The first matchup between the NBA’s last two champions, the Warriors and Denver Nuggets, was compromised from the start. Denver was down star guard Jamal Murray (right hamstring strain), and Golden State had to finish a four-game road trip without defensive stalwarts Draymond Green (personal reasons) and Gary Payton II (illness).
But key absences didn’t stop these two Western Conference contenders from showing what they’re made of.
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It was a battle until the very end at Ball Arena, but the Warriors fell short, 108-105 in the final seconds on Wednesday night.
Steph Curry’s 23 points were an off-night by his standards, missing all four of his 2-point attempts. His three turnovers also were the most of any Warriors.
Nuggets two-time MVP Nikola Jokic dominated as he does, scoring 35 points and grabbing 13 rebounds, but the Warriors held him to only five assists and forced three turnovers from the star center.
Golden State Warriors
Here are three takeaways from the Warriors’ loss before heading home for a six-game homestand:
Moses Moody continues to meet the moment. With the Warriors missing Green and Payton, Moody was one of a handful of players who had to step up to compete against the Nuggets. Moody answered the call, as he often does.
His second 3-pointer of the night tied the game at 70 points apiece in a third quarter where the Warriors outscored the Nuggets 31-23 to take the lead into the fourth quarter.
Where Moody was needed most was his defensive activity on a night where the Warriors didn’t have Green or Payton. Following his third three-steal game of the season, Moody swiped one steal Wednesday to give him 12 on the season. He didn’t have 12 steals last season until the Warriors’ 36th game.
Despite playing only 14 minutes, Moody led Warriors reserves in scoring with 10 points, shooting 4 of 7 from the field, 2 of 3 from deep, finishing was a plus-7.
Steve Kerr didn’t wait long to turn to his depth, including his two rookies. Trayce Jackson-Davis joined Chris Paul as the first two players off the bench, and Brandin Podziemski came off the bench soon after.
Jackson-Davis on a night where the Warriors didn’t have their small-ball center in Green, essentially was the Warriors’ backup center. That’s an crucial spot, especially when going against Jokic. Jackson-Davis’ advanced readiness as a four-year college player is a luxury for Kerr to lean on and has helped the young center early in his rookie year.
One of the only downsides to Jackson-Davis’ game in the early portion of the season has been some struggles at the free throw line. He came into the day 4 of 9 on free throws, but hit two straight in the third quarter to give the Warriors their first lead since it was 2-0.
Jackson-Davis’ 18 minutes were his most this season in a game that wasn’t a blowout. He delivered, too, giving the Warriors eight points and two rebounds, showing why he should stick in the rotation.
The group of Paul, Podziemski, Moody, Jonathan Kuminga and Jackson-Davis played 8:08 together and were a plus-8, outscoring the Nuggets 22-14.
Fans always want more Curry in the fourth quarter, and Kerr let him off the bench earlier than usual in a tightly-contested game where the Warriors will have two days off between their next game. Up one point, 84-83 at the 9:32 mark, Curry came back in for the rest of the way.
All he needed was 18 seconds to hit his fifth 3-pointer.
But Curry also had two huge points taken away from him on an Aaron Gordon blocked shot that should have been called for a goaltending. Curry and Kerr were not fond of the refs missing what was right in front of them.
However, Curry was held to seven fourth-quarter points on 2-of-7 shooting and missed the game-tying layup with five seconds left. He earned taking a break over these next two days.