A close look at how the Warriors and Nuggets ran their offenses in game 1
Golden State's small ball unit run roughshod over Denver, can they be stopped?
The Golden State Warriors stormed out to a strong start in the 2022 NBA playoffs by trouncing the Denver Nuggets, 123-107. Now it’s time to keep the foot on their neck and control the series with another one tonight.
Stephen Curry opted to come off the bench in game one — a game where he was on the court for less than 22 minutes. No word yet on if that pattern will continue through tonight or not, but otherwise, there’s no surprises in the injury report at time of writing.
WHO: Golden State Warriors vs. Denver Nuggets
WHEN: Monday, April 18th, 2022 // 7pm(ish) PDT
WATCH: TNT, NBCSBA
Warriors lead series 1-0
Deep diving into play type data
Love it or hate it, there’s an aesthetic to coach Steve Kerr’s offense. One of the things I’m most curious about (other than how the hell Jordan Poole isn't even in the final running for Most Improved Player) after a game like that first one is to see exactly how the two team’s offenses compare and contrast. Using Synergy data, here’s the full summary of both offenses (you can skip over this table and come back to it for reference):
At a glance, note how these squads approach offense differently. The Nuggets posted up four times as frequently as the Warriors — who in turn used cuts and screens way more often. But because I’m a visual learner, let’s take this information and convert it into a pretty picture. A short trip to the handy ol’ Excel files and we get this spider graph:
The outlier values for both teams are much more visible like this. For the Nuggets, they’re using way more post ups (19 to 4) and Isolation plays (10 to 5) compared to the Warriors. In keeping with the established Kerrball philosophies, Golden State used significantly more cuts (16 to 7) and screens (11 to 5) to generate their shots.
As always with Synergy, remember that this is only showing possessions that led to a generated shot attempt, so it’s not a perfect picture of all the action that each team is trying for. I also have to point out that the numbers don’t exactly add up for me. When I sum all the parent-level play types, I see 123 total possessions (an extra 17 beyond the stated total in their summary). But even given the limitations, there’s some interesting wrinkles in the fabric if you lean in close enough.
First of all, let’s start with the most basic premise: both teams executed the pick-and-roll (PnR) at a similar frequency. Through one of those quirks of the basketball universe, both teams had 106 shooting possessions, per Synergy. The Warriors had 23 PnR possessions; the Nuggets, 29.
The biggest discrepancy I see in the PnR data is that the Warriors appear to more easily abandon the plays that don’t generate an advantage — check out how much more frequently the Nuggets were willing to take a shot when the defense committed to (or trapped) the PnR action:
What this all tells me is that both teams were fairly naturally running their games, and you can see where each coach is prioritizing their attack. Presumably the Nuggets will be making some adjustments in game two, but unless they can slow down the Warriora attack in some meaningful way, expect the Warriors offense to pretty much work the same.
Adjustment? We talking about adjustments?
After that win, it’s a given the Denver coach, Mike Malone will go back and make some adjustments. Equally clear: Kerr and the Warriors will be happy to run it back — with perhaps a minor adjustment or two. Jordan Poole killed the Nuggets with 30 points on 13 shots for a gaudy 1.67 points per attempt. He was their biggest problem, but far from the only one that Denver struggled to contain.
In fact, every member of that 5-man small ball unit that did so much damage managed to pitch in with double-digit scoring. The Warriors will be quite happy to run their same approach again:
Where does Denver look for defensive answers? According to one of their players, not much needs to be changed on a structural level:
“We have a scheme, we just have to execute it and they’re three hell of players,” Morris said after Game 1. “They had it going from deep. We can’t let them distort what we’re trying to do just ‘cause they can shoot. We got to trust our game plan and our scheme to be successful. It’s a long series, we come in here Monday night and get a night, everything’s even and it’s a different conversation.”
The only Warriors that played meaningful minutes and didn’t murder the Nuggets with better than average efficiency were Otto Porter and Nemanja Bjelica. Denver, never known for their defense may just as well go with the Mark Jackson method and tell everyone to try harder; because there’s no easy answer for them on the defensive end.
Offensively though, Denver certainly has some adjustments to make.
As our Eric Apricot pointed out in yesterday’s Explain 1 Play though, they tried to peel Jokic away from Green on numerous occasions and it didn’t work very well. Some of the blame falls squarely on the shoulders of Aaron Gordon, a talented player that seemed to struggle with knowing where to be — and how to help.
The Nuggets will also get miniature human wrecking ball, Facundo Campazzo back. He was suspended for a game because of a dirty push in the back and can be expected to bring the same sort of extra curricular hustle to bear against Golden State’s powerful trio of scoring guards. It was pretty clear after game one that Malone and the Nuggets weren’t all that clear on what else they could do.
As Anthony Slater pointed out, the Warriors new killer lineup was devastating in limited minutes during the regular season, outscoring opponents by 96 points in just 129 minutes. Now that the post season is here, look for Golden State to lean on this more frequently; but I don’t expect the Nuggets to have any good answers.
Other than just trying harder.