SAN FRANCISCO (CBS/AP) — George Karl glanced over at the sunlight shining through the floor-to-ceiling windows on the sixth floor gymnasium at The Olympic Club in downtown San Francisco on Saturday. Then the Denver Nuggets’ coach turned his attention back to his players on the court, cracking a smile at the serious expressions on their faces.
“It’s a beautiful day in San Francisco. Let’s enjoy it,” Karl said, pausing for a moment trying to describe the mood of his team with a bit of sarcasm. “It’s hard to do.”
There was no way Karl could sugarcoat it: the Nuggets know they need a win, and they know they need a win now.
Fast, physical and flamboyant, the Golden State Warriors have been beating the Nuggets at their own game. Denver has dropped two straight against the Warriors to fall into a 2-1 hole in the best-of-seven playoff series, which resumes Sunday night at amped-up Oracle Arena across the bay in Oakland for a critical Game 4 tilt.
“I think the series is a competitive series. It’s not lopsided. It’s not time for radical, panic decision-making,” Karl said. “It’s time to play a little bit better, get a little bit more together, find some more confidence and do the things to win playoff basketball games.”
In other words, all the things the Warriors have done.
Golden State has shot 64.6 percent and 52.5 percent from the floor the past two games. They have outrebounded the Nuggets in all three games – holding a 133 to 105 advantage – and, if not for Andre Miller’s twisting layup in the final seconds of Game 1, could be on the verge of a stunning series sweep.
Playing small and running had been Denver’s winning formula all season. Instead, that style has worked out well for the Warriors in this series.
“That’s our only chance,” Warriors coach Mark Jackson said.
Besides those key components, other elements have emerged: physical fortitude and mental toughness. And judging by the last two games, both sides concede the Warriors are winning those battles, too.
One of those pivotal points came with 4:46 remaining in the third quarter of Golden State’s 110-108 win Friday night. Warriors center Andrew Bogut got in the face of JaVale McGee, repeatedly pointing to his chin and daring Denver’s big man to make a move until he backed down.
Bogut received a technical foul, but the message was sent – and followed up on Golden State’s next possession when the 7-footer dunked as McGee reached in for a foul.
“That was idiotic to me. I don’t know why you’d want somebody to punch you in the chin. I’ve never told somebody to punch me in the chin,” McGee said.
Added Bogut: “At the end of a playoff series, if the other team likes you and says good things about you, and the other team’s fans like you and say good things about you, that’s probably not a good thing.”
Karl admitted the incident had “a psychological influence in the crowd” and perhaps even on his own players, who became increasingly frustrated in the fourth quarter – at the officiating, at their opponents and even at each other.
The Nuggets are clearly playing with more at stake than the Warriors, and maybe for good reason.
Denver earned the Western Conference’s No. 3 seed after winning an NBA franchise-best 57 games. The Nuggets also had a league-best 38-3 record at home, where they had won a franchise-record 24 straight until Golden State snapped that steak in Game 2.
The Warriors surprisingly won 47 games in the regular season, lost All-Star forward David Lee to a season-ending hip injury in Game 1 and had Curry sprain his left ankle late in Game 2. Nobody expected the Warriors to be in a position to win a first-round series, evident again in their loose demeanor before practice Saturday at the team’s downtown Oakland headquarters.
“It’s not time to panic. They won a home game,” Nuggets forward Kenneth Faried said.
Karl hasn’t lost his cool yet, either.
The Nuggets know they need more than Ty Lawson’s 35-point performance in Game 3 to curb Curry’s production. The Warriors point guard is averaging 26 points, 11 assists, five rebounds and 2.3 steals in the series. He’s also shooting 46.7 percent, including 44.4 percent from beyond the arc.
Even still, Karl said he was pleased with most everything but the end result in Game 3. While Curry and company shot at a high rate again, he also believes that’s a bit misleading because the Nuggets forced 23 turnovers. And he’s confident that if his team continues to put out that effort, the results will change.
“Don’t get me wrong: When they get an open shot, I think it’s going in,” Karl said. “It’s not a fun feeling over there.”
NOTES: McGee wore a wrap around his right shoulder during the portion of Denver’s practice open to reporters. He said his shoulder was just sore after taking a hard foul Friday night. … Curry said he didn’t receive a pain-killing injection before Game 3, which he had been contemplating, because he didn’t need it and had never had one before a game. … The Warriors will not hold a morning shootaround Sunday. Jackson said he didn’t want to wear out his players, especially with Curry and Bogut nursing sore ankles.
(Copyright 2013 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)