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Kevin Durant, DeMarcus Cousins, Nikola Jokic

Editorials

5 Clutch Points from Nuggets vs. Warriors

5 Clutch Points from Nuggets vs. Warriors

The Golden State Warriors had likely their last statement game of the 2018-19 season with a convincing 116-102 win over the Denver Nuggets, which served not only to settle a potential tiebreaker discrepancy, but to preview a few key important factors as the team approaches the playoffs.

The later part of TNT’s Players Only doubleheader didn’t have an iconic 20-20-20 performance to witness, but it did deliver plenty of fireworks to close out the night in sound fashion.

Without further ado, here are five clutch points from Tuesday’s game between the Nuggets and the Warriors.

Kevin Durant

Kevin Durant’s ejection

This one is tough. Durant was unhappy with a shooting foul non-call and got ejected with 8:21 left in the third quarter after barking at referee Zach Zarba on the ensuing possession.

To be fair, Durant has reason to complain, given that he’s fouled first at the waist by Paul Millsap and then endangered once the Nuggets power forward kicked out his left leg, disrupting Durant’s equilibrium in the upward motion and his respective landing zone.

Zarba was only a few feet away from the play and was likely obstructed from seeing both of these infractions clearly, but he also gets no help from the sideline referee (likely having his line of vision blocked by DeMarcus Cousins) or the baseline official, who actually has a clear look at the action but fails to blow his whistle.

Now this is only one play, but for Durant, a struggling 3-point shooter this season at a mere 35% — it’s a naturally frustrating one given recent events.

It was only less than a week ago that Durant’s potential game-winning four-point play against the Minnesota Timberwolves was called on the floor and given no continuation — something that costed the Warriors a collective $75,000 after Stephen Curry, Draymond Green, and Durant berated officials for their poor calls.

It’s worthy to consider that before joining the Warriors, Durant had four seasons in which he neared 10 nightly trips to the foul line — making these type of calls an expectation for him.

The two technical fouls will be worth monitoring if not rescinded by the league, considering they will be his 14th and 15th techs of the season, keeping him one away from a one-game suspension with five games left.

DeMarcus Cousins, Warriors

DeMarcus Cousins’ dominance

While it’s easy to look at Cousins’ stat line and definitively say this was his greatest performance in a Warriors uniform, it was the little things that impressed me the most about his game — drawing six total fouls during the first half and constantly being a pest at both ends of the floor for the Nuggets.

Cousins was constantly jostling for position, out-muscling a strong Nikola Jokic and bulldozing smaller guys, forcing them to foul him or leap over his back to ensnare rebounds away from him.

Boogie’s line of 28 points, 13 rebounds, five assists, two steals, and two blocks was a near semblance of his best season to date, which he spent with the New Orleans Pelicans before tearing his Achilles.

This was not just a flashback, but a preview of what Cousins can do when the reins are off and he’s fully unleashed into the beast of a big man he’s proven to be when given the room and time to operate.

The Warriors don’t exactly need him to replicate this type of performance in the playoffs, but it’s an encouraging sign to know they now have a guy with these capabilities — a dimension they haven’t had before.

Stephen Curry, Warriors

Stephen Curry’s lights out shooting continues

Curry has now shot over 50% from deep in all of his last five games after reaching the mark only once during the previous nine games in March.

The planned rest against the Dallas Mavericks, though it costed the Warriors a loss, was well worth it. Curry has settled comfortably as the featured scorer while Durant has taken on a playmaking role that has seen him be more lethal than ever (66% over his last five games).

Curry has also made five or more 3-pointers in his last nine games — a weapon Golden State will need once the playoffs get started, as it turns the Warriors from a tough opponent to flat out unstoppable when he has the sprinkler systems going.

Curry is also taking smarter shots, coming off screens at sharper angles and timing his runs impeccably as opposed to the series of prayers he was throwing up during most of February and early March, walking himself into corner double-teams and rhythm shots without a semblance of proper spacing.

As the playoffs get nearer, expect to see more Curry and Durant high pick-and-roll action — a tactic Steve Kerr has reserved to close out important games.

Nikola Jokic, Nuggets

Joker? I hardly knew ya

The Warriors made light work of one of the most dexterous centers in the league in Nikola Jokic, whether it was by means of an overpowering DeMarcus Cousins or a savvy Draymond Green poking away at his hip.

Jokic was reduced to a mere 10 points on 4-of-10 shooting, five rebounds, and five assists, and while he did have four steals, he also had a game-high six turnovers on the night. Cousins, who took the matchup personal against one of the best centers in the league, couldn’t help but mock him as he headed to the bench with a beefy 29-point lead.

In fact, Jokic hasn’t fared well against the Warriors at all, recording a minus-20, minus-29, and minus-10 plus-minus differential in his last three losses to Golden State this season. Even in a narrow 100-98 early-season win, Jokic still recorded a minus-4 against a more athletic tandem of Damian Jones and Kevon Looney.

If the Nuggets meet the Warriors in the playoffs, it won’t be until the Western Conference Finals — and it will likely have to be someone other than Jokic that beats them, as Golden State has nearly nullified his contributions in four meetings against Denver.

Steve Kerr, Andre Iguodala

In Rest We Trust

The Warriors still have five games remaining in the season, and with a virtual three-game advantage (two games up on Denver plus a 3-1 series tiebreaker), it’s likely coach Steve Kerr will start to stagger some rest for his starters and key bench players to keep the legs fresh.

It’s much-needed, especially for Green and Durant, who sit at 15 technicals fouls apiece and are in danger of being suspended for a game as well as being fined heftily for it.

This will be Green’s third straight season in which he has accumulated 15 techs — though to his credit, he’s managed to avoid a game suspension since his incident in Game 4 of the 2016 NBA Finals that saw him suspended for Game 5.

A noteworthy tidbit is that these last five games boast two back-to-backs, which will make for the ideal excuse to sit players down the stretch.

The first of them comes on Thursday and Friday (at Los Angeles Lakers, vs. Cleveland Cavaliers), followed by a Sunday night tilt at home against the L.A. Clippers and a season-capping back-to-back on April 9-10 (at New Orleans Pelicans, at Memphis Grizzlies).