Warriors' rebounding shows up in winning time to end Nuggets series

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Warriors' rebounding shows up in winning time to end Nuggets originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea

SAN FRANCISCO -- Steve Kerr didn't just insert Steph Curry back into the starting lineup Wednesday night in the Warriors' Game 5 matchup of their first-round playoff series with the Denver Nuggets, he threw out his new small-ball lineup of Curry, Jordan Poole, Klay Thompson, Andrew Wiggins and Draymond Green. Center Kevon Looney was the odd man out.

It's hard to argue with the thinking there, especially after the Warriors survived and advanced with a 102-98 comeback win at Chase Center to move on to the Western Conference semifinals. Kerr and the Warriors were done messing around. With Curry's minutes restrictions lifted, the team stressed a strong start and wanted to get off to the races. This was the first time this group started together after looking dominant the first two games of the series and less so in the next two.

In Game 5, their size limitations were on full display, and that goes for the rest of the Warriors' roster. As the Warriors entered the fourth quarter, the rebounding disparity was eye-opening.

Through three quarters, the Nuggets had 46 rebounds and the Warriors had 27. While battling a mammoth of a man in Nikola Jokić, Green didn't grab one rebound through the first three quarters. The more troubling stat, though, was the fact that the Nuggets had 14 offensive rebounds in those first three quarters, compared to only four by the Warriors.

Once it was time to buckle down, the Warriors were done getting punked. Toss the first three quarters to the side. What matters is winning time -- the final 12 minutes of a playoff game.

The team full of champions showed up when it mattered most. The coaching staff made great in-game adjustments and the Warriors' "Spidey-sense" snatched rebounds from a deflated Denver team. They outrebounded the Nuggets 10-4 in the fourth quarter and didn't allow one offensive rebound, while snatching two themselves.

"I think it's just a matter of guys taking on that challenge," Green said of the Warriors' rebounding in the fourth quarter. "You know, we had a lot of rebounds bouncing to the free throw line and we weren't getting the 50/50 balls.

"We knew going into that fourth quarter, if we were going to close this series out, we had to get the 50/50 balls. And we had to rebound them, and we came up with just about all of them in that fourth quarter."

Green grabbed two rebounds in the final frame, Looney added one and Otto Porter Jr., who Kerr kept on the court for almost the entire fourth quarter for Andrew Wiggins, nabbed three. The Warriors' leading rebounder, both in the fourth quarter and overall, would come as a surprise.

Thompson topped all Warriors with four rebounds in the fourth quarter and nine overall.

The shooting guard is listed as the same height as the Warriors' small-ball center. In a lineup of Curry, Poole, Thompson, Wiggins and Green, Wiggins is the tallest at 6-foot-7. Klay and Draymond both stand 6-6. It takes a team effort to combat larger opponents, and Thompson was up to the challenge.

His nine rebounds were his most since Dec. 14, 2018 when he also finished with nine against the Kings. They also are his second-most in his playoff career, second to his 14 in the second game of the 2013 Western Conference semifinals against the San Antonio Spurs.

"I wish I really had 10," Thompson said after the win. "Fifteen [points] and 10 [rebounds] sounds so much better. But hey, [Warriors associate head coach] Mike Brown challenged me to get in there and I will continue to do that."

Kerr, Brown and the Warriors' coaching staff threw the kitchen sink at the Nuggets. That included a zone defense and a box-and-1. Several times, Thompson found himself on the 7-foot Jokić, who is listed as 70 pounds bigger than him. The shooting guard took that head-on, shadowing the MVP all over the court to make sure he didn't get any good looks.

After two years away from the game and crossing multiple obstacles in his way, the three-time champion was ready to answer his latest dare.

"Oh, I was happy," Thompson said. "I love taking on a challenge like that, whether it's a quick guard or MVP center. That's where you test yourself as a defender. Really being able to get down and guard whoever."

RELATED: Steph saves best for last in Warriors' series-clinching win

Wiggins led the Warriors for the series with 6.8 rebounds per game. Green was second with 5.8, followed by Looney at 4.2, Thompson at 3.8, Curry at 3.4 and Porter at 3.2. The Warriors won't have to try and box out bruisers like Jokić and DeMarcus Cousins in upcoming rounds, but it will require a group project to earn a gold star on the glass.

Game 5 was Thompson's to go home with a ribbon, but it was a handful of Warriors who hunkered down when it mattered most. The fourth quarter has been a headache at times for Golden State this season. Winning time woke them up, with the championship core stepping up, along with newcomers as well.

That's the mettle of winners with laser focus to lift basketball's ultimate medal, the Larry O'Brien Trophy, with weeks to go in the marathon that is the NBA playoffs.

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