Why Warriors' regular-season record vs. Nuggets is irrelevant


The Warriors' first-round matchup to start the 2022 NBA playoffs essentially came down to two opponents: The Utah Jazz and the Denver Nuggets. They played both of those teams four times each, winning three against the former and losing three to the latter. 

Golden State earned the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference, which also set up another date with Denver. Grab an eraser, open your bottle of Wite-Out. That 1-3 record is irrelevant at this point. 

And it's not just because of the Warriors' past playoff experience and championship pedigree compared to the Nuggets. Looking back at the four matchups between these two teams tells a bigger story than just one win and three loses for the Warriors. 

Let's take a look back at those four battles, game by game. 

Dec. 28, 2021: Nuggets 89, Warriors 86

The Warriors' first showdown with the Nuggets wound up being just their seventh loss of the season and third at Chase Center. Klay Thompson still was about two weeks away from completing his comeback, but he was far from the only key player who couldn't suit up for the home team. 

Draymond Green, Jordan Poole, Moses Moody and Damion Lee all were in health and safety protocols. This also was Andrew Wiggins' first game back from health and safety protocols and Andre Iguodala's first after missing two weeks to a knee injury. The Warriors trotted out a starting lineup of Steph Curry, Gary Payton II, Andrew Wiggins, Juan Toscano-Anderson and Kevon Looney. That group essentially is made up of two offensive players out of five. 

Losing that much offense was clear, too. The Warriors scored just 16 points in the first quarter, 20 in the second and trailed by 24 at halftime. They outscored the Nuggets 50-29 in the second half, and a blocked layup attempt from Jonathan Kuminga in the final seconds ended up being the difference. 

These two teams were scheduled to play two nights later, but a COVID outbreak on the Nuggets forced the NBA to postpone the game. So, one team benefitted from players being in the NBA's health and safety protocols and one team didn't. The Warriors rightfully weren't too happy, which we'll re-visit later. 

Feb. 16, 2022: Nuggets 117, Warriors 116

Oh yeah, that game.

Klay was back, as was Poole. But the two weren't the players we saw at the end of the regular season. They combined to score 31 points, just six more than Curry scored by himself.

Nikola Jokic, the reigning NBA MVP and favorite to win it again this season, went off and to no surprise. He totaled 35 points, 17 rebounds and eight assists. That can be a typical game for the star big man. It sure helps when Draymond is out due to a back injury. 

The Warriors will need more from Andrew Wiggins. This was in the middle of a February to forget for him, despite being a first-time All-Star. He scored just nine points while going 4 for 12 from the field and 1 for 5 from deep. That won't cut it. 

Through the first three quarters, the Warriors were the better team and went into the fourth with an 86-78 lead. But then they allowed 39 fourth-quarter points and Curry overhelped on Jokic in the final seconds before the point guard in a center's body found a wide-open Monte Morris for a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to win the game. 

There are things to take away from this game, especially the fourth-quarter collapse. But how often is Morris going to hit a game-winning buzzer-beater? Is Bryn Forbes really going to go off for 22 points again? This was a strange one, and one where the Warriors can learn from melting down in the final frame. 

March 7, 2022: Nuggets 131, Warriors 124

This one was a wash, a game where Steve Kerr was sending a message to the league. This was the re-scheduled date for the previous postponement between these two teams. It turned a three-game road trip into a four-game one and added yet another back-to-back on the Warriors' schedule.

How did Kerr respond? By not sending Curry, Thompson or Wiggins to Denver for the game. Plus, Green still was out to a back injury. Andre Iguodala also was shelved, and it should be noted he played in only one of these four games. 

The Warriors started Moody, Lee and Toscano-Anderson, along with Poole and Looney. Moody had his first 30-point game, though it's hard to envision how big of a role the rookie will have in the playoffs. One thing to look for is the Poole connection with Kuminga.

Poole was on fire from the field and tied Jokic with a game-high 32 points. Kuminga scored 16 points off the bench and didn't miss a 2-pointer. Whether it's Poole, Steph or Klay, the 19-year-old could be a scary pick-and-roll option against Jokic and the Nuggets. 

March 10, 2022: Warriors 113, Nuggets 102

The final regular-season matchup between these two teams went in favor of the Warriors. This was the second night of a back-to-back for the Nuggets and a brutal part of their schedule. Kerr pointed that out Wednesday to reporters. There also is a lot to take from this Warriors win. 

The Warriors trailed by nine points at the half, but scored 37 in the third quarter and 25 in the fourth while holding the Nuggets to only 18 in the last quarter. Curry went off in the third, scoring 18 points by himself after having only 10 in the first half. But the fourth quarter belonged to Poole. 

He didn't score once in the third quarter and then dropped 11 while missing just one shot from the field and making three 3-pointers. Poole totaled 21 points off the bench and was a game-high plus-29. Kuminga's 18 points off the bench certainly provided a big spark as well. 

What stands out the most, though, is the three-guard lineup of Steph, Klay and Poole. Yes, Poole still came off the bench with the three of them healthy but this was the first time that Kerr really leaned on the three sharing the court, especially in the clutch. The youngest of that trio stepped up and showed why he's ready to bring the Poole Party to the playoffs. 

RELATED: What one word perfectly describes Warriors' regular season?

"It was a weird season series for both teams," Kerr said Wednesday to reporters. "We had one game postponed, Draymond didn't play in any of them. Obviously Denver has had more than their fair share of injuries. Both teams went through a lot in the regular season and we caught each other at different times. The one that we won, they were dead tired and I think they faded in the fourth quarter. It was their fourth in five nights, they were flying all over the place.

"We watched all those games. You can take some stuff from it and learn from those games, little details, but you don't get a great idea of what the matchup is going to look like in Game 1, given there will be different people out there." 

Weird is one word for the regular-season series between the Warriors and Nuggets, and it's an appropriate one. There clearly is more to simply looking at Golden State going 1-3 against Denver, and we now are about to learn a lot more about who these teams actually are.

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