The Golden State Warriors made a big move on Wednesday night, inserting Steph Curry back into the team’s starting lineup for Kevon Looney in Game 5 of their first round series against the Denver Nuggets. The move, unsurprisingly, paid off, and as a result, the Warriors picked up a 102-98 win to secure a 4-1 series win and a spot at the Western Conference Semifinals.
From the jump, Golden State looked like a team hell-bent on keeping the series from shifting back to Denver. The team took an egalitarian approach to offense in the first quarter — Curry had eight points while Jordan Poole, Klay Thompson, and Andrew Wiggins all had six, with Draymond Green serving as the machine that kept the whole thing humming en route to a 30- 25 lead at the end of the frame.
The issue they ran into was the play of Aaron Gordon and Nikola Jokic. The former put up 12 points in the first, while the latter picked up six points and nine rebounds early on.
While the Warriors were able to lead for much of the second, they were never quite able to create enough separation in the event the Nuggets went on a mini-run. Denver’s size, in particular, gave Golden State trouble — while the former champions were able to get scoring all over the place, the size from Jokic, Cousins, and DeMarcus Cousins was a major problem, as the trio combined to score 35 of the team ‘d 48 first half points.
Towards the end of the quarter, Denver was able to rip off six unanswered points to take a lead, although it only lasted a minute thanks to a Thompson triple right before the break to send both teams into the locker room with 48.
Jokic had a double-double at halftime with 12 points and 12 rebounds, while Gordon’s 15 led all scorers and Cousins provided eight off the bench. The Warriors, meanwhile, had 10 first half points out of Curry, nine from Thompson, eight from Poole, and six from Wiggins.
Over the years, Golden State has found ways to bury opposing teams at home upon coming out of the locker room after halftime, but on Wednesday night, the first big punch came from Denver. Thanks to a 16-6 run right out of the gate, the Nuggets were able to open up a double-digit lead on the road.
But stopping the Warriors in their own building has never been easy. Shortly after finding themselves in a hole, Golden State ripped off an 11-2 run to force a timeout after Curry pulled up from deep and got nothing but net.
That break gave Denver a chance to compose itself, and despite the fact that Jokic watched from the bench, the Nuggets closed the third quarter by scoring seven consecutive points — five of them by way of Cousins — to take a 78-70 lead into the fourth.
Golden State mounted a charge early on in the fourth, and while Cousins continued to bully their frontcourt, the team was handed a gift right before the 8-minute mark. Cousins was replaced by Jokic, and right away, Curry knew to attack the big man. It led to Jokic picking up his fifth foul of the game and heading right back to the bench. And eventually, a haymaker came, as Curry found Gary Payton II wide open in the corner for a go-ahead triple.
Jokic’s return to the floor gave Denver the firepower to respond whenever the Golden State did anything, and boy, did the Golden State do a whole lot of things. The two teams went blow-for-blow down the stretch, with Curry leading the Warrior charge and Jokic doing every single thing he could to will the Nuggets to a win.
And when it came time to win the game, an unlikely hero came up big for Golden State before their leader landed the knockout blow. Payton buried a look from deep to give them a five-point lead with just over a minute remaining, and while Jokic scored on the ensuing possession, a Curry layup made the outcome inevitable.
Curry’s 30 points, five rebounds, five assists, and two steals led the way for Golden State, while Payton and Thompson both had 15. Jokic was massive with 30 points, 19 rebounds, eight assists, two blocks, and a steal, while Cousins ‘ 19 points marked a playoff career-high.
The Warriors will now kick up their feet and wait to see if they’ll take on the Memphis Grizzlies or the Minnesota Timberwolves in the next round.