OAKLAND, Calif. — Faces crinkled and shoulders shrugged in befuddlement.
The question: What now?
The Nuggets, down 3-1 to Golden State in their opening round playoff series, have had few defensive answers to the Warriors' offensive onslaught.
What to do? It is suddenly a tough question.
"Uh ... I don't know," Nuggets forward Kenneth Faried said. "I really don't."
Nuggets guard Andre Miller: "That's the coaches' decision to figure out the adjustments, who is guarding who, certain things like that. It's a pride thing, and I think the coaches will figure out a way to adjust to things."
Nuggets guard Ty Lawson: "Man ... whatever the coaches come up with."
The problem is, most everything the Nuggets have tried on defense in this series hasn't worked after Golden State's all-star forward, David Lee, went down with an injury in Game 1. Warriors coach Mark Jackson then went with a small, three-guard lineup that has given the Nuggets fits. Lee's absence has turned the Warriors from a conventional team to a wild card, from having a dual low-post game to running a spread — four shooters on the perimeter, each with the ability to create a shot for their teammates.
As a result, the Nuggets' defense been stretched thin and distorted beyond recognition. Being able to trap the ballhandler on pick-and-rolls was supposed to be the Nuggets' ace in the hole. Instead, Golden State adapted so well that by the third quarter of Game 4 on Sunday night, Nuggets coach George Karl abandoned that plan and went with more conventional screen/roll coverage.
That move resulted in one of the most explosive five-minute stretches in NBA playoff history. Stephen Curry, being guarded one-on-one, scored 22 points in just over five minutes near the end of the third quarter, electrifying the already-bonkers Oracle Arena crowd, and providing the knockout punch in Game 4.
So, what now?
Look for the Nuggets to try to trap again as soon as Curry gets over half court. Though the Nuggets gave up a number of easy opportunities to Golden State's Andrew Bogut by going that route, they were able to stay close. Once Curry took over in the third quarter, the game was over.
The Denver Post's Benjamin Hochman posts analysis, notes and more on this blog focusing on the Denver Nuggets.
Nuggets forward Andre Iguodala said he expects to get the defensive assignment on Curry to start Game 5. Individually, the Nuggets have to be better at keeping their man in front of them and out of the lane. And they can't get caught so far out of position when helping that they give Golden State wide-open looks from 3-point range.
"We've stuck with our game plan since Game 1, except with Faried back in the lineup we went smaller," Miller said. "But we still feel we can pull the series out. They're making shots. We're a 'paint' team, and they are a jump-shooting team. They're finding a way to mix their jump shots with attacks, and they are doing a good job with it."
Asked if he was surprised at the turn of events in this series, especially after Lee's injury, Miller paused, then said: "They didn't lay down. They've got some guys over there with pride; they've got some young guys who are competitive. Anytime you can shoot the ball (well), it makes things a lot easier for your team and they're doing that right now."
Faried and Lawson both said the Nuggets' problems aren't only at the defensive end.
Asked what needs to change at the offensive end, Faried said: "Everything. We just need to throw everything out and come back with a game plan, because right now we're not playing Nuggets basketball. It just looks bad out there."
Added Lawson: "Everything is frustrating right now. We're not knocking down shots. We're not getting any easy shots. A lot of them are forced, hand in the face. I don't think we're playing our regular basketball."