Look, I understand Warriors' head coach Steve Kerr's reasoning behind resting Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Andrew Bogut and Andre Iguodala. They essentially have the Western conference locked up, coasting on a 7 game lead over the Memphis Grizzlies with just 18 games to play. They had virtually nothing to gain by risking injury to their stars in an essentially meaningless game, and everything to lose.
That said, it's still a disservice to the fans who spend their hard-earned money to attend games like these. Frankly, I feel that fans should have options of getting their tickets refunded if a team doesn't provide enough notice that their stars will not be playing due to wanting to rest them for the grind of the postseason.
The fans did get to see some high level play from the Warriors' fresh faces, however - Justin Holliday (23 points, 5-7 3P) and James Michael McAdoo (16 points, 5 rebounds) both set career highs in points against the Nuggets tonight. Holliday especially was unconscious from outside, nailing 3 after 3. McAdoo did most of his damage in the paint, carving up the Nuggets inside.
It was also somewhat of a developmental showcase for the Nuggets, with Hunt doling out a fair number of minutes between Gary Harris, Erick Green, the returning Jusuf Nurkic and Joffrey Lauvergne. The youngsters had a number of good efforts throughout the game, and spelled Jameer Nelson and Randy Foye admirably despite the team lacking Ty Lawson. It was great to see Nurk get back on the floor after his nasty ankle turn a few games back as well - while I would have been comfortable seeing Nurk sit for a while longer, it's clear his desire to play won out over the pain.
Despite a late run by the Warriors that allowed them to seize the lead late in the 3rd and early 4th quarters, the team buckled down and managed to seal up their third straight victory. Though the Warriors looked at times like they'd managed to solve the new-look Nuggets, it's a testament to Hunt's coaching and collective effort that the team was able to buckle down and stay together in the waning moments of the game despite lacking Ty Lawson.
With back to back victories over the two best teams in the NBA (rested starters or not), Hunt is building a strong case as not just an interim fill-in but a long-term option for the Nuggets franchise.
Nuggets of Gold
- Kenneth Faried (24 points, 17 rebounds), Danilo Gallinari (24 points, 7 rebounds) and Randy Foye (20 points, 8 assists) were absolutely phenomenal tonight. Foye especially had some incredible clutch three pointers in the 4th quarter, hitting 3 of 4 three point attempts and nailing 2 free throws for 11 critical points.
Faried spent most of the game making David Lee look like Cole Aldrich, gobbling up board after board and throwing down a huge alley-oop dunk lob from Foye. It's an absolute pleasure watching Faried return to form under Hunt, and again showcases exactly why Faried's skillset is perfectly suited to a more free-wheeling, run and gun system.
Despite some early shooting struggles, Gallo finished up shooting 7-16 from the floor and hit 9-11 from the line. While he is still struggling with his shot at times, he's steadily improving and is strongly affecting both sides of the court. I would like to see him try and get better at boxing out inside, as he's been outmuscled in the paint a number of times over the last few games. His coast-to-coast drive and dunk was fantastic to see, and his offball movement underneath is getting better and better. Even though it may not always be reflected in the stats, Gallo is an absolute keystone to this team's success.
Veins of Silver
- Will Barton (6 points, 4 rebounds) came down to earth a bit tonight, but it was still great to see the energy he brought to the second unit. It's always a palpable shift to a more frenetic energy when Barton enters the game, and he's earned every letter of his "Will the Thrill" pseudonym.
- Nurk was massive tonight in a game where the tallest player on the court was frequently David Lee. Even though he only got 9 minutes, he clearly affected the Warriors willingness to drive into the paint and had 4 rebounds and a block in his return from injury.
- Jameer Nelson had a very quiet 17 points and 7 assists. He stepped into Ty's shoes admirably and had a sweet bounce pass to a streaking Wilson Chandler for a dunk, including hitting 3 of his 4 three point attempts. While he got a bit jumper-happy late in the game, Nelson's quietly become a very solid backup for this team.
Lumps of Coal
- J.J. Hickson's matador defense was on full display tonight, with multiple failed boxouts, standing around and not getting a hand up, or just plain not hustling to the basketball on defense. He was mercifully limited to 19 minutes by Hunt, and shot a putrid 3-8 from the free throw line. If J.J.'s not constantly dunking the ball, he is flatly a net negative on any team.
Back to back wins over the two best teams in the league, Nuggets fans. Increasingly, it seems like we're seeing a 45-win (or more) team that was coached far below its potential. While frustrating, it also helps to continue to underscore that the players on this team, when playing with a head coach they trust and a system that once again takes advantage of the Nuggets' altitude advantage, can win against any team in the NBA.
The Nuggets will next play against the New Orleans Pelicans on Sunday afternoon (4PM MT) as they embark on a long, 5-game road trip.