Bloody lips, flagrant fouls, accusations of dirty play.
In more ways than one, the first-round playoff series between the Denver Nuggets and Golden State Warriors just became a lot more interesting.
With their season on the line, the Nuggets took the fight to the Warriors, building a big lead and then holding on for a 107-100 victory in Game 5 at Pepsi Center on Tuesday night.
Andre Iguodala made a run at a triple-double with 25 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists as the Nuggets pulled to 3-2 in the series and forced Game 6 in Oakland on Thursday night.
It promises to be another physical, intense matchup after Golden State coach Mark Jackson accused Denver of cheap shots, despite the fact that the Warriors were whistled for two flagrant fouls in Game 5.
“When I go through the lane, I’m getting hit two, three four times,” Denver point guard Ty Lawson said. “I’m not complaining. I’m not calling them dirty. It’s the game of basketball. You’ve got to man-up.”
Jackson, who repeatedly has called the Warriors a “no excuses basketball team,” claimed the Nuggets were targeting Golden State point guard Stephen Curry, who has been nursing a sprained left ankle.
“They tried to send hit men on Steph, but I give them credit,” Jackson said. “It wasn’t cocky basketball; they outplayed us. It wasn’t magic; they outplayed us.
Asked to elaborate, Jackson said: “There were some dirty plays early. It’s playoff basketball; it’s all right. We own it. Make no mistake about it: We went up 3-1 playing hard, physical and clean basketball, not trying to hurt anybody.”
Nuggets forward Kenneth Faried respectfully disagreed after taking two big hits in Game 5.
Andrew Bogut was called for a flagrant foul after a two-hand shove near the neck that sent Faried to the floor early in the second quarter. Draymond Green received a flagrant foul 60 seconds into the fourth quarter when he lowered his shoulder into Faried while going for a rebound.
“They play dirty every night and they target me,” Faried said. “Every rebound, they try to hit me and try to hurt me. It’s basketball.”
Green later made contact with Nuggets point guard Andre Miller, but no foul was called despite Miller’s bleeding lower lip.
“I think both teams are finesse teams,” Miller said, “but in order to establish the paint and control what’s going on out there, you have to step out of character and get physical.”
After falling behind 3-1 in the series, the Nuggets didn’t talk about taking cheap shots or targeting Curry’s sore ankle. They simply talked about taking the Warriors out of their comfort zone.
It started with a lineup change as Denver coach George Karl went big against Golden State’s smaller starting five, replacing rookie guard Evan Fournier with centerJaVale McGee.
That allowed Iguodala to move to shooting guard and Wilson Chandler to occupy the small forward spot against smaller Golden State swingman Harrison Barnes.
The adjustments paid dividends as McGee was active at both ends of the court. He scored five points, grabbed four rebounds and blocked three shots in the game’s first 8 minutes to help Denver jump out to a 14-point lead in the first quarter.
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