The Golden State Warriors have long been admired by many, but they had to accept reality today. They have been guilty of foul trouble in the past, but this time they are responsible for it.
The box office does not always tell the entire story.
That was evident following the Warriors’ 126-121 Game 4 loss to the Denver Nuggets at Ball Arena on Sunday, as Golden State failed to complete a first-round sweep in the NBA playoffs.
Denver had four more fouls called against them but only took four more free throws than the Warriors.
Whether you were in the arena or watching from home, those numbers felt off.
“It was tough because, on the stat sheet, they only had four more free throws and four more fouls, but it’s the type of fouls we committed that were kind of bone-headed, killed the momentum, especially when they were making a bunch of threes on top of bad fouls and free throws,” Steph Curry said.
“It’s just really difficult to get over the hump, and playing on the road with a team as desperate as they were leads to a tough night.”
With Curry sitting out for the fourth straight game, Klay Thompson took over as the Warriors’ go-to scorer early and throughout the day. Thompson scored eight points in a row to put the Warriors up 13-6.
But, at the 8:14 mark, he was forced to the bench, which had a domino effect on more than just himself.
He was called for his first foul within the first minute and was called again not even three minutes later.
The Warriors’ leading scorer was sidelined for the remainder of the quarter, and Curry was rushed to the court earlier than expected.
He missed his first five shots, and the Warriors only scored 21 points in the first quarter, trailing by five as they struggled to find a rhythm with Thompson on the bench.
“That’s my fault,” Thompson said.
“I started the game with two quick fouls; I’ve got to be smarter than that, especially given my experience.”
Klay made his only shot attempt in the second quarter, but he was called for two more fouls, bringing his total to four entering the second half with the Warriors trailing by 11.
Thompson sat for more than six minutes after being called for his third foul before returning to the game with 0.6 seconds remaining in the first half.
One half of the Splash Brothers was clearly missed by the Warriors’ offense.
Steve Kerr brought him back in the hopes of getting a quick bucket, and that appeared to be the case until another whistle was blown in Klay’s direction.
To put it mildly, the call appeared ticky-tacky and soft from the outside.
Instead of blaming the officials, Thompson took responsibility for trying to pull a fast one.
“Yeah, that wasn’t very smart on my part,” he admitted.
“I attempted a sneaky vet move by pulling [Austin Rivers’] arm, but I was too demonstrative and not sly enough.
I’ll learn from it and improve in a few days.”
You get to be the judge.
The Warriors were down by double digits at halftime, but they had only been called for one more foul than the Nuggets, who had attempted nine more free throws.
Kerr described Thompson’s fourth foul as “kind of infuriating,” but the difference in the game, in his opinion, was the Warriors’ struggles with fouling – specifically, reaching too far and not staying vertical enough – and getting fouled in key moments.
“I thought our fouling was the whole game,” Kerr said.
“We talked about how important it is not to give up easy points in the series.
Then there’s the ability to enter the open floor.
When you foul and are unable to play at your tempo, you end up giving up 29 points at the foul line.
To me, there’s a lot we can talk about, but fouling is pretty much the game.”
To Kerr’s point, the Nuggets had four more fast-break points than the Warriors, which is usually a strength for Golden State.
No foul call was more significant than Draymond Green’s sixth with 2:05 remaining, which ended his night early.
Nikola Jokic once again put up MVP-caliber numbers for the Nuggets, scoring 37 points, grabbing eight rebounds, and dishing out six assists.
Green, on the other hand, was the engine behind the Warriors’ comeback attempt in many ways, as evidenced by the stats and outside of them.
His plus-minus of +7 led both teams in the fourth quarter.
It was a game-changer to lose him for those final two minutes.
The defensive wizard attempted another game-changing steal, as he did in the Warriors’ Game 3 victory, but was called for a reaching foul, sending Aaron Gordon to the line with the Nuggets leading 117-116.
He created both of them.
“Aaron Gordon got behind the defense, I took a swipe at the ball, and it was called a foul,” Green explained.
“That’s what it is.”
Green finished with 13 points, 11 rebounds, six assists, and two steals in the loss.
His plus-18 led both teams, demonstrating how crucial every second with Green on the floor is.
The Warriors were outscored at the charity stripe by six points in a five-point loss.
It’s difficult to imagine Curry missing four free throws in the series, the playoffs, or the rest of his career.
There’s a reason this was the first time it happened in his career.
The Nuggets will undoubtedly try to get Green into foul trouble again, but he has only fouled out once this season.
Thompson hasn’t done so since Game 6 of the 2015 NBA Finals, and he stated after Sunday’s loss that he intends to continue the streak. But he and the Warriors also understand that they cannot afford to give the Nuggets easy baskets at critical times, and they must keep their best players on the floor for as long as possible.
With a three-game lead in their first-round series, this is unlikely to come back to haunt them against the Nuggets.
If the Warriors are to achieve their championship goals, this is an area that must be cleaned up in the near future.