Hypothetically, the Golden State Warriors performance in Game 1 should be encouraging. Despite their status as an underdog on the road against a Denver Nuggets team that went 38-3 at home, they battled a team-wide inefficient shooting performance by dominating on the glass and managed to stay in the game until the final possession. And they would only be downed only by a out-of-nowhere fourth-quarter performance by Andre Miller, who had 18 points in the period, including the game-winner.
Of course, it isn't. Since Saturday's thriller, we've found out that David Lee, the team's first All-Star since 1997, is out for the playoffs after tearing his hip flexor. Meanwhile, Kenneth Faried, the Nuggets' energy ball big man, will play Game 2 after sitting Game 1. The Nuggets gain a cog, the Warriors lose one.
That makes this an uphill battle for Golden State. But they technically won the period of game after Lee's injury Saturday, scoring 30 points to Denver's 26. And winning in Denver has been tough for everybody. If Steph Curry's threes fall - he had 19 points on 20 shots Saturday after averaging 22.9 points on 17.8 over the course of the season - they can play with the Nuggets.
Three key questions about the matchup:
1. How do the Warriors adapt to the loss of David Lee?
It's a toughie, huh? Lee averaged 18.5 points and 11.2 rebounds, leading the league in double-doubles. He's an ambidextrous scorer, a preternaturally gifted rebounder, and passes nicely. Like we said: he was the Warriors' first All-Star since 1997, and this was his first playoff game. No fun.
There's been some very strong analysis over at Golden State of Mind: first, they took on how the team played in the 11:33 after Lee's injury. Then they looked at potential replacements. Finally, their preview covered maybe the most important thing: past the x's and o's and personnel matchups, how does a team mesh without a guy who was on the court for more time than all but one other player on the team this season?
The Warriors have a variety of options. They could simply bump backup Carl Landry into the starting lineup. They could move Draymond Green into the starting five alongside Harrison Barnes and Klay Thompson, a small-ball look. They could increase center Festus Ezeli's minutes for a bigger look.
Either way, they'll have to change their identity. None of those players have the skillset as Lee, and the team will have to change the way it operates offensively. It'll be interesting to see how.
2. What will Kenneth Faried do in his return?
Faried's a key part of the Nuggets' up-tempo attitude, something that runs teams ragged in Denver's high altitude. The two regular season games he missed due to a sprained ankle and Game 1 of this series were the only three he missed all year. Without him, the team slid Evan Fournier into the starting lineup at shooting guard, and bumped Wilson Chandler into the team's starting forward slots. And Denver was beaten on the boards, 55-45.
Most likely, the team will put Faried in at power forward and return Fournier to the bench. Will Faried's presence - and 11.8 rebounds per 36 minutes - allow Denver to do work on the glass? Lee's absence won't help.
3. Can Golden State stop Denver's guards?
With the game tied and the shot clock off, Denver opted to isolate Andre Miller on Draymond Green. Andre Miller, who is 37 years old. Andre Miller, who has lost sprinting competitions to relatively spry tortoises and whose free-throw-line-to-free-throw-line sprint time is officially listed as "oozing syrup". But he got to the rim: Green let him get past, and the help was too late, and Miller's layup fell through. (You can check out a play-by-play breakdown of what went wrong for the Warriors in the video at the bottom of the post.)
And that's Andre Miller. Although Ty Lawson was held in check due to a poor shooting night, he's a really speedy little bugger - 16.7 points and 6.9 assists on the year. Considering he didn't play well in Game 1, the Dubs should consider themselves lucky. Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, and Jarrett Jack have to do a better job of keeping guards in front, and if they can't, Andrew Bogut - whose balky body sometimes keeps him from recovering well, but had some nice blocks down the stretch of Game 4 before failing to get back to cover on Miller's glacial game-winner - has to do a better job of protecting the lane.