OAKLAND — Kicks in the ankles. Forearms to the throat. Elbows at the head. Illegal screens. Hard shoves. Bloody lips. Puffy eyes. Body bruises. Some even done by “hit men.”
Denver Nuggets coach George Karl thought the reaction to his team’s Game 5 win over the Warriors sounded like a “different movie than I’m watching.” Golden State’s Mark Jackson defended his accusations of dirty play Wednesday, and players on both sides practically promised more physicality.
Bust out the bandages, body wraps and ice packs.
“I think it’s just getting started,” Nuggets forward Kenneth Faried said.
As if there haven’t been enough emotions swirling inside ear-piercing Oracle Arena in the playoffs, Jackson ratcheted up the rhetoric after the Nuggets roughed up point guard Stephen Curry to send the first-round series back to the Bay Area. The Warriors will try to close out Denver again Thursday night in front of their frenzied fans, while the Nuggets need to finally find a way to take their style — whatever that may be — on the road to return the series to the Mile High City for a decisive Game 7.
“They’ll be physical again. They’ll try to beat up Steph Curry. They’ll try to set illegal screens. They’ll try to chuck him when he goes down the lane,” Jackson said before practice at the team’s headquarters in downtown Oakland. “Other than that, I’m not sure what to expect out of them.”
What else is there, really?
The Nuggets never trailed, piled up points in the paint, jumpstarted their transition game, curbed Curry’s production and bothered big man Andrew Bogut in Tuesday night’s 107-100 win in Denver that had everybody still talking a day later. Basically, they returned to form — the same kind the Warriors have showed all season — that helped them win an NBA franchise-best 57 games before a three-game skid in the playoffs put them on the brink of another early exit.
“If there’s a scorecard, if we’re in a boxing fight right now, they’re winning the fight,” Karl said. “OK, we won round one, maybe our first round (Tuesday) night. I’m going to tell you, I’ll go to any arbiter right now and show the dirty shots. They’re winning.”
The key for both teams could be keeping their composure.
The Nuggets have yet to bring that physical, frenetic and flashy style to blue-collar Oakland, where the gold-shirt wearing sellout crowd has been one of the NBA’s loudest home environments in these playoffs and carried Curry and company to victories in Games 3 and 4.
Given the sudden sights and sounds of this series, the environment could be even wilder now.
Jackson, a former point guard of a New York Knicks team often accused of over-the-line tactics against opponents, seemed to be backhandedly politicking officials when he said Denver sent “hit men” out on Curry during Game 5. Specifically, Jackson repeatedly mentioned Faried’s foul in the first half, when the Denver forward stuck his right leg out and moved his body while Curry ran through traffic.
The second-year coach, upset Curry never shot a free throw in 42 minutes, even suggested he had “inside information” from somebody who did not “co-sign” for Denver’s more physical game plan. When pressed about the allegation, Jackson declined to say where the knowledge came from.
“I was even caught on tape and asked, ‘What would I do if I was playing against (Curry) and he heated up?’ I’d be physical with him,” Jackson said. “That’s understandable. It’s not hypocritical. There’s no part of me that said I’d be dirty with him. You take an attempt to kick him with your foot, with his foot, that’s not a basketball play. That’s a cheap shot.”
Curry, who sprained his left ankle in Game 2 and has had two surgeries on his right ankle, stopped short of saying Faried — or anybody — targeted his ankles. After watching replays, Curry just said: “It is interesting. I don’t know what his intentions were.”
The Warriors nearly rallied from 22 points down behind their own physical play.
Bogut gave a two-handed shove to Faried’s neck after his hard screen on Curry in the first half, drawing a flagrant foul, and Draymond Green was whistled for a flagrant foul for body-checking Faried in the second half. Karl even jokingly asked whether Green played “football or basketball at Michigan State.”
Green also gave Denver’s Andre Miller a bloody lip and Ty Lawson took an elbow to the head. Nuggets center Kosta Koufos swatted at Curry’s arms when he shot well after the whistle blew, and Denver’s JaVale McGee and Warriors center Festus Ezeli each got called for illegal screens.
Faried, who won the NBA’s Walter Kennedy Citizenship award for community service Wednesday, said he will not back down — and neither will anybody on the Nuggets.
“I’m a good, dirty citizen,” he quipped while holding the award at Denver’s practice facility. “I think that’s what this trophy is. Yep, yep, yep. It’s a little dirty. I think that’s what it is.”
Jackson said he doesn’t think the physical play has rattled, or will rattle, his young team.
“We’re not concerned,” Jackson said. “When we play our brand of basketball, there’s no concern about guys getting out of character. We understand what we have to do.”
AP Sports Writer Pat Graham in Denver contributed to this report.