Klay Thompson was spraying 3 pointers. Draymond Green was stopping and ingeniously finding open circuit breakers. Stephen Curry drew many defenders at any given time touching the ball.
The trio who redefined basketball on their way to winning multiple championships met the Golden State Warriors in the playoffs on Saturday for the first time since 2019. As in many games of the era, the high-octane Warriors were the dominant, beating the Denver Nuggets in The opening game of the first round match, 123-107.
In a sudden movement, Curry started the game on the bench. In his place, coach Steve Kerr began guarding third year Jordan Paul, who took the leap this year. This move appears to be intended to keep Curry within a strict minute limit. This was his first game since March 16, when he injured his left foot against the Boston Celtics.
The barter paid off. Paul was exceptional in the first playoff of his career, scoring 30 points – a game high – in a 9-to-13 shootout, thrilling the Chase Center crowd in San Francisco. He’s played as if for a long time he’s been a mainstay of post-season basketball. At one point, he did a dance after scoring a tough basket. It was that kind of night. On a star-studded squad who have played on some of the most talented teams in league history, it was the 22-year-old picked with the 28th pick of the 2019 draft who stole the show as Golden State attempted to reclaim the NBA throne.
“Jordan Paul, Wow, what a watershed start,” Thompson told reporters after the game, adding, “We have to be so grateful for Jordan’s evolution and the kind of player he has become because he’s amazing. I mean, what a star in the making.”
Curry last came off the bench during the playoffs on May 1, 2018, Game Two of the Western Conference semifinals against the New Orleans Pelicans, when he was returning from a knee injury. Saturday’s game against Denver was only the third playoff game in Curry’s career that he played but did not start.
He entered the competition in the middle of the first quarter to standing ovations. Almost immediately, Curry made his presence felt, finding Thompson for a 3-pointer open from the corner and slipping a pass between two defenders into the open green for a dipping. Otherwise, he struggled, shooting 5-for-13 from the field for 16 points. But his presence alone still drew huge attention from the Nuggets, and the Warriors edged Denver by 17 points with Curry on the ground.
“It was nice to feel the atmosphere of the playoffs again, obviously to come off the bench and try to make the most of the right minutes now,” said Carey.
Paul’s powerful play presents a dilemma – kind of good – for Kerr to move forward. With Curry back, can he send Paul to the bench for the rest of the playoffs?
“We’ll cross that bridge when we get to it,” Kerr said.
Poole’s powerful play will give Kerr more options for the rest of the series. For one thing, he can field a lineup of three guards from Curry, Thompson, and Poole—three playmakers and bowlers. It’s reminiscent of the closing small ball formations the Warriors used at their best during the championship rounds of the past decade – except for Paul playing Andre Iguodala, who is now playing a smaller role.
An added benefit of Paul’s back is that it allows Golden State to relieve Curry’s spike from a foot injury. Kerr declined to say whether Curry would be coming off the bench again for Game 2 on Monday.
Meanwhile, Thompson looked just like the player he was before he tore the ACL in his left knee during the 2019 NBA Finals. He moved quickly to find himself an opener, on his way to five three-pointers and 19 points overall.
“Before the tip, I thought about all the days I was in the gym, the days I spent in the doctor’s office, on the surgery table, and then just to fly up and down the field, take punches and play a solid defense, it was a surreal moment,” Thompson said after the game.
On the other hand, Denver will have to get back to the drawing board.
Golden State could tease Nuggets star Nikola Jokic, the favorite to win his second Most Valuable Player award. The Warriors constantly forced Jokic into difficult shots and thwarted him with a steady stream of double teams. They also tried to exhaust him defensively by establishing possessions with him as the primary defender. On possession after possession, Jokic was dispatched fast after with the fast golden ball.
“They were better than us in every aspect of the game,” said Jokic.
But the Warriors also have Green, who won the Defensive Player of the Year award in 2016-2017. He was able to do something most defenders can’t: guard Jokic one-on-one for multiple possessions, and free his Golden State teammates to stay tied to other Nuggets players that Jokic might pass.
By the time the fourth quarter came around, Jokic looked exhausted. He finished with 25 points, 10 rebounds and 6 assists. He went to the free throw line twice, despite trying 25 shots. Denver seemed frustrated with the ruling.
““I think there were some times, you know, his shirt pulled a lot,” said Nuggets coach Mike Malone. “So I don’t know. We had to see how they guard him and how we could make them pay for how they guarded him.”. “
When Djokic was asked about the referee after the match by a reporter, he said: “My friend, I think I will be fined if I answer.”
The opener of the playoff was a return to the post-season lights for Golden State’s primary players who won championships in 2015, 2017 and 2018. Curry, Greene, Thompson and Iguodala are the four best captains in franchise history for the post-season games they have played. But it was the first time, largely due to injuries, that the Warriors had played in the playoffs since 2019, when the team lost in the finals to the Toronto Raptors in six games. The only time the four had played in the same match this year was on January 9, Thompson’s first game after a two-season absence due to leg injuries. Green started that game only briefly, to support Thompson, before sitting out the rest of the night.
Both teams have had major injury problems during the season. Green missed more than two months of the regular season for Golden State due to a back injury. For Denver, Michael Porter Jr. and Jamal Murray missed most or all of the season; They can often take the pressure off the Jokic of the toy industry.
This was Denver’s fourth consecutive year in the playoffs. The team has been knocked out in the first round in each of the past three seasons.
There’s a source of solace for Denver: In every series of the series, the Nuggets have lost their first game. The Nuggets will attempt to tie their seven-game series into one game each on Monday. But they looked overworked on Saturday night.
“We can’t beat ourselves and our warriors at the same game,” Malone said. “We did it tonight.”