The play of Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry is the main reason why the No. 7-seeded Warriors find themselves up 3-2 on the Denver Nuggets in the first round of the NBA playoffs, but he must rise above Denver's physical play in order to avoid a Game 7.
It isn't difficult to see a direct correlation between Curry's play in this series and Golden State's success. In the Warriors' three victories in Games 2, 3 and 4, Curry averaged 29 points per game and shot more than 55 percent from the field. In Game 1 and Game 5 losses, however, Curry averaged just 17 points per contest and connected on less than 36 percent of his field-goal attempts.
Curry is the Warriors' star player, so as he goes, Golden State goes. That is even truer with the absence of power forward David Lee, who was lost for the season due to a hip flexor injury in Game 1. Curry must play great in order for the Warriors to win games, so it is no surprise that the Nuggets are doing everything possible to shut him down.
Trailing 3-1 in the series, Denver was a desperate team in Game 5 and it showed. The Nuggets pulled off a 107-100 victory and held Curry to just 15 points. A big reason for that was the defensive intensity and physicality that Denver employed. Defenders were draped over Curry for much of the game and gave him very little breathing room.
Warriors head coach Mark Jackson was none too pleased with Denver's approach in Game 5. According to ESPN.com, Jackson had an issue with the way some Nuggets players handled Curry and his ailing ankle, which he injured in Game 2.
They tried to send hit men at Steph, Jackson said in his postgame news conference following the Warriors' 107-100 loss Tuesday night at the Pepsi Center.
There were some dirty plays early, Jackson said. It's playoff basketball. It's all right. Make no mistake, we were up 3-1 [in the series] playing hard, clean physical basketball, not trying to hurt anybody.
[The Nuggets took] a shot at his ankle, clearly, Jackson said. That can't be debated.
Perhaps Jackson's comments have something to do with gamesmanship as he hopes to get more calls from the officials in Game 6, but there were definitely some questionable plays involving Curry. The main one involved hard-nosed Nuggets forward Kenneth Faried, who appeared to stick his leg out and trip up Curry early in the contest.
Whether Faried purposely took a shot at Curry is debatable, but it's a non-issue. Borderline plays happen constantly in the playoffs and it's up to the Warriors to push back harder than they're getting pushed. For what it's worth, Nuggets head coach George Karl saw nothing wrong with the way his team played in Game 5, according to the Nuggets' official Twitter feed.
#Nuggets coach George Karl on Mark Jackson's claim of Denver playing dirty. "He's watching a different movie than I'm watching."— Denver Nuggets (@denvernuggets) May 1, 2013
Faried pleaded ignorance when it came to that particular play, according to Benjamin Hochman of The Denver Post. Faried admitted to playing physical, but said that the ankle wasn't a target.
I thought they were mad about the shoulder, honestly. I wasn’t going for his ankle at all. I wasn’t trying to. I wasn’t even thinking about his ankle, honestly. I forgot it was injured.
But he walked through, and I was just giving him a bump, like, ‘Hey, we’re not going to let you have that type of night you've been having.’ I was just being physical.
It's easy to get physical with Curry due to his slight 6'3", 185-pound frame. Curry can't allow the Nuggets to get in his head, though. Shooters like Curry need to remain focused or else their production can be compromised. If Curry is worried about getting roughed up by the Nuggets, then his shooting is likely to suffer.
Game 6 is crucial for the Warriors, as they will play at home in front of a raucous crowd at Oracle Arena. If the Nuggets are able to win and force a Game 7, they will have all the momentum on their side, and they will have the luxury of playing at home.
Who will win this series?
The Nuggets went an incredible 38-3 at the Pepsi Center during the regular season and clearly have a big-time advantage on their home court. Game 6 is technically only a must-win situation for the Nuggets, as they will be eliminated from the playoffs if they lose, but the Warriors have to be feeling a similar amount of pressure to prevail.
If Curry isn't at his absolute best, though, Golden State doesn't stand a chance. The Nuggets are well aware that their tactics frustrated both Curry and Jackson, so there is no question that they will employ them yet again in Game 6. Unless Curry handles the Nuggets' game plan better in Game 6, the series will be going back to Denver and the No. 3 seed will be firmly in the driver's seat.
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