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Denver Nuggets Film Friday: Beating the Warriors

NBA: Golden State Warriors at Denver Nuggets Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

If you’re not familiar with Film Fridays, each Friday, I’ll be looking at some recent Denver Nuggets’ games, lineups or something else from a film aspect to try and bring you a piece of content that you’re not getting somewhere else. Feel free to give any feedback positive or negative in the comments or find me on Twitter.

The NBA playoffs are finally here, and the Nuggets are about to kick off their first-round matchup with the Golden State Warriors. Denver’s reinforcements from Michael Porter Jr. and Jamal Murray have yet to arrive, and the odds of them showing up any time soon are not particularly great. Meanwhile, after missing the last month of play, superstar point guard Stephen Curry is expected to return for Game 1 at home for the Warriors.

The Nuggets were pushing towards a top four seed before some late season stumbles dropped them down the rankings, and they find themselves in a matchup where the two teams are polar opposites. While the Warriors were earlier initiators of the super small lineups with Draymond Green playing center, the Nuggets continue to roll with a big lineup that features three players 6’8” or taller, including the likely back-to-back MVP in Nikola Jokic.

This series, no matter who wins, will be a major talking point against the other form of play depending on who wins. If Denver wins, the story becomes that a traditional big man is the one thing that can’t be stopped by small-ball lineups. Meanwhile, if the Warriors win, it’s a testament to how important shooting is in the modern NBA. Regardless, we’re looking at how the Nuggets can leave Round 1 with an upset win over Golden State. For a quick reference, the Nuggets went 3-1 in the season series, and, if someone wants to make the argument that the Warriors were never at full strength in those games, don’t forget that Denver was literally never at full strength as Murray and Porter suited up for exactly ZERO of those games.

Harass the Shooters

We’ve all seen the clips of Curry running for 20 seconds of a 24-second possession as he tries to go around every screener on the floor in an effort to get open. Well, Golden State has three of those guys right now in Klay Thompson and Jordan Poole, alongside Curry. There are three guys averaging at least 7.6 3-point attempts per game, and they’re all shooting 36.4 percent or better from 3-point range. Every night, they’re going to get their shots up, and they’re going to hit some of them. The key for Denver is going to be maintaining their energy and hustle levels.

On the play above, we see a combination of this effect from Austin Rivers and Monte Morris. Rivers gets around the screen, and, even though Curry is in front of him, he stays on his hip the whole time. If Curry is going to try and go for a shot, Rivers is close enough that he can alter it. Morris helps to cut off the passing lane to the corner shooter before sliding back out to get in the area of Thompson and force the miss. The Warriors get the offensive rebound and score, but the guards did their job to force the miss.

This is another great example of why it’s important to stick on these shooters like glue. Rivers gets taken out by the screen, and Bryn Forbes switches to stay on Curry. He’s able to cut off the driving lane, and, when Steph initiates his stepback, Forbes is close enough to contest to make the difficult shot even tougher. He forces the miss, and the Nuggets get a runout layup after Morris chases down the long rebound. Making these shooters work for every single basket is going to go a long way towards wearing them out over the course of a series. Turn the fireworks display into a rock fight.

Turnover Battle

In the world of football, it’s often said that the team that wins the turnover battle will likely win the game. Teams that won the turnover battle last season went 166-41. In the NBA, turnovers matter, but they don’t always tell the full story. Denver ranks 26th in turnovers compared to the Warriors’ 29th. Neither team particularly loves taking care of the basketball, and that’s why it’s going to be even more important in a series like this where the two teams were separated by a total of one point across four regular season matchups.

Looking at the play above, it’s an example of when trying to do too much comes back to bite you. DeMarcus Cousins goes to initiate the handoff with Forbes, but he’s extremely casual about it, and that gives Thompson more than enough room to knife through for the steal. After only being down by nine, you’re now down by 11 and just killed any momentum you might have been building to that point.

This play applies to the first point we discussed, along with the one we’re discussing now. Rivers is tight on the hip of Poole and making him uncomfortable. As soon as he stumbles, Rivers gets around him for the steal and takes it the other way for the dunk and a free two points. Getting two points off of a tough play in a three-point game with three minutes to go is the difference between a close loss and a close win.

Playing Through Jokic

Jokic is likely going to be receiving his second straight MVP award after another phenomenal season. Despite playing without Murray and MPJ for all but 265 minutes this season, he put up great numbers every single night and led a Nugget roster that lost just three fewer games than the Philadelphia 76ers and Milwaukee Bucks, who have the players likely to finish 2nd and 3rd in voting. If they’re going to win this series, it’s going to be on the back of Jokic’s play.

The play above represents the bind that the Nuggets are going to attempt to put the Warriors in. Golden State’s best lineup doesn’t involve Kevon Looney, but, when he’s off of the floor, there is no one else that can withstand Jokic inside. Jokic has the ball on the block here with Andrew Wiggins guarding him. Jokic swiftly backs him down and puts in the easy two-point bucket. Jokic needs to be aggressive to force Looney into tough situations and possibly get him into foul trouble for later in the game. Additionally, it opens up room for everyone else.

Jokic’s aggressiveness as a scorer opens up the floor for everyone else, and that’s where his passing skills come into play. He and Morris don’t do anything particularly special on this play, and they don’t need to. Jokic is operating near the elbow, and he knows a double team is going to come his way. All he has to do is wait and react. As soon as Moses Moody overhelps onto Nikola, he whips the pass out to Morris who knocks down the open 3-pointer. Those open looks are going to be there for guys all series long, and they have to hit those opportunities when they get them.

For those of you that are still here, remember to leave your feedback in the comments or over on my Twitter, and have a fantastic film-filled Friday.