OAKLAND, Calif. – Yes, Stephen Curry. Of course Stephen Curry. This time, it was with 22 points in his forever third quarter and 31 points, seven assists against two turnovers in all. And he had the help of Andrew Bogut, he of the surge out of the blocks in Game 4 and the snarling attitude every day.
But this first-round upset in the making became about heart sometime in the second half Sunday night, and that’s more surprising than anything Curry tossed in during Game 4. The Nuggets mostly stopped showing any. That’s the thing: he Warriors did their part, shot by shot, but Denver is playing like an underdog on its heels, like a team lacking confidence, and proving once again it is impossible to win a game in the fetal position.
Denver is on the brink of elimination, trailing 3-1 in the best-of-seven series after Golden State’s 115-101 victory at Oracle Arena behind the latest Curry showcase, which would be surprising enough. But these are the Nuggets admitting confidence lost, which is more like impossible.
This group – Ty Lawson, Kenneth Faried, Andre Miller, Corey Brewer, Kosta Koufos, Danilo Gallinari (when he was healthy), and certainly coach George Karl – has always handled adversity. They were relegated to rebuilding mode after trading Carmelo Anthony in February 2011 … yet they still made the playoffs. They were dismissed as a sparring partner for the Lakers in the 2012 first round … yet they pushed L.A. to seven games after falling down 0-2.
The pall is unmistakable this time, though. The Nuggets may have stood up to the bigger, more-experienced, heavily-favored Lakers a year ago, but the underdog Warriors needed four games to break Denver’s spirit.
“They’re hitting big shots,” Lawson said. “They’re hitting crazy 3s, 3s from behind the arc. I can see a couple faces just looking down like, ‘Man, they hit another one.’ But we’ve just got to keep fighting. Keep fighting and just realize who we’re playing against. A lot of shooters.”
It is the Nuggets’ biggest hope and their biggest problem. Golden State is hitting everything, at 55.7 percent from the field Sunday after 64.6 and 52.5 the previous two games, and Denver can find solace in the realization there is no way the Warriors can continue at that pace. Except that, oh yeah, the Warriors have proven they can and the only thing close to slowing Curry is perhaps Curry’s own gimpy-at-times left ankle.
Karl said after Game 4 that changes were forthcoming, whether in the lineup or staying with the same starters and trying new matchups, but that won’t fix the real problem. The Warriors have demoralized the Nuggets, the team that has shown it cannot be demoralized. That’s the real problem.
“The next 48 hours is going to be difficult, to say the least,” Karl said. “They found some magic and we’ve got to somehow take it away. They’re beating us a lot of different ways. Tonight, I think our offense kind of got frustrated and got selfish. We lost the pass, and that had been our forte. They were definitely the quality offensive team.
“Now we shake it up and how we frustrate them, and now our pride, our competitive pride, is going to be tested on Tuesday night. There’s an excitement of getting this feeling, getting this frustration, out of our bodies by going out and playing our best basketball of the season, at least of the postseason.”
He called the Nuggets “the team without confidence right now.” It’s the biggest upset of the playoffs, that this roster that has stood up so many times before is so emotionally wounded now.
“Just our offense,” Karl said when asked why he so concerned about the mindset now when the core of the roster has handled adversity before.
“They have more flow than we have. They’re passing the ball better than we are. They’re probably making better basketball decisions at the offensive end of the court. And they’re probably twice as good of shooters as we are. They shoot the ball at an incredible level. Tuesday night will be a fight game and a battle game, a pride game, a determination game. We win that game and hopefully something will come our way.”
Another chance, for one thing. And confidence. The Nuggets are hoping to find their confidence.