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Revisiting Game 15: Warriors Exorcise Their Denver Demon, 106-105

A season is comprised of numerous hurdles a team must overcome. Those seasons within a season that, when you add them up, make the difference between success and failure. Golden State got over one of those with Thursday’s 106-105 win over Denver.

It wasn’t just any old victory. It was a win over a team that had broken their spirit twice already. It was a win over a team many consider a lock to make the playoffs. The Nuggets, in many ways, are a barometer of where the Warriors stack up. And after Thursday, they can say they’re right there.

STEPHEN CURRY: “This is a team that’s had our number the last two games. They’re a playoff team and we have to beat those teams that have been there before. They have experience and talent and besides the last 15 minutes of the game in Denver, we’ve been pretty neck-and-neck.”

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The Warriors and Denver likely won’t be a playoff match-up, unless one of these teams becomes a top four seed. But they’ve engaged in a playoff-caliber series. The Nuggets challenge the Warriors in a unique way. Denver is everything Golden State is not — long, athletic, explosive. They challenge the Warriors to be more physical, to play at a higher tempo, to overcome their weaknesses.

Kenneth Faried challenges David Lee. Stephen Curry has to bring it against Ty Lawson. Klay Thompson is the underdog against Andre Iguodala. Carl Landry is undersized against their two centers, Kosta Koufos and JaVale McGee. The Nuggets’ bench — Andre Miller, McGee, Corey Brewer, Jordan Hamilton, is good enough to challenge the Warriors’ claim of being deep.

The Nuggets are a tough match-up for Golden State.

JARRETT JACK: “It seems as if we’re developing a little bit of a rivalry with them. Two out of the three games have kind of been a dog fight game and battling tooth and nail. Even at their place, even though they kind of ran away with that at the end. But prior to that, it was a rough and tough game. Almost like an East Coast basketball game, guys throwing punch after punch after punch and luckily we were able to have the last one tonight.”

More on Thursday’s victory …

WRITER’S RANT: The Warriors are 9-6.

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We’ve been all over this Andrew Bogut drama. And it’s easy to point out the flaws of this team. But who would’ve thought they would be 9-6? This was supposed to be the tough part of their schedule. With all the road games and new players, they were supposed to struggle early and hopefully stick close enough to make a run at the end. Especially without Bogut and Brandon Rush.

But after 15 games, the Warriors are 9-6.

Sure, you can qualify it. You can predict an eventual demise. You can write it off as fortuitous. You can argue it’s not even that great of a feat to be three games above .500. But in the end, the Warriors are 9-6. And for this team, that ain’t bad. That is worthy of pausing criticism to recognize.

MVP: David Lee

He dominated. Sure, Manimal (Kenneth Faried, who might literally be half-man, half-animal) made some beast moves down the stretch. But Denver simply couldn’t hold Lee. So much so Charles Barkley, Shaquille O’Neal came up with a new nickname for Lee: WCW — White Chris Webber.

Lee finished with 31 points on 13 of 15 shooting. He had a game-high 7 free throw attempts. He had a game-high tying 9 rebounds to go with six assists, a steal and a block. His 4 turnovers paled in comparison.

MDP: Harrison Barnes

He was relatively non-existent. Played just over 17 minutes (as Jackson went heavy with the three-guard lineup). Missed 6 of his 7 attempts and had just 2 rebounds.

Nothing to be alarmed about. Barnes is young and Denver is a tough match-up for him.

KEY MOMENT I: It looked like the Warriors might be done. They’d blown a 12-point first-half lead and then got down by as much as 16 points behind. But something woke them up. They were down 8 when Klay Thompson nailed a 15-footer from the baseline. Then after a stop, Thompson drilled a 3-pointer in transition. Just like that, Golden State was down 91-88 and had new life.

LEE: “We got a great contribution again at the end of the third quarter and the start of the fourth with that lineup of Draymond, Carl, Klay, Steph and Jarrett Jack. Those five got us back in the game and then we just had to find a way to finish it, and I think we did that very well tonight.”

YEAH, WHAT HE SAID: “I thought it was a long 0.5 seconds. I’ve been in a few of those situations where it has been less than a second left and another team has made a crazy shot that has counted. I just haven’t been on the winning side yet.” — Denver swingman Andre Iguodala

COACH’S CORNER: Mark Jackson certainly has some audacity. He’ll never be accused of not sticking to his guns.

During the most critical stretches late, he stuck with his small lineup featuring Lee and Landry as the big men. Even as the size, length and strength of Denver began to impact the game, Jackson still refused to put a real center in the game. For all but five seconds of the quarter, Jackson trimmed his rotation to six players: Curry, Klay, Jack, Landry, Lee and Green.

But the gutsiest call came earlier. With the Warriors down 15 in the third quarter,Jackson went super small. He took Lee out and put Draymond Green at PF with Landry at center. And it worked. That group got the lead down to 8 entering the fourth quarter. It was almost like Jackson was sending a message to critics of his small-ball usage.

