The Golden State Warriors took a commanding 2-0 series lead Monday night after beating the Denver Nuggets 126-106 in Game 2. Denver came out strong, as Nikola Jokic and Will Barton began to build up a small lead for the Nuggets through the first quarter and a half of the game. But then a switch flipped for Golden State and it felt like it just couldn’t miss a single shot for the rest of the night. Behind a 34-point performance from Stephen Curry, as well as 29 points from Jordan Poole and 21 points from Klay Thompson, the Warriors successfully ran Jokic and company out of the building with ease. With those three cooking the way that they were, the Nuggets never really stood a chance as the shorthanded Denver team never recovered in the second half.
With the win, the Warriors will head to Denver just two victories away from advancing to the Western Conference semifinals. We’ll find out soon enough whether or not Jokic and the Nuggets can defend their home court and push this series back to California for a Game 5.
Here are three major takeaways from Game 2.
1. Jokic can’t do it by himself
At one point the Nuggets worked up a 12-point lead in the first half, and it looked like Denver was better prepared to take this game down to the wire later on down the line. But then the Warriors just started raining 3-pointers and by the time halftime rolled around Golden State was up 57-51. The Warriors never relinquished the lead after that, and it was clear that the Nuggets just didn’t have the players to contend with the onslaught of offense the Warriors were putting down. Whether it was Curry, Thompson, Poole or Wiggins, Denver just simply couldn’t match the offensive firepower.
It’s a shame, too, because each time the camera panned to Jamal Murray on the bench in street clothes it made you wonder just how different this series could’ve been if Denver was fully healthy. The last time we saw Murray in the playoffs in the Orlando bubble, he helped lead the Nuggets to the Western Conference finals while averaging over 26 points and six assists a night. Not to mention he was shooting over 50 percent from the field and 45 percent from deep.
Murray alone would’ve given the Nuggets another viable scoring option alongside Jokic to at least contend with the Warriors. Throw in Michael Porter Jr., who was prime for a breakout season this year before getting injured, and Denver would’ve been a completely different team in this matchup.
Instead, we’ve got Jokic trying to do literally everything — scoring, rebounding, passing, bringing the ball up — and it’s just not enough for the Nuggets. Jokic got so frustrated Monday night that he was actually tossed from the game late in the fourth quarter after earning his second technical for arguing a foul call with the officials.
If Denver wants a chance in this series — or at least avoid a four-game sweep — it’ll need someone to step up to help Jokic carry the offensive workload. Because getting seven points from Aaron Gordon, 12 points from Will Barton and 12 from Monte Morris is definitely not going to cut it against this high-powered Warriors offense. Speaking of which…
2. Another Poole party in San Francisco
Here’s an absolutely absurd record that Poole almost broke Monday night. After putting up 29 points, his combined 59 points from the first two games of this series now ranks as the second-most points scored in the first two career playoff games in Warriors history. That puts him ahead of Curry, and right behind Wilt Chamberlain. Any list that includes Chamberlain and Curry is a good company to keep, and it’s just the latest testament to how special Poole has been in this series.
With Curry still working his way back to a full workload from a foot injury, Poole’s been given the starting point guard spot and he’s been electric for the Warriors in that role. He’s not shying away from putting points on the board, and he’s absolutely dismantling Denver’s defense. He’s also lightning quick with the ball in his hands, just look at this pretty pass he pulled off at the end of the third quarter to put the bow on another standout performance.
I mean come on, that’s just silly. And it’s not like he’s just jacking up a bunch of shots to get his stats from him. In Game 2, I have shot 62.5 percent from the field and 50 percent from deep. He’s not forcing anything, and he’s also getting his teammates involved, as he finished the game with eight assists. Golden State couldn’t ask for a better performance from him tonight, and it just gives Steve Kerr more of a reason to keep him in the starting lineup for the time being.
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3. Steph Curry the greatest Sixth Man ever?
I know what you’re thinking, “Poole’s no Curry,” and you’re right, he’s not the best shooter to ever play the game. But the fact that the starting lineup is humming along right now with Poole starting, does raise the question of who Kerr should start going forward. Just hear me out. Denver looks cooked in this series, and with Curry still working back from that foot injury, why not have him come off the bench in this first-round series to give him a little rest? Curry put up 34 points in 22 minutes while taking just 17 shots in Game 2, which shows that he can be even more dangerous in less time.
I’m not saying starting Poole should be a long-term option, but thinking of the big picture in the playoffs, conserving Curry’s energy right now could pay big in the second round or perhaps in the conference finals where a potential clash with the Phoenix Suns could be waiting. I don’t expect Curry to come off the bench for the duration of the playoffs, and maybe he’s inserted into the starting lineup in Game 3, but it’s been really cool watching him become literally the greatest Sixth Man in NBA playoff history in a matter of just two games.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism