Warriors can improve in three areas to win Game 5 vs. Nuggets

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Three areas Warriors can improve to win Game 5 vs. Nuggets originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea

SAN FRANCISCO -- Coming into Sunday's Game 4 matchup for the Warriors against the Denver Nuggets in the first round of the 2022 NBA playoffs, a sweep seemed in the bag. The Nuggets gave the Warriors everything they had in Game 3, but Golden State was just too good in the end. Denver gave a valiant effort, though it sure felt they could cancel any plans they had back in the Bay Area.

This was over.

Or so we thought.

The Warriors trailed by as many as 17 points in the second quarter before fighting back and coming up short in the end with a 126-121 loss, sending the series back to Chase Center for Wednesday night's Game 5. They even led by two, 121-119, with 1:21 remaining and never scored again. The Nuggets outscored them 7-0 in that span.

With all that being said, here are three areas the Warriors can improve upon to end this series immediately before seeing either the Memphis Grizzlies or Minnesota Timberwolves in the next round.

Get Jordan Poole Going

Steph Curry's minutes restrictions being lifted could mean Poole takes a seat to start the game and becomes the Warriors' Sixth Man again. Maybe not, though. Either way, the Warriors need a bounceback game from the 22-year-old.

For a long stretch of Poole's rise this season, it has been easy to be awed by his rise from a G League player last season to looking like, and playing like, a future star. He has been fastastic, there's only one way to put it. It's a compliment to say that we then started to forget a bit that he still is all so new to this, these are his first playoff games and trying to close out a team on the road is a tall task for anybody.

Game 4 was his worst shooting game in a long, long time and the Warriors don't expect that to last. But Steve Kerr does expect the Nuggets to try and be just as physical with the wiry guard.

"That's the easiest way to try to combat skill," Kerr said Tuesday to reporters. "If you're a skill guy, you got to go into the game with a plan yourself. That's what part of today was about."

Kerr, his coaches and Poole alike looked at the film and believe they'll have an answer for Michael Malone's Nuggets. Malone threw the athletic Aaron Gordon at Poole early, who is listed at 6-foot-8 and 235 pounds, compared to the 6-foot-4, 194-pound Poole. Bringing Poole off the bench could help, but the Nuggets certainly are going to do what they can to bump him off his path all game long.

He scored just 11 points in Game 4, his lowest since Feb. 27. Poole went just 3-for-10 from the field and 1-for-5 from deep. Whether it be as a starter or reserve, the Warriors need him to find his rhythm. That never came Sunday as he was out of control and led the Warriors with three turnovers. If he does come off the bench, a pick-and-roll combination of him and Jonathan Kuminga could be deadly, as long as he isn't rushing again.

"Jordan's a great player and I'm sure he'll play the same way he's been playing," Klay Thompson said Tuesday. "Just because he didn't go for 30, doesn't mean he didn't have an effective game. He still had nine assists. He was sharing the ball very well, making the right plays.

"He just has to keep doing what he's been doing and I know he's going to have a big night tomorrow -- not even big, just efficient. I've said this before: He's a huge catalyst for what we do, especially offensively."

Limit The Turnovers

The Warriors were only four assists off their magic No. 30 that they strive for so often. But their 17 turnovers sure didn't help.

It's easy to see why the Warriors fell into such a big hole at one point in the second quarter. They committed eight turnovers in that frame alone. All three of Poole's turnovers came in the second quarter. Thompson added two, Curry had one, Draymond Green had one and so did Andre Iguodala. Those kinds of lapses can't turn into trends in the playoffs.

Kerr gave time to 11 players and eight committed at least one turnover. Six of them handed out multiple turnovers. Denver scored 30 points off turnovers, a number that can't sit well with the coaching staff or players.

"I think they earned some of them," Kerr said. "The physicality led to some of them. We had several in transition that were kind of strange, they were five-point swings. End of the first half, JP lost his dribble and they got a layup. I think there was another one in the second quarter where Steph got the ball, lost his dribble and Aaron Gordon made a three.

"Those are huge swings, those are huge plays."

In the second quarter, there were multiple instances of these mistakes. A travel call on Thompson led to a Bones Hyland 3-pointer. A bad pass from Green quickly turned into three points for Will Barton. The Warriors scored three straight points from the free-throw line, Curry then stole the ball from Gordon with the Warriors down by 10 but immediately sent an errant pass into the arms of Austin Rivers. That led to three points from Gordon.

The Warriors finally got the score to single digits before Poole turned the ball over with 16 seconds left, which led to two points from Hyland.

It's clear which team is more talented, just as it's clear these mistakes can't come in the postseason.

Defense Without Fouling

Nearly everything from the Warriors' Game 4 loss comes back to this. It wasn't the number of fouls the Warriors committed, it was when and how they negatively affected them in multiple ways. The tone was set there right away, too.

Thompson's two early fouls were huge, we'll get to that though. I'm not talking about Green's early technical foul with Gordon, either. That kind of tone is perfectly fine. No foul was more consequential than Draymond's sixth, forcing him out of the game with just over two minutes left in the eventual loss.

But his first foul was just as important.

"I thought we actually came out too aggressive," Kerr said. "We had two fouls on the first possession. That set a bad tone. For Draymond to pick up his first 10 seconds into the game -- he knows, it was the wrong play. You watch the replay, he immediately swiped at [Nikola Jokic] three different times.

"If he doesn't pick that one up, he doesn't foul out in the end. It's always cumulative, and he knows that. He and I have talked about it."

The early foul call on Draymond that Kerr called out came 40 seconds into the game. It was a clear foul, one that hurt the Warriors much more than anyone could have imagined.

Klay had the hot hand to start the game, but was forced to the bench in the blink of an eye once he picked up his second foul. That made Kerr bring Curry off the stationary bike and into the game. He missed his first five shots and the rotation was all messed up.

The Warriors were called for eight fouls in the first quarter. The Nuggets took 12 free throws in the first 12 minutes, and the Warriors took two.

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To finish this series off, Kerr has stressed getting off to a strong start in Game 5. That can't happen if the Warriors get foul-happy, which threw off their pace and Poole's offensive flow, where he thrives creating on the run and in the open floor.

"Part of the problem is we fouled them so often, and we were playing in the halfcourt a lot," Kerr said when talking about Poole's offensive issues from Game 4. "It's a lot tougher to play against physicality when every possession is in the halfcourt.

"So, our defense can help our offense. Not fouling, letting the game flow is a big advantage for us and that's the main thing."

The Nuggets outscored the Warriors by four in fast-break points and by six at the free-throw line. Little mistakes can cause a domino effect, and sometimes there are just too many pieces to pick up. If the Warriors limit these mistakes, the pile will be small enough where their talent will put an end to this in front of their home fans.

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