Cue up the Brothers Gibb—the Denver Nuggets are stayin' alive. The Nuggets held serve at home, holding off the hard-charging Golden State Warriors to pull out a 107-100 win and force a Game 6 at Oracle Arena.
Winning on Golden State's turf will be no easy feat for Denver, especially if the results from Games 3 and 4 are any indication. But if they follow the same formula with which they dropped the Dubs in Game 5, the Nuggets may well be able to force an all-important Game 7 in the mile-high altitude of Pepsi Center.
Normally, you'd expect the Nuggets to butter their bread on the fast break. After all, Denver led the league in percentage of points scored in transition, thanks to the speedy ball-handling of Ty Lawson, the up-court passing of Andre Miller, and the ability of players like Kenneth Faried, Corey Brewer, Andre Iguodala, Wilson Chandler, JaVale McGee and (pre-injury) Danilo Gallinari to get up the floor in a flash.
Simply put, the Nuggets were (and still are) uniquely equipped to play at the frenetic pace that head coach George Karl covets. But the Nuggets didn't upend the transition-savvy Warriors with a flurry of easy opportunities on the break; Denver scored just nine fast-break points—a rather pedestrian total by the Nuggets' lofty standards.
That didn't keep Denver from doing what it does best, though: pounding the ball inside. The Nuggets outscored the Warriors by a 50-24 margin, including a 34-12 advantage in the first half alone. Denver counteracted Golden State's super small starting lineup with an ever bigger one of their own, featuring JaVale McGee at center in place of Kosta Koufos.
If the Nuggets are to get this series back on their terms, they'll need to keep attacking the basket with reckless abandon, be it on the break or in the half court.
It would also behoove the Nuggets to harass Stephen Curry as early and as often as they did in Game 5. After averaging 30 points on 55.4 percent shooting from the floor (50 percent from three) in Golden State's three wins, Curry came back with just 15 points on 7-of-19 shooting in Game 5.
Part of that regression is likely due to Steph's left ankle, which is once again giving him fits. It is also forcing the Warriors to try to hide Curry defensively on just about anyone other than Ty Lawson while moving him off the ball offensively with Jarrett Jack in command.
To their credit, the Nuggets took full advantage of Steph's circumstances Tuesday night. George Karl assigned big, long-armed defenders to the task, even going so far as to pull Julyan Stone off the end of the bench for the second game in a row (when Iguodala, Wilson Chandler and Corey Brewer weren't checking him, of course).
The real genius of Denver's approach to Curry, though, came on the other end. The Nuggets punished the Warriors for their commitment to small ball by forcing Steph to defend some of those very same players who were giving him fits on the other end. Iguodala in particular had himself a field day, piling up 25 points, 10 rebounds, and seven assists while doing plenty to push Curry into foul trouble.
How Denver handles Curry going forward—and how Golden State responds—will have everything to do with how this series turns out. Steph doubles as both the best player in this series and the best shooter in the NBA today. More than anyone else in this tiff, Curry has the ability to win a game on his own and tilt the table firmly in his team's favor. As such, it's imperative the Nuggets do their darndest to disrupt Curry every which way if they want to live to play another day.
Which team will win Game 6?
Denver, then, is still down, but far from out of these playoffs. Winning in Golden State's building will be no easy feat, what with the Nuggets' familiar altitude replaced by Oakland's league-best home crowd and the comfort of the Warriors' role players in front of their own fans.
But the Nuggets can take solace in how close they came to capturing Game 3 at Oracle, not to mention their own ability to build up a 22-point lead in Game 5.
As long as the Nuggets attack the rim and Stephen Curry with equal ferocity, they'll have more than a puncher's chance of becoming just the ninth team in NBA history to overcome a 3-1 deficit in a postseason series.