One of those nights: Nuggets thrive behind Jokic as Warriors hit last year's loss total
A wild night in Denver reveals small things for the Nuggets and Warriors.
DENVER -- On Monday night, a gym rat, a Joker, and two pure-baller vets put the boots to the baddest team in the land, tied an NBA record for made 3-pointers, and ended the super-team's chances at finishing with the best record in NBA history. There will be no joy in Dubville, mighty KD will not finish with 74.
"We just got served a humble slice of cupcake," Steph Curry quipped after the game.
The Nuggets toppled Golden State on Monday, 132-110 to hand the Warriors their ninth loss of the season, ensuring that the best record the Warriors can finish with, even if they were to win out, is 73-9, their record last season. The odds of that happening are about equal to what Denver's odds were going into the game.
Denver was without six players, three starters, including Danilo Gallinari, Kenneth Faried, Wilson Chandler and Emmanuel Mudiay. They started Jameer Nelson, Gary Harris, Will Barton, Juancho Hernangomez and Nikola Jokic. The odds could hardly have been stacked more against them.
Then this happened.
Denver outscored the Warriors (THE WARRIORS) by 48 points from the 3-point line, hitting 24 3-pointers and matching the NBA record for a regular-season game in made 3s. It was, as several Warriors said after the game "one of those nights" for both teams.
Stephen Curry finished 4-of-18, 1-of-11 from 3-point range, and was a nightmare defensively. When Nelson is shooting the lights out and Curry can't hit water if he fell out of a boat, you know it's a weird night. But that's the surface story. The elephant in the room was Saturday night's emotional win over the Thunder, which was about as negative an atmosphere as the Warriors have ever faced.
Golden State wasn't trying to provide excuses, they know it was just another blowout loss, one of several they've had this year, but the drain was undeniable. Steve Kerr referred to an "emotional fatigue."
"We kind of laid an egg, obviously," Curry said. "Chalk this one up to whatever," which was as close as he would come to admitting Golden State was emotionally hung over after Kevin Durant's revenge tour (against his old team he left, which isn't really revenge, but whatever) game on Saturday. Durant wouldn't comment on any questions pertaining to the Thunder game, eager to move on.
Being the hunted is emotionally draining, and Saturday's game was something entirely different given the level of negativity expressed. Curry said the game reminded him of a typical playoff game, but the overall sense from the Warriors was one of exhaustion after the dominant victory over Golden State.
Monday's game was rich with irony. The Warriors were emotionally fatigued, yet Durant was 10-of-16 for 25 points, with four rebounds and five assists, but still a minus-23. And maybe most notably, the impossible shooting that Denver unloaded on the Warriors felt extremely familiar. Essentially, the Warriors experienced Monday night what it's like to face them on a normal night. Denver hit all the shots.
"I felt fine," Curry said. "Pretty good warmup. Shots didn't fall. And obviously they hit everything."
Tell me this Curry quote doesn't sound like one of the Warriors' opponents after one of their blistering nights:
"We gave them too many comfortable ones early," Curry said, "and once you see them go in, they were just gunslinging all over the court. With nine guys in the rotation, I'm pretty sure they came out with the mentality to just fire away and 'Let's see what happens.' One of those nights."
That mindset was indeed the Nuggets' approach. Veteran guard Will Barton told Nelson before the game to "be like Iverson." He also told his veteran teammate, "Only one of two things is going to happen. Either we're going to get blown out, or we're going to blow them out."
Turns out it was the latter.
"Go play hard," Nelson said of the Nuggets' mindset. "We came out with a will to want to play and to want to play. They're an unbelievable team, and no one knew we were going to make 24 3s, but when you play the right way, good things can happen."
And everyone got in on the act. Hernangomez, averaging 3.8 points per game coming in, dropped 27 points with 6-of-9 shooting. Teammates joked after the game that his 3-point barrage had been coming based on how much time he spends shooting, and that he was probably shooting even postgame.
"We have a bunch of young guys who like to work, and our coaching staff stays on them," Nelson said of Hernangomez.
And then, of course, there was Jokic. The secret is out on the second-year Serbian phenom, who became the first player since 1984 to finish with at least 17 points, 21 rebounds, and 12 assists while shooting better than 50 percent from the field. First player in recorded history to do that. This, just days removed from a 40-point performance at Madison Square Garden.
The national media has been on Jokic, but fans are still finding out how good he is, and that includes those in Denver. Meanwhile, Nelson, who has played with Dwight Howard and Dirk Nowitzki, says he has never played with a big that plays with the vision Jokic does.
Jokic's passing was always great, though. It's just improved. What's shocking everyone is how he's improving. Teams are playing his passing? He's lighting them up from the field, shooting 59 percent this season and taking over when teams overplay his cutters. His rebounding was an issue, as he struggles with physicality in securing boards. On Monday, he had 13 boards in the first half. The Warriors, as a team, had 12.
Denver's win Monday was a perfect storm. A lights-out shooting performance, a dynamic passing performance from a phenom, the absence of Klay Thompson (out with a sore heel) and calming force Shaun Livingston (the birth of his child) combined with the aftermath of Saturday's emotional maelstrom, and a few lucky bounces. But there were also things to take from this random midseason game. The drain of the negativity around the Warriors due to their villain status can have real impacts on their play, and they will not top last year's wins mark, despite adding Durant.
And the Nuggets, league-worst defense at all, continue to show that while they're a work in progress, there's much to be excited about, now and in the future.
One of those nights.
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