Michael Malone’s pregame press conference before Game 3 had a threatening tone to it. His Denver Nuggets had been thrashed by the Warriors in Games 1 and 2 of this first-round NBA playoff series, so he decided to talk tough and hope his players caught the message.
They were successful. The Nuggets spent Thursday night slamming, bumping, and hooking Warriors, even hitting a few to the ground. Denver played obnoxious, as was desired.
It made no difference.
The Warriors didn’t fight back as much as they stayed resolute, trading leads until they walked out of Ball Arena with a 118-113 victory, preventing them from reaching the Western Conference semifinals.
Warriors coach Steve Kerr said of veterans Stephen Curry, Draymond Green, and Klay Thompson, “These guys have been around the block a few times, so they’re not fazed by this stuff.”
The veterans are bruised and battered. Andrew Wiggins, who was playing in his ninth playoff game, and postseason newbies Jordan Poole and Gary Payton II had a tough night. However, they could win because they, along with Otto Porter Jr., made enough big plays at crucial times.
Curry stated, “I loved the setting, and I loved how we responded.” “Everything went our way in the first two games.” We had a significant lead, and the crowd was cheering us on. It was interesting to see how we responded to a game like tonight, where we had a strong start. The first group played exceptionally well; they went on a tear, and we ended the first half with a 10-point lead.
“We knew they’d come out swinging in the second half, and that’s exactly what they did, so how would we respond?” I’m pleased with how everyone performed.”
There were 51 personal fouls in the game, 25 by the Warriors and 26 by Denver. In the fourth quarter, the Nuggets committed 11 fouls, a statistic that exemplifies their nervousness. This was their most robust performance and, possibly, their only opportunity to demonstrate that they were ready to compete.
The game, like the series, was slipping away.
“Obviously, there’s a lot of frustration,” forward Aaron Gordon said. “We thought we should’ve won the game; it would’ve been 2-1.” It’s an entirely different story. “However, we’re not finished yet.”
The stubbornness in that last sentence is admirable, but the conviction appears to be a sham. If the Nuggets know their history, which I’m sure they do, they’ll know that no NBA club has ever come back from a three-game series disadvantage to win a playoff series.
The Nuggets were on the verge of climbing out of a 2-0 series hole after taking a 111-109 lead with 3:20 remaining. Despite the Warriors’ decisive victories in Games 1 and 2, this classic matchup put both teams’ bodies and brains to the test.
With their decorated core of five players and 14 championship rings between them, the Warriors won the battle of wills.
“Normally, if you’re up 2-0 and get Game 3 on the road, you’re in fairly good shape to sweep,” Green said. “Obviously, you’re up 3-0 based on the stats.” But it’s the mindset that’s the problem. When a team is behind 2-0, they come out in Game 3 and give it everything they have. If you can take that punch and win, you’ll advance to Game 4, where you’ll have to make a point or two. But you’ve done an excellent job of preparing yourself.”
The Nuggets are hurting after thrashing in two away games and suffering a severe loss at home. Despite beating the Warriors three times in four regular-season games, they were the underdogs. They now understand why.
“Did we make mistakes from time to time?” “Yes,” said Malone. “However, I like the way we battled.” We stuck with it, we went down, and things got away from us a couple of times, but we stuck with it, stuck together, and kept battling. What do I wish for, you asked before the game? That’s exactly what I was hoping for.
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“I asked our guys if they wanted to roll over on Sunday (Game 4) or if they wanted to fight like hell and send this back to Golden State? That is my wish. I will walk off that court very proud of those group of men in that locker room if we fight like we did tonight.”
The Nuggets will have to work harder in Game 4 because they lost Game 3. The Warriors have four chances to win the series now. They won’t require all four. Or three, for that matter. And most likely not even two.