Jackson: 'This is a scrappy group'
Stephen Curry did his best to keep the Warriors from a stressful fourth quarter, but too many turnovers by the home team made for an interesting finish. (USA TODAY IMAGES)
OAKLAND -- Well, wasn’t that a white-knuckler? And why wouldn’t it have been? It’s the Golden Damned State Warriors. That’s how it should have ended.
“It,” we needn’t tell you, being the Warriors’ 92-88 win over the Denver Nuggets in Game The Last of this Western Conference quarterfinal.
“It,” we needn’t add, being this team’s second real blooding of this unlikely season.
“It,” we add anyway, being their advance to the second round against the team that most tortures them, the San Antonio Spurs.
And “it,” in conclusion, being how they roused David Lee from the morgue and turned his appearance into an afterthought by making an 18-point lead nearly disappear in the fourth quarter.
That’s an awful lot of “it” for this team to deal with on a night when nobody was quite sure what Warrior team would apply itself. And ultimately, it turned out to be all the Warrior teams at different times.
It was the Warrior team that came out overwhelmed and smaller than the moment, falling behind by 11 five minutes into the second quarter. It was the Warrior team that rallied around Andrew Bogut’s ability to frighten the Nuggets away from the basket singlehandedly to cut the lead to 42-40 at halftime. Bogut finished with 14 points and 21 rebounds.
It was the Warrior team that waited for Stephen Curry to set the building on fire in the third, which he did with 11 points in 2:40 to take an eight-point lead. For the series, Curry was 23 of 34 from the field in the third quarter, 13 of 20 from three – enough to make Denver coach George Karl hold his head afterward and say, “We let their three-ball get loose, and we couldn’t make a shot, and we lost our confidence.”
And it was the Warrior team that tried to hurl the game into the street with 10 fourth-quarter turnovers, nine in the last seven minutes. “God has a sense of humor,” head coach Mark Jackson said, “because he wanted to show folks as we threw the ball all over the place that it was a miracle that we survived and advanced.”
Yes. It was.
But it was also . . . well . . . weird. Plain weird. It got that way about a half-hour before the game when the rumor broke that Lee might play eight to 10 minutes, and when he came off the bench with six minutes left in the first quarter, the contents of the arena emitted a jet airplane’s worth of noise.
He didn’t get in for four more minutes, though, took a shot the first time he touched the ball, missed it, came out of the game and never reappeared.
“I guess the New York City ran in me, the Willis Reed impact as a kid,” Jackson said. “Not only did I put him in, I ran a play in for him that was just like that, just about where Willie hit his shot (in the 1970 championship series). Obviously part (of playing him) was inspiration.”
“You read he’s out for the season,” Denver coach George Karl said. “I thought he was playing Willis Reed impressions and save the team. (But) I’m too old to be shocked by something like that. Even if he played 20-30 minutes, we could put in a scouting report on how to play him.”
Then he laughed helplessly and said, “It was weird.”
But so was Bogut’s biggest game as a Warrior, after what he called “a nightmare, pitch black for months.” He literally turned away from beer for nine months to keep his ankle from swelling, and then turned away the Nuggets singlehandedly from the basket. Time and again Denver’s players drove the basket and either kicked the ball back out or took a bad and contested shot. Bogut blocked four of those shots, changed any number of others and was without question the best player on the floor for all of his 39 minutes.
It was a game that ultimately made no logical sense because it followed no rational thread. The Warriors were going to Denver, then they were going to San Antonio, then they were going back to Denver again, especially the way they mangled those nine possessions in their final 20.
“It felt like each possession can’t get worse than this, and then it does,” Curry said. “They were trapping all over the floor, the sense of urgency was heightened for them obviously. We gave them every opportunity to get back in the game, with a lot of miscommunication, playing on our heels. Hopefully we don’t do that again.”
On the other hand, they have a chance either to learn, or repeat it. They have advanced to the second round to play the team that is historically meanest to them, which is a tradeoff they will happily take – white-knuckles or no.