DENVER — The Denver Nuggets find themselves in a position they probably didn’t expect to find themselves in during the first round of the NBA playoffs this season.
They’re down 3-1 in their series against the Golden State Warriors as they return home to play Game 5 Tuesday night at Pepsi Center.
A loss and their season is over.
Game 4 went to the Warriors Sunday 115-101. Here’s a notebook on how that happened:
By Geoff Lepper, NBA.com
THE FACTS: After playing possum for a half, Stephen Curry emerged to score a playoff career-high 31 points — 22 during an incandescent third quarter — as the Golden State Warriors rolled Sunday night to a 115-101 victory against the Denver Nuggets in Game 4 of their first-round playoff series.
With three straight victories, the sixth-seeded Warriors lead the third-seeded Nuggets 3-1, and are one win away from what would be just a second playoff series triumph since 1991 for the franchise. Game 5 is set for Tuesday in Denver.
Curry, who came in slowed by a sprained left ankle originally suffered in Game 2, said a pregame pain-killing injection finally helped him get loose after intermission. He might have even had more points if not for having to sit out more than four minutes during the fourth quarter after an inadvertent poke in the eye by Corey Brewer.
Warriors center Andrew Bogut also set a personal postseason best with 12 points and provided five rebounds and two blocks in his most forceful performance of the series. Jarrett Jack added 21 points and nine assists as Golden State shot 55.7 percent from the field. Since dropping Game 1, the Warriors have made 57.6 percent of their field-goal attempts and 46.5 percent of their 3-pointers.
Ty Lawson, coming off a 35-point explosion in Game 3, had 26 points but once again didn’t get enough support at either end. Andre Iguodala was Denver’s second-leading scorer with 19 points, but also kicked away a game-high seven turnovers.
QUOTABLE: “I was considering shutting [Curry] down. I told him that. And it was almost like a boxer that knew he was on the ropes, because it was just a matter of time. . . . He captured the moment. He embraced the moment. It was almost like he had been waiting for this his entire career, and he wasn’t going to allow his body to tell him it was too hurt to match the moment.”
— Warriors coach Mark Jackson, on Curry
THE STAT: The Warriors’ biggest problem throughout the series has been an inability to hold onto the ball. Golden State came into Sunday leading the league with 19.33 turnovers per game in the playoffs, but they forced Denver into a series-worst 23 in Game 4, while committing (a relatively small) 16 themselves.
TURNING POINT: The Nuggets helped neutralize Curry early. He didn’t have a made basket until nearly 20 minutes into the game, as the Nuggets were trapping aggressively against Golden State’s ball-handlers, but that left too much room for Bogut to exploit. So Denver went back to man coverage in the third quarter, at which point Curry went wild, shredding the Nuggets from all angles. He hit 8 of his 11 shots in the quarter and was 5-for-8 from downtown — figures that included a half-court miss at the buzzer. It was a performance that brought back memories for long-time Golden State fans of Eric Floyd, who once dropped 51 points — 29 in the fourth quarter — to single-handedly beat the Lakers in a second-round playoff game in 1987.
QUOTABLE II: “We were chasing a double-team and they found him at the top of the key, wide open, boom. And then he decided he could make one from 30 feet. Boom. And then he made one out of the corner, looking at the bench. He has this incredible rhythm. . . . It’s easy to score a lot of points when you make threes. It adds up pretty quickly.”
— Denver coach George Karl, on Curry
HOT: With six treys Sunday, Curry now has 18 in the series. He has had at least four in every game, and is converting at a 47.4 percent rate.
BAD MOVE: After proving unable to get much defensive traction in Games 2 and 3, the Nuggets tried to force the Warriors’ attack through Bogut. Earlier this season, when Bogut’s mobility was more limited by his surgically repaired ankle, that might have worked. Sunday, Bogut was able to glide through the lane with impunity, and he recorded five dunks and a layup.
INSIDE THE ARENA: Bogut and Denver’s JaVale McGee have been going at each other all series. So when McGee checked in at the 5:52 mark of the first quarter, it was obvious a confrontation was imminent. On the Warriors’ very next possession, Curry looped a pass to Bogut at the top of the key and the Nuggets cleared the lane like innocent bystanders in the Wild West. McGee leapt to make a play at the rim, where Bogut flushed a wicked right-handed slam that sent the already-frenzied crowd to a new level of delirium. The Warriors showed four replays of the dunk in quick succession on the giant scoreboard TVs, and each drew a reaction from fans.
NOT: The Nuggets were held scoreless for the final 3:36 of the second quarter, during which time Golden State racked up 11 straight points to build a 56-44 lead. Karl said he felt his team “lost the pass” and grew selfish offensively — something that has to be fixed before Tuesday.
QUOTABLE III: “The next 48 hours is going to be difficult, to say the least. They found some magic and we’ve got to somehow take it away. They’re beating us in a lot of different ways.”
— George Karl