It only took 40 seconds of Sunday’s Game 4 before the Warriors knew of Denver’s resolve.
Golden State’s Draymond Green dropped Nikola Jokic to the floor with his finger over his right eye. As the current MVP lay on the floor in pain, Aaron Gordon tangled up with Green, exchanging a few choice words in the process.
As a result of a tense and abrupt exchange, both players received technical fouls. It also indicated that the Nuggets had plans to return to San Francisco.
“I didn’t like that he poked Jock in the eye,” Gordon said in practice on the Tuesday before Game 5 on Wednesday. – In the first game, he tweeted, he poked him in the eye. It probably should have been egregious (foul) right then and there. I don’t really care about it, man. … We are not retreating from anyone.”
No wonder the burly Gordon said he loves it when basketball gets physical.
Now, with Denver down 3-1, a place that is sadly all too familiar, the Nuggets are once again trying to make NBA history. No team has ever moved forward after losing 3-0 in a series. If the Nuggets win Game 5 and send their first-round playoff streak back to Denver, it will likely start at the same physical intensity that Gordon showed Green less than a minute after their first elimination game.
In Sunday’s victory, the Nuggets turned the Warriors’ 17 losses into 30 points. Austin Rivers trailed Steph Curry to 10-of-23 shots (albeit scoring 33 points), and Gordon helped limit Jordan Poole to just 11 points after he burned Denver by at least 27 in each of the previous three games.
For the second game in a row, the Nuggets were a more physical team, even as a late game ruined their chances of winning Game 3. .
“I would say our fitness has definitely improved from Games 1 and 2 and then Games 3 and 4,” backup center DeMarcus Cousins, Denver’s top enforcer, said.
According to him, physicality and aggressiveness at both ends of the court must travel.
“One thing we knew about ourselves was that we were the reason we were losing those (first three) games,” Cousins said.
If the Nuggets were going to flip, they would have lost to a healthy Warriors team and entered the offseason after another humiliating loss. Instead, by booking another flight back to San Francisco, the Nuggets confirmed their intentions.
Proud of his team and pleased with their resilience in Games 3 and 4, Nuggets coach Michael Malone said there are lessons to be moved to Wednesday night at the Chase Center.
“Discipline, fitness and aggressiveness,” he said. “We felt that coming home from San Francisco they were too comfortable. You can’t let a terrifyingly good offensive team lead a scripted attack. We made it our mission to be more physically on the ball and off the ball.”
If Malone said it once, he’s said it a hundred times already. He wants opponents to feel the Nuggets on the defensive, wedged into the punching space and crashed into their bodies.
“(These traits) are definitely transferable because it has nothing to do with shooting,” Malone said. “Hey, we should shoot them out of three.” I don’t know if this will happen or not, but what needs to happen is our thinking, our physical form, our discipline, our communication, everything intangible that goes into it.”