Despite all of their offensive talent that includes Andre Iguodala, Ty Lawson, Wilson Chandler and Corey Brewer, the Denver Nuggets needed Andre Miller to lead them all through the game and especially in the fourth quarter, paving the way for a game winning layup with less than two seconds left on the clock to give his team the 1-0 lead in first round playoff series against the surprisingly stubborn Golden State Warriors.
The moment George Karl decided not to use Kenneth Faried, it was clear it was going to be a rough game for Denver, taking away one of their biggest advantage to score in the paint and create second chance points. Andrew Bogut did an excellent job in the paint as the Warriors won the rebounding battle 55-45, including 14 from Bogut, 5 of them coming on the offensive glass.
The Nuggets kept pushing in the game, playing a bit too fast. They attempted a shot, free-throw or had a turnover in the first 4 seconds of the shot clock during their transition offense. They got out in transition after 4 of the Warriors’ made field goals, 13 missed field goals and 13 turnovers Saturday. Maybe trying to make up for the size advantage that was gone, they simply tried out running the Warriors, hoping the oxygen runs out at some point.
But it didn’t. Stephen Curry didn’t too well in his playoff debut, shooting only 7-20, finishing with 19 points, but he did make up for a late turnover by hitting a huge three with Ty Lawson’s hand in his face with 14 seconds left to make it 95-95. Only problem was Andre Miller, making the first game winning shot of his basketball career, extending to college and high school.
His layup gave him a game-high 28 points, playing 27 minutes off the bench for the Nuggets, and coming through especially in the fourth quarter by scoring 18 points. The Nuggets won 97-95 with no one else but Miller scoring more than 12 points, as the team shot without him a very poor 27-69, 39.1% from the field. The Warriors didn’t do much better with 41.3% from the field, doing an excellent job in not letting Stephen Curry out of their sight, contesting 15 of his 20 shots during the game. Luckily for Curry, Klay Thompson with 22 points was there to keep it close most of the night.
A big key for the Nuggets all season has been their bench – Miller, McGee, Brewer. Except for Miller, there was no one to really step up, which rarely happens. Jarrett Jack and Carl Landry combined for 24 points on the Warriors bench, and the underdogs are to have more of a fighting chance in this series, they’ll need an even better production from those two, hopefully making it a bit easier for Curry to find open space and shots, which didn’t come easily in Game 1.
The Nuggets are missing too many players to look as good as they did in the final three months of the NBA season. An absent Kenneth Faried can be something they manage without once, but it’s going to get harder and harder if Karl keeps him on the bench, unused. Andre Miller isn’t going to be this good every time, and it looks like the rest of the team needs something else to counter their too-fast-for the playoffs style, that might need a little tweaking against a team that can run just as well.