Warriors take accountability for foul issues in Game 4 loss to Nuggets

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Warriors take accountability for foul issues in Game 4 loss originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea

DENVER -- The box score doesn't always tell the whole story. That rang true Sunday with two key categories following the Warriors' 126-121 Game 4 loss to the Denver Nuggets at Ball Arena as Golden State couldn't complete a first-round sweep in the NBA playoffs.

Denver wound up with four more fouls called against them, and took just four more free throws than the Warriors. Those numbers sure feel off, whether you were in the arena or watching from home.

"It was tough, because when you look at it on the stat sheet, they only had four more free throws and they actually had four more fouls but it's the type of fouls we committed that are 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 hard to get over the hump, and over the course of the game on the road with a team playing as desperate as they were, it leads to a tough night."

With Curry coming off the bench for the fourth straight game, Klay Thompson took the reins as the Warriors' go-to scorer early on and throughout the day. Thompson scored eight quick points to give the Warriors a 13-6 lead. Just like that, though, he was forced to the bench at the 8:14 mark, which had a domino effect on more than just himself. He committed his first foul within the first minute and drew another whistle not even three minutes later.

The Warriors' hot-hand was out for the rest of the quarter and Curry was rushed to the floor earlier than he anticipated. He missed his first five shots, the Warriors scored only 21 points in the first quarter and trailed by five as they failed to find any rhythm with Thompson stuck to the bench. It also didn't help that the Nuggets shot 12 free throws in the first quarter, compared to the Warriors' two.

"That's on me," Thompson said. "I started off the game with two quick fouls, I gotta be smarter than that -- especially with my experience."

In the second quarter, Klay made the only shot attempt he took but again had two more fouls to his name, giving him four going into the second half with the Warriors trailing by 11. After being called for his third foul, Thompson sat for over six minutes until coming back into the game with 0.6 seconds left in the first half. The Warriors' offense clearly missed one half of the Splash Brothers. Steve Kerr brought him back with hopes of getting a quick bucket, and that looked to be the case before yet another whistle was blown Klay's way.

From the outside, the call looked extremely ticky-tacky and soft, to put it lightly. Instead of using the refs as an excuse, Thompson took it upon himself for trying to get away with a fast one.

"Yeah, that was not very smart by me," he said. "I tried to pull a sneaky vet move by pulling [Austin Rivers'] arm, but I was too demonstrative with it and wasn't sly enough with it. I'll learn from that and be better in a couple days."

You be the judge.

As the Warriors went into halftime down by double-digits, they had been called for only one more foul than the Nuggets but Denver had attempted nine more free throws.

Kerr called Thompson's fourth foul "kind of infuriating," but in his eyes, the difference in the game was the Warriors' struggles with fouling -- particularly reaching too much and not staying vertical enough -- getting fouls called on them in key moments.

"I thought that was the whole game, was our fouling," Kerr said. "We talked about it -- not giving up easy points in the series, how important that is. And then the ability to get into the open floor. If you're fouling and not able to play at your tempo, you end up giving up 29 points at the foul line.

"To me, a lot of stuff we can talk about but the fouling is pretty much the game."

To Kerr's point, the Nuggets also scored four more fast-break points than the Warriors, which usually is a strength of Golden State.

No foul call was bigger than Draymond Green's sixth with 2:05 remaining, ending his night early.

Nikola Jokic again put up MVP-caliber numbers for the Nuggets with 37 points, eight rebounds and six assists. To no surprise, though, Green was the engine behind the Warriors' comeback attempt in many ways that can be seen in the stats and outside of them. His plus-7 led both teams in plus-minus for the fourth quarter.

Losing him for those final two minutes was a deal-breaker.

The defensive genius looked to make another game-changing steal, just as he did in the Warriors' Game 3 win, but this time was called for a reaching foul, putting Aaron Gordon to the line with the Nuggets up 117-116. He made both of them.

"Aaron Gordon got behind the defense, I took a swipe at the ball, called a foul," Green said. "Is what it is."

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Green finished the loss with 13 points, 11 rebounds, six assists and two steals. His plus-18 led both teams, just another example of how important every second with Green on the floor is.

In a five-point loss, the Warriors were outscored at the charity stripe by six. It's hard to imagine Curry missing four free throws again in the series, the playoffs or the rest of his basketball career. There's a reason why this was the first time that ever happened in his career.

The Nuggets will of course look to get Green in foul trouble again, but he fouled out just once all season. Thompson hasn't done so since Game 6 of the 2015 NBA Finals, and made it clear after Sunday's loss he intends to keep that streak alive. But he and the Warriors also know they can't give the Nuggets free chances at key times, and they have to keep their top players on the floor as long as possible.

With a three-games-to-one lead in their first-round series, this likely won't come back to bite them too bad against the Nuggets. If the Warriors wish to complete their championship desires, it certainly is an area that will need to be cleaned up in the near future.

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