In Game 2 of their playoff series against the Golden State Warriors, the Denver Nuggets scored 117 points and shot 50 percent from the field ... yet still lost by 14 points. Stephen Curry scored 30 points while also dishing 13 assists, leading his team to victory.
Mike Prada previously broke down the many ways the Nuggets' defense lost track of Curry in Game 2. Curry took three-point field goals that were "practically a layup" for the league's top sharpshooter. When Denver keyed in on Curry, however, he made the right play and orchestrated the Warriors' offense, picking apart Denver's disorganized defense.
If the Nuggets are going to take Game 3 at Oracle Arena, tightening up their defense on Curry needs to be their top priority.
Play No. 1
When Curry drives by McGee, he pulls the attention of four Nuggets defenders. Miller hedges into the paint, but how exactly is he helping? He's behind both McGee and Faried, and left Draymond Green on the perimeter.
Curry kicks it out and Green hits the open jumper.
Play No. 2
Curry is going to drive into the paint while in transition. Denver responds by sending Corey Brewer at Curry to stop the dribble penetration. Richard Jefferson, Brewer's man, is going to pop out to the perimeter.
Curry dribbles by both defenders and has McGee and Brewer in front of him. Jefferson is undefended as he sets up in the corner.
With four Nuggets drawn into the paint off basic dribble penetration in transition, Curry finds Jefferson for the corner three-pointer. This is a fundamental breakdown in transition for Denver that, with a minor adjustment, could have been avoided.
In transition, JaVale McGee needs to get back to the rim and not worry about defending "sharpshooter" Festus Ezeli on the perimeter. (By "Sharpshooter," I mean "Has never made a three-point field goal in his professional career"). McGee needs to shift back to the rim so Brewer can stay with Jefferson.
Play No. 3
The Nuggets need more out of Ty Lawson, who hasn't been able to stop Curry from getting where he wants on the court. Here, Lawson shifts in preparation for the screen, but Curry goes the opposite way. One isolated breakdown in Denver's defense is enough to create openings for Curry to exploit.
Denver now has to use three defenders to stop one man. In this shuffle, Carl Landry is ignored by the Nuggets.
The Nuggets stop Curry with McGee stepping into the driving lane, but Curry kicks it out to Landry. The Nuggets' defense is compromised in two areas. Landry lingering in the mid-range keeps the defense stretched, and Ezeli rolling to the rim forces Faried deeper into the paint.
Faried attempts to recover, but he's too far away to contest Landry's jumper. Lawson doesn't bother stepping out after chasing Curry, and it's another easy basket for Golden State.
Faried did the right thing by going into the paint to stop the roll man in this play, but Denver has two options that could have saved this possession. The first option is Lawson stepping out to Landry instead of trailing Curry to disrupt the passing lane and challenge the shot.
The other option is to keep Faried out on the perimeter and shift Miller down to step into Ezeli's path. Curry could try to pass the ball cross-court, but McGee is in good position with his arms up.
Play No. 4
Denver was very active in packing the paint and sending extra defenders at Curry. If Denver is going to focus on Curry, they'll need to make smarter defensive decisions and be ready to move. Wilson Chandler is out of position after trapping Jarrett Jack in transition, which is a poor move in and of itself. Brewer is left on the opposite side with both Harrison Barnes and Klay Thompson to defend.
Brewer steps into the paint to help with Curry while also fronting Barnes. This leaves Thompson on the perimeter.
Brewer attempts to recover, but another poor defensive decision leads to another Warriors spot-up field goal.
This is another case of the Nuggets being unprepared to play this style of defense. Chandler needs to pick up Barnes and cut off Curry. If Chandler makes that adjustment, Brewer could then rotate back out to the perimeter.
And last but, not least...
Don't get crushed by screens at half-court.
Curry not only scored well against the Nuggets defense in Game 2, but didn't force shots and trusted his teammates to finish plays. Denver can't throw extra defenders in Curry's path without all five guys being prepared to make multiple decisions in a single play.
Either the Nuggets need to play smarter team defense, or Lawson needs to work harder when covering Curry. Otherwise, Golden State will have the opportunity to put on offensive shows like they did in Game 2.