Three thoughts from the Nuggets' 107-100 victory over the Warriors on Tuesday to avoid elimination in Game 5 of their first-round series.
? Mark Jackson accuses Denver of dirty play. After Stephen Curry had been held to 15 points (one-for-seven on threes) as Denver closed Golden State's series lead to 3-2, the Warriors coach accused the Nuggets of targeting Curry unfairly.
"They tried to send hit men on Steph," said Jackson in a televised postgame news conference. "There were some dirty plays early. It's playoff basketball; that's all right. We own it. But make no mistake about it: We went up 3-1 playing hard, physical, clean basketball. Not trying to hurt anybody."
"I'm not going to get into specifics," added Jackson, who then offered one. "Take a look at the game: The screen on Curry by the foul line is a shot at his ankle, clearly. That can't be debated."
Jackson was referring to a play in which Kenneth Faried tripped Curry, who has been troubled with ankle issues in this series and throughout his career. "I understand if I'm going to the basket, you want to give a hard foul," said Curry. "It's the playoffs. We do the same thing. You don't want to let anybody feel comfortable on the court. But there's a time and place."
Curry also talked of receiving an elbow to the chest while he was away from the ball -- but how many elbows have Kobe Bryant and Dwyane Wade and Chris Paul absorbed over the years? Isn't this the normal playoff experience that all big scorers face during the playoffs?
Curry had been averaging 27.3 points and 10.0 assists while the sixth-seeded Warriors seized a 3-1 lead over the No. 3 Nuggets. Apart from that incident and another hard foul on Curry by center Kosta Koufos, it was hard to find egregious examples of dirty play by the Nuggets.
Most amazing was Jackson's intimation that one or more members of the Nuggets organization disagreed with the alleged plan to target Curry and had reached out to warn Jackson. "I've got inside information that some people don't like that brand of basketball and they clearly didn't co-sign it," said Jackson of his sources within the Nuggets. "So they wanted to let me know that they had no parts in what was taking place.
"Let the best team win and let everybody -- with the exception of going down because of a freak injury -- let everybody leave out of here healthy," said Jackson. "That's not good basketball."
When Nuggets coach George Karl held his news conference prior to Jackson's accusations, Karl said that the Nuggets had been aiming to stay up on Curry in pick-and-rolls. They had put their best defender, Andre Iguodala, on Jarrett Jack (20 points and five assists) because, according to Karl, "We thought Jack was playing as well as anybody on their team."
Jack wanted no part of the talk of dirty play by Denver. "It felt like good defense and we liked it -- and nothing else further to it," he said. "We're a close-knit bunch, we're a battle-tested bunch, and nothing can get us out of our character."
Iguodala agreed that the Nuggets had sought to play more physically after allowing the Warriors to shoot 53 percent overall during the previous four games while making 44.1 percent of their threes. "I think I've taken the hardest hit throughout the series when [Andrew] Bogut leaned into me, a full-court screen, and I didn't remember what happened the rest of the game," said Iguodala. "They brought the physicality to the series, and then we've stopped being the receivers and we're starting to hit back a little bit. But as far as anybody starting to cheap-shot, I don't condone that myself."
If the Nuggets were going out of their way to hurt Curry, then they did an unimpressive job of it. But if it was true that someone from the Nuggets told Jackson of a strategy to injure his best player, then it's understandable that Jackson was going to extraordinary lengths to protect Curry.
"There's a difference between trying to hurt someone vs. knocking somebody off their balance," said Iguodala. "We're trying to go after [Curry] to make things uncomfortable, but there's certainly not a point of emphasis to try to hurt him. Both teams have a key player out -- their All-Star (David Lee) is out, our leading scorer (Danilo Gallinari) is out -- and I don't think anybody wants to see anybody go out again."
? Javale McGee starts. The Nuggets were up by 22 in the second quarter and 66-46 at halftime thanks to Karl's decision to start McGee for the first time all season. The athletic center responded with eight points, seven rebounds and three blocks in 13 first-half minutes.
The Nuggets seemed to be at their best when they kept their big lineup on the floor against the Warriors' small-ball lineup of perimeter shooters. It was Karl's way of responding to the efficient offense of the Warriors.
"We're No. 1 in the league in points scored on offensive rebounds; we weren't getting that," said Karl of the previous four games. "And we were giving up too many points in the paint."
? Game 6 promises to be emotional. Golden State left the Nuggets feeling insecure in the fourth quarter Tuesday. The Warriors held the Nuggets without a field goal for four and a half minutes while turning a 19-point deficit into a 96-91 game with 5:09 remaining. Klay Thompson (19 points) pulled the Warriors within five points again with 2:16 remaining. The Nuggets had trouble generating offense apart from three alley-oop dunks down the stretch, and they enabled the Warriors to shoot 57.9 percent in the fourth overall. Though they limited Curry offensively, Warriors rookie Harrison Barnes broke out with 23 points and nine rebounds.
The Nuggets will need continued leadership by Iguodala, who provided 25 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists Tuesday. Now that Jackson has turned their physical play into a major issue, the Nuggets must continue to force that issue defensively and hope that the Warriors complain rather than fight back. But that isn't likely to happen: The bottom line is that a 22-point lead almost wasn't enough for the Nuggets on their home floor. Now they must win in the noisy environment of Oakland, where the Warriors have gone 30-13 this year. Denver, meanwhile, is a 19-24 road team.