Whoever thought political correctness would creep its way into the NBA playoffs?
That’s what the Golden State Warriors seemed to be trying to achieve following a 107-100 loss to the Denver Nuggets in Game 5 of their first-round playoff series Tuesday. The Warriors still lead the best-of-seven affair 3-2 with Game 6 on Thursday at home.
But you never know. The Warriors very well could take their ball to the principal’s office and demand the Nuggets serve a detention. Because the Nuggets, you know, are really, really mean.
After the game, Warriors coach Mark Jackson referred to Denver defenders as “their hitmen.” He said “there was some dirty play early.” He fell short of asking why Warriors guard Stephen Curry no longer could prance through the lane on his way to another 3-pointer.
Well, here’s why: Because it’s killing the Nuggets.
They lost three straight games in this series, and it’s mostly because Curry practically skipped to a spot behind the arc, patiently squared his shoulders and softly let it fly.
No more, said Denver coach George Karl. If the Nuggets are going down, it won’t be without a hip-check or two.
”It’s playoff basketball, that’s all right. We own it,” Jackson said, sounding like anything but a man who was actually ready to own it. “But make no mistake about it, we went up 3-1 playing hard, physical, clean basketball — not trying to hurt anybody.”
That’s sweet, but the Nuggets weren’t trying to hurt anyone, either. They just decided to play like you’re supposed to play in late April and all of May. You’re supposed to send subtle messages. When those don’t work, you send booming ones.
Jackson should know this. He was a point guard in the era of the Bad Boys Pistons and Kevin McHale clotheslining Kurt Rambis.
What Nuggets forward Kenneth Faried did to Curry is nowhere near that type of basketball brutality. Instead, Faried used his body to let Curry know that the paint is now reserved for pain. It’s certainly no place for softies.
But were the Nuggets head-hunting? Were they out to hurt someone? Were they playing dirty, with no respect for the game?
“If you can’t stand the physicality, you shouldn’t be playing,” Faried said.
Now, don’t misunderstand. This isn’t intended to trash the Warriors. Curry is truly remarkable; his unmatched perimeter shooting is making Jackson look like a genius. And Jackson really is pretty crafty, implementing a four-guard lineup following the season-ending injury to big man David Lee in Game 1.
Lee went down, the Warriors went small, the Nuggets couldn’t keep up.
So the Nuggets went big. Not necessarily in height, but in width, in raw aggression.
Like the Warriors, the Nuggets prefer to get up and down the floor and run opponents into unconsciousness, usually via speedy point guard Ty Lawson and lane-filling swingman Andre Iguodala.
But that’s not playoff basketball. At least, it could no longer be playoff basketball if you’re Denver. The Warriors are younger, equally as fresh, and every bit as willing to make a dash for the purpose of scoring bushels of baskets in a matter of minutes.
On top of all that, if you ask the Nuggets, they were actually the ones taking the hardest of knocks during the first four games.
“We stopped being the receivers and we’re starting to hit back a little bit,” Iguodala said.
Apparently, the Warriors don’t like that. But that doesn’t make it wrong. It just makes it the playoffs.
And the playoffs are no place for crying.
“It’s all good,” Faried said. “If we’re playing dirty, hey, it’s basketball. We’re just playing physical.”
The Warriors can either live with it, implement a little physical play themselves, or they can whine. But nobody will really accept the latter as a reason for losing, and the Warriors shouldn’t, either.