Jackson: 'There were some dirty plays early'
DENVER -- Mark Jackson said several of the Denver Nuggets played dirty basketball, even trying to hurt Stephen Curry. George Karl asked, unprompted, if Draymond Green played football at Michigan State.
Now the first question to ask in the wake of Denver’s contentious 107-100 win over Golden State in Game 5 of this Western Conference quarterfinal is, “Why did it take so long for the bad blood to course?”
And the second is, “How soon in Game 6 will it manifest itself?”
The Nuggets won the game on all ends Tuesday; of that there can be no doubt. They got ahead early, they attacked the basket, they owned the backboards and in general looked like a three-seed should look.
But both Karl and Jackson saw, and we assume approved, the ugly side of this game, and went to their respective pulpits to make that the talking point both teams will be confronted with going into Thursday’s game.
Jackson said the Nuggets "tried to send hit men on Steph (Curry)," adding "it can't be debated." He even went full conspiratorial, saying, “I have inside information that some people don’t like that kind of basketball. Some guys said they don’t like that kind of basketball.”
Uh-oh. Conspiracies, sure. But a Nugget spy? This is getting good and weird now.
And though he didn’t specify either the informant or the incidents, he was surely referring at least to one Kenneth Faried collision with Stephen Curry early in the game that somehow involved Curry’s vulnerable ankle, one which set the tone for flagrant fouls later (an Andrew Bogut full shove of Faried shortly after the Curry incident) and a general chippiness that this series had not displayed before now.
In other words, it’s on, children. There will be gloves dropped, and messages sent. And composure will be stressed in the time until Thursday’s 7:30 tip. Steel-jawed, tight-lipped, very purposeful composure. With a very jagged edge.
“They played good defense,” Jarrett Jack said, trying not to add kerosene to the burning barn while doing so with a thick coating of sarcasm. “We welcome good defense. It felt like good defense, and we liked it. Nothing else need be said. Nothing can get us out of our character. I don’t even know what you’re talking about.”
Yes, he does. Curry even said the Nuggets were trying to hurt him. It’s NBA pragmatism, April style.
“It’s playoff basketball,” Jackson said. “That’s what it is, and you’re paid to do it.”
In other words, he is no virgin here. He and Karl have been too long at the fair to expect anything else, and cynical choices become easier the longer a series lasts.
“The first couple of games, we were getting hit and not responding,” guard Ty Lawson said. “We would look at the refs and get nothing, and sometimes you have to take the game into your own hands and bump them a little.”
“Frankly, I took the hardest hit, I think, on a Bogut screen,” Andre Iguodala said. “After that, I don’t remember what happened. It’s just that we didn’t let them take it to us. We stopped being the receivers. But as far as anyone cheating, I don’t think so.”
Well, it’s an argument, anyway, and both sides are equally willing to play both in-game villain and postgame victim, and vowing to do more of both in the future.
As for the basketball portions, the Nuggets took an early lead and for a change widened it. They went with a bigger lineup rotation (Faried, JaVale McGee and Kosta Koufas in various combinations) to negate Bogut’s advantages in Game 4 and dominated the box score, especially Iguodala’s 25 points and 12 rebounds, and Faried’s 13 and 10. Lawson kicked in 19 and 10 assists as the Nuggets ran out to a 66-46 halftime lead.
Only the Warriors decided to go small in the second half and slowly but surely altered the game to the point where Denver limped home in the final nine minutes, going from 92-73 to as little as 98-93 five minutes later.
But the blown opportunities and failures of earlier were more than could be overcome. Curry was held to 15 points on 7-of-19 shooting, and though Harrison Barnes had enough moments to finish with 23, the Warriors spent too much time and energy trying to get close.
Now they return home, where they can spend a lot of time and energy vowing revenge. And so can the Nuggets, for that matter. At this stage, the right and wrong has given way to the what works.
The playoffs were just fooling around with these two teams before. Now, they are serious 1980s playoffs, where an elbow is a handshake and a knee is a hearty hello. You may argue among yourselves which team was the greater transgressor, but this series isn’t going back to the happy times of before.
And as for the spy . . . well, we’ll leave that to the tinfoil hat brigade for now.