Well, that was a rough two games for the Denver Nuggets to begin the 2022 postseason.
While the Golden State Warriors found the 2016-17 version of themselves, the Nuggets lost their way.
Denver now heads home for the next two games down 0-2.
And, as Colorado’s Nuggets bettors can attest, it’s been a one-sided 0-2 at that.
Let’s dive into a trio of sobering facts for Denver following 123-107 and 126-106 defeats.
Defense is a major issue for Denver
No matter how the Nuggets decide to defend the Warriors, it will simply not be enough.
Denver does not have the requisite defenders to keep up with such a potent perimeter assault.
Jordan Poole, Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry have bent Denver’s defense past its breaking point.
Online sportsbooks in Colorado have taken full notice as Denver now is nearly a 10-1 underdog in the series.
Those three threats — Poole, Thompson and Curry — break defenses simply by being on the floor together. That’s due to the damage they can cause from beyond the arc as well as when they get downhill inside the 3-point line.
No team wants to allow any of those three players to get hot.
In order to do that, teams would normally blitz any screening actions to get the ball out of their hands. But sending two defenders at any of Curry, Poole or Thompson only leads to more open 3-point attempts for the other two shooters.
That has forced the Nuggets to either switch or risk giving up another long-range missile after failing to fight over the screen.
Even when Denver switches those actions, it ends up as either a failure to communicate correctly through the switch. Or a size disadvantage in some way or another.
The sheer fear Curry, Poole and Thompson force upon Nuggets defenders has haunted their decision making.
Denver defenders, when you slow down the film of Games 1 and 2, are hesitating before making a decision. They know that one minor mistake will doom their defensive possession.
That hesitation and attention on Curry, Poole and Thompson has opened up the floor for Golden State teammates Andrew Wiggins, Otto Porter Jr., Kevon Looney and Draymond Green to expand their own games due to the space they have to work with.
And that’s the same space Denver is unable to minimize because of the Warriors’ shooting.
There might not be a way to fix this issue.
Green has done an incredible job of limiting Nikola Jokic
Green and Denver center Nikola Jokic have had their fair share of battles over the years. And both have nothing but glowing admiration for one another.
They each know the other is at the pinnacle of production in their own respective ways. And they approach the matchup with a level of focus to match that gravitas.
That experience and repetition against each other has made for a brilliant chess match between arguably the smartest defender in basketball (Green) against arguably the smartest offensive maestro in the league (Jokic).
So far after two playoff games, due to a plethora of reasons, Green is winning this particular battle.
Yes, Jokic is receiving little-to-no help while Green has two other former NBA champions alongside him.
Yes, Green is carrying less responsibility than Jokic is.
And, yes, the Nuggets are simply outmatched across almost every other one-on-one matchup.
Still, to discount Green’s impact is negligence.
His one-on-one post defense on Jokic has been so good that it might be the best defense Jokic has seen since entering the NBA.
It is as if Green knows when and where Jokic wants to go before the Nuggets’ big man does.
Green’s understanding and instincts have limited Jokic to 46.7 percent shooting from the field and 0-of-8 from the 3-point line over the course of the series so far.
No shot is easy for Jokic when Green is on the floor.
No pass is simple.
Every post-up is physical.
And getting into each offensive set takes longer than it should.
Green has managed to disrupt all of Jokic’s typical team-oriented flow. And it has the Nuggets looking like a team that might get swept out of the playoffs in the first round.
Without Green’s success against Jokic, the Warriors hyper-small “Death Lineup” would be significantly less terrifying.
Jokic’s size alone should be the perfect counter to Golden State’s five-man group featuring Curry, Poole, Thompson, Wiggins and Green.
Unfortunately for Denver, it has not played out that way simply because of Green’s immaculate defense.
Jokic is not receiving the needed offensive help
As aforementioned, Denver does not have the defensive chops to keep up with Golden State.
But that does not mean the Nuggets can score with the Warriors either.
Even with Jokic still playing at a very high level, the Nuggets lack the offensive firepower outside of their superstar center.
Jokic is averaging 25.5 points per game so far. It’s a figure which obviously leads the team.
Will Barton, averaging 18 points per outing, ranks second.
After that duo, no other Nugget is averaging more than 11 points per contest.
And apart from Barton and Jokic, no one is averaging more than 4.5 made shots in a game.
Even worse, no Denver player is averaging more than two made 3-pointers per contest.
Denver is not scoring the basketball. And because of the lack of help for Jokic, Golden State has been able to key in on him entirely, making his job nearly impossible to complete.
Denver needs significantly more offensive oomph from Aaron Gordon, who has been a ghost in this series. He’s only appeared in his physical form to take bad 3-pointers.
Gordon is averaging just 7.5 points per outing in the first two games of the series. He’s shooting .316 from the field while going 1-for-7 from beyond the 3-point arc.
His impact has not been felt nearly enough in the first two games.
On offense, point guard Monte Morris has been who he has been all year long: 11 points per game on .529 shooting from the field and .375 from 3-point distance.
But that is a problem in the playoffs.
Denver needs a more aggressive and assertive Morris or it will lack the scoring punch to keep up with the Warriors.
Off the bench, Denver has not gotten enough from Bones Hyland, Bryn Forbes, DeMarcus Cousins or Austin Rivers. The latter seems to be playing through back pain after taking a fall in Game 2.
A more aggressive Morris and Gordon focusing on getting towards the rim are two ways Denver can bounce back on offense.
But will it be enough?
So far, it seems like it will not.
But Denver has carried its resiliency like a badge of honor.
It is time to put that resiliency to the test.