As we head into an all-important Game 6 between the Golden State Warriors and Denver Nuggets on Thursday, lets first get whatever happened in Game 5 out of the way and hope that nothing dumb – like players getting ejected or face suspensions over unnecessary physical play – happens.
The word, at least according to Mark Jackson and his “source”, is that Denver’s game plan was to go after Stephen Curry, who had completely lit them up in the previous three games leading up to Game 5. Here are his exact words, from Tim Kawakami of Mercury News:
Jackson took it farther, saying that the Nuggets were targeting Curry’s injured left ankle and suggesting that a member of Denver’s organization basically apologized to him for it.
“The screen on Curry by the foul line is a shot at his ankle, clearly, it can’t be debated,” Jackson said of a first-quarter play. “I have inside information that some people don’t like that brand of basketball and they clearly didn’t co-sign it, so they wanted to let me know that they had no part in what was taking place.”
Jackson also said that Denver was sending “hit men” after Curry. That’s obviously an over-exaggeration (you’ll see why below) of what happened, and he probably knows it, too. So why was the coach so adamant about making such a bold statement knowing that it would likely get scrutinized? Kawakami may have the best explanation of Jackson’s motives, and it’s actually quite profound:
Jackson is an admitted and unabashed button-pusher–he’s always looking for just the right message to either cajole or nudge someone in the direction he wants them to and he’s brash enough to believe he won’t look dumb when the purpose is exposed.
It’s his strength and that’s his way of pushing and prodding his players through the course of games, seasons or playoff series.
Jackson did it most famously when he was Reggie Miller’s teammate and kept pushing him and pushing him to see that the Knicks were disrespecting him and pushing him to hate the Knicks and got Miller prepared to destroy the Knicks, which Miller often did, especially in the postseason.
The parallel: Pushing Curry, in a slightly different way, to get angry with the way Denver’s knocking him around.
And while I don’t think any of the specific plays in Game 5 were terribly dirty, Jackson seems to have certainly gotten Curry’s fire burning, maybe for the rest of the postseason. (And it’s not like Curry needed much more.)
Obviously, Jackson is sending a message to tomorrow night’s referees, also; no doubt the refs will be looking closely for any extraneous contact with Curry, and I would guess the technical fouls and possibly ejections could be flying early.
Lastly, Jackson, as usual, is also sending a message to his team: I’ve got this one.
After he spoke at the podium last night, Jarrett Jack came in to speak but then was pulled back into the hallway… for a quick conversation with Jackson, right before Jack’s press conference.
I’m guessing Jackson didn’t want Jack to say anything more, because Jackson wanted to be the voice of it. Curry of course had the right to say whatever he wanted about the Nuggets’ hits, but Jackson was letting the rest of the team know that he was handling the rhetorical skirmishing.
For criticizing and calling out the Nuggets the way he did, people will criticize and call Jackson a hypocrite – he called himself an old-school coach and sent guys to foul Houston Rockets players when they were on the verge of breaking a single-game 3-point record during the regular season. Mission accomplished for Jackson, who appears to have gotten exactly what he wanted in order to motivate and protect his players – especially Curry, who is looking for revenge in Game 6.
Now, lets get into the motive behind Faried’s actions: was it clear that he tried to go after Curry’s ankle by attempting to trip him? Lets take a look (via Talkhoops):
From that angle, you can see that Curry did trip. There was very little movement from Faried, other than the shifting of his right foot, which suggests that the power forward had one goal in mind: target Curry’s ankle.
However, another angle (via CSN Bay Area) shows that it is highly unlikely that Faried was going for Curry’s ankle at all. In fact, all you see from this angle is Faried attempting to give Curry another cheap bump, as he did a few times prior:
So then you figure, okay, all of this is just a giant misunderstanding based on Jackson’s emphasis on the play. Or is it? Check out all the things Faried tried to do in low-key fashion throughout the game (via Mike Prada of SBNation) whenever he got near Curry:
Prada found seven different clips where Faried appeared to be doing something sketchy, be it a blatant shove or doing all he can to plant his feet where they normally wouldn’t be planted.
Trying to figure out the true intentions of Faried through these clips is dicey at best. There’s no question that he wants Curry to feel his presence with cheap shots (which I am totally okay with, especially if the refs catch them in action), but whether he’s actually doing his best to mess with Curry’s ankles is relatively subjective. One thing is for sure: Golden State already got its payback against Faried with two flagrant-one fouls – one from Andrew Bogut (as seen below) and one from Draymond Green’s tackle:
We all know that physical play is part of playoff basketball. The extra bumps and shoves are to be expected, especially around the paint area. What isn’t and should never be a part of basketball (or any sport), is to play with the will to injure another player. It should never be condoned because that’s not what basketball is about. People want to see intelligent play, good execution and integrity (there is a reason the league wants to penalize floppers). Do we want things to get physical? To an extent, yes. Hard-nosed competition is also a part of the fun. But there is a clear distinction between a physical basketball play (a hard foul) and a dirty non-basketball play (going after someone’s ankle). George Karl has already denied claims that his players are out to injure Curry. For now, all we can do is take his word on it until proven otherwise in Game 6.
Aside from the immoral aspect, it’s also simply dumb to risk picking up flagrant fouls if you’re a player like Faried or Bogut. These players are simply too important to get involved in plays that could potentially get them in foul trouble, kicked out or get suspended: look what happened to the New York Knicks because of one dumb J.R. Smith elbow. It can also have an adverse effect on the outcome of the game because every flagrant foul leads to two free throws and possession. How important is a single possession in a playoff game? Consider that each team has won a game in this series by two points.
This is not about fulfilling egos and feeling “tough” by the act of retaliation. Leave that stuff for the regular season and pitchers in baseball. Picking up bad fouls on non-basketball plays, especially at this juncture, is not worth the trouble for either team. It’s hard to be sneaky about it, too, when the men in stripes are specifically looking for extracurricular activities. Hopefully, we can stop talking about all this nonsense and get back to watching some great basketball on Thursday night.
Onto other news from around the league: