After three stellar performances in Warriors fans, Stephen Curry had his worst shooting night of the postseason in Tuesday's 107-100 Game 5 loss to the Denver Nuggets, going 7 of 19 from the field and 1 of 7 from 3-point range. It was a frustrating night for Curry, who also had a brief skirmish of words with a fan on his way into the locker room after the final buzzer. Perhaps a return home to a raucous Oracle Arena will help him reclaim his stellar form for Thursday's Game 6.
Warriors head coach Mark Jackson was not content to let Curry's night go down as merely a bad performance. In his post-game press conference, Jackson claimed that the Nuggets targeted Curry for particularly harsh treatment. Watch the video above and read some of the most notable quotes after the jump.
“They were the aggressor, they hurt us in the first half, scoring the basketball, points in the paint, they made us pay for our turnovers, they tried to send hit men on Steph,” Jackson said. “But give them credit, it wasn’t cocky basketball, they outplayed us. It wasn’t magic, they outplayed us.” [...]
“There were some dirty plays early,” Jackson continued. “It’s playoff basketball, that’s all right. We own it. Make no mistake about it, we went up 3-1 playing hard, physical, clean basketball, not trying to hurt anybody.”
Curry, who was averaging 27.3 points and 10 assists per game against the Nuggets entering Game 5, has suffered a sprained left ankle and an ugly poke to the eye during the series. Asked specifically what bothered him, Jackson pointed to a screen set on Curry, which he felt was delivered with intent to injure.
"The screen on Curry by the foul line is a shot at his ankle, clearly,” he said. “That can’t be debated. I’ve got 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 they had no parts in what was taking place. Let the best team win. With the exception of someone going down with a freak injury, let everyone leave out of here healthy. That’s not good basketball."
These are not exactly kind words. Jackson alleges that the Nuggets made a special point of targeting Curry with the intent to worsen the condition of his injured ankle. At the same time, he claimed that his team was above this style of play, which seems a little biased given that center Andrew Bogut shoved Nuggets big man Kenneth Faried in the throat during a second-quarter scuffle.
Even in praising the Nuggets for their performance, Jackson found a way to sneak in some criticism of their tactics:
“[Faried] played well, Jackson said. “He did what he does, high energy, impacted the game. They did a good job. He set some great screens and some great illegal ones too. He did his job. I played with guys like that, get paid to do that. Dale Davis, Anthony Davis, Charles Oakley. They get paid to do it, give them credit. As an opposing coach, I see it. I’m trying to protect my guys.”
Curry himself was slightly less accusatory but did not shy away from mentioning a few questionable plays:
“Look at the film, there’s three or four plays in the first four minutes,” he said. “I’ll use the word ‘physical.’ They called a couple of them and missed a couple of them. I’ve got to expect that and not let it phase me. I don’t think it did. … There was a couple [that were cheap]. I’m going through the paint minding mind my own business and they’re coming out of nowhere trying to throw elbows. They’ve got a hit out on me, I don’t know what it is.”
No one is very happy. Jackson is comparing the Nuggets to contract killers, Curry is claiming unfair treatment, and Ty Lawson is suggesting that the Warriors need to "man up" and accept the reality of hard-fought playoff basketball.
To some extent, Jackson knows that top scorers should expect this treatment in the postseason. As a veteran of 131 playoff games, Jackson saw these kinds of plays from his teammates and his opponents; he even said as much when he compared Faried to some of the top enforcers of the '90s (his statement should be taken as a compliment, albeit a backhanded one). Claiming that the Nuggets are crossing some sacred line is ridiculous — these tactics were hallmarks of the era in which Jackson played. He's right that no one should condone actions that have the potential to hurt players, but he's taking a one-sided view of the context in which these plays take place.
Yet it's also true that it behooves Jackson to be biased. As a head coach, he must improve his chances of winning a game by any legal means necessary. By drawing attention to the Nuggets' treatment of the Warriors, Jackson can help influence future calls in his team's favor, ensure that officials will be predisposed to noticing and punishing such plays, and perhaps even inspire his team to rise above it. At worst, he's risking a fine and some bad relationships in the future — no Nuggets can sneak over to the Warriors bench and go for the ankle of a man wearing a suit.
If we want to take Jackson's comments as an opportunity to discuss the form of what's come to be known as playoff basketball, then we should have that conversation. Maybe it's not good to put players in danger or condone hard fouls. But if we look at the function of Jackson's comments, we can't pretend that he's making an argument grounded in perfect logic. He's a biased observer because every head coach must be exactly that to put his team in the best position to win.
After the game, TNT's "Inside the NBA" crew of Ernie Johnson, Charles Barkley, Kenny Smith and Shaquille O'Neal discussed Jackson's comments, whether the Nuggets' physical play on Curry went beyond the boundaries of clean basketball and more.