series between the Memphis Grizzlies vs. the Minnesota Timberwolves. That is going to be a much different challenge, as both teams have multiple players that excel on offense.
If the Grizzlies win, it will be a tantalizing matchup between a revitalized Warriors squad against the team that dumped them out of last year’s play-ins. The Wolves also have their trio of Karl-Anthony Towns, Anthony Edwarsd and D’Angelo Russell to contend with, so the Dubs know that their next series is going to be tough.
It’s good that they had to deal with adversity in the last couple of games of their series against the Nuggets, because that’s what things are going to look like for the rest of the playoffs.