JACKSON: “I thought about using it early on in the first half. Biedrins was playing well for us as far as rebounding and having another big in there. In the second half, I just decided to sub Draymond in so we were able to switch on pick-and-rolls. It made a difference. This was a team where you have to give them something. We did a great job of gang-rebounding. We outrebounded the best rebounding team in the business.”

That’s Jackson’s subtle way of saying “take that!” to his haters.

Another  odd call by Jackson, which didn’t work out so well, was having Jack run the point in the final seconds. Twice in the final 50 seconds, with the Warriors up by 3 and a basket away from ending the game,Jacksonput the ball in Jack’s hands and put Curry and Klay in the corner. Not sure if that was the call or not, but both times, Jack went 1-on-Denver. He wound up missing both fade-aways. They were contested and after a lot of dribbling. Though they were shots he’s made, I wouldn’t call them good looks.

What was odd about the decision was that Curry and Lee had it going (as did Jack, by the way).

KEY MOMENT II: The Warriors went up by 5 on a Curry 3-pointer with 3:22 left in the game. But it took Denver just 23 seconds to erase that lead, getting a three-point play from Ty Lawson and a fast-break layup by Iguodala.

The Warriors need a basket. Badly.

They didn’t settle for a jumper. Didn’t turn it over. They turned to David Lee, an odd choice considering how much he gets his shot blocked. But Lee did something smart — he jumped into Kenneth Faried, drawing the foul, and finishing the layup with his left hand. He missed the free throw, but the timeliness of the basket gave you the sense that Golden State was game when it came to making the necessary plays.

TELLING STAT: Golden State had a season-high 29 assists. It was only their second time this season reaching the 25-assist plateau. High volume of assists usually means good ball movement, they are running their sets and players are making shots. You might say they had a lot of assists because they were hot, shooting 51.2 percent Thursday. But it looked more like they shot a high percentage because they got good looks thanks to good ball movement.

SERIOUSLY?: Four plays reviewed in the final 3.4 seconds is kind of crazy. Is that even good or bad? Certainly, it created drama. And it is good to see officials are more concerned with getting it right. But that all just seemed kind of sloppy.

KEY MOMENT III: The Warriors had gone 0-for-2 on controversial calls. First, Iguodala was awarded three free throws when it looked like he was fouled before he even started the process of shooting. Then, after Iguodala missed the third free throw — By the way, Oracle Arena was so loud during those free throws. Reminded me of the 2007 playoffs a little bit —Denver got the ball back after the loose ball was knocked out of bounds. (Refs got that right, per replay, it was off Green). That was a prime spot for the Warriors to fall apart. Multiple things just kept going wrong.

But on the inbounds, Curry showed great anticipation and capitalized on a lazy pass, nearly coming up with the game-winning steal. That call didn’t go the Warriors’ way again, leaving Denver with five-tenths of a second left.

That set up Iguodala’s 3-pointer, which, of course, he drilled. But replay showed he got it off late. Part of the reason was Thompson’s close out. He ran at Iguodala effectively, prompting Iguodala to hold it a little longer to let Thompson fly by. That really was the difference between that shot getting off in time or not.

BEFORE YOU GO: Curry finished with 20 points, 10 assists, 4 rebounds, 4 steals and 3 turnovers in 45 minutes. He had 10 points and three steals in the fourth quarter. It was Curry’s 14th career game with at least 20 points and 10 assists. Golden State is 12-2 in those games. It was his first double-double of the season.

Marcus Thompson

  • Austin

    It was Shaq who coined “WCW” –Barkley was in Miami doing atrocious color commentary.

  • Stan

    Everybody has to admit- 9-6 would have been a fine start with Bogut. Without him? I’m getting that dream season feelin…

  • T_dubba_u

    It was Shaq not Barkley who gave him the name WCW. Other than that great read

  • wg

    curry has been a suspect ball-handler/decision-maker in late-game situations, particularly early in the season (though less so when he calls his own number). that may explain putting the ball in jack’s hands late in the 4th. also, is it me or does curry turn up the focus when he gets mildly hurt during a game? he tweaks an ankle, and he goes into eff-you mode.

    thompson’s shot-selection = much improved…he’s looking good. no more 3′s off the dribble.

    barnes looked like he had a case of first-nba-game-on-national-tv-itis. he’s built up enough goodwill to brush this game off, i think.

  • dubfan

    Wow! For the first time in, like, FOREVER, the Warriors managed to pull off the type of victory they NEVER do on past squads. Playing a good team, getting up early, losing the lead, getting well behind, playing good defense, making timely shots, not getting flustered, getting jobbed by the refs (repeatedly!), and still find a way to win. This, more than anything else, distinguishes this team. Too many times in the past, no matter what good they did during most of the course of a game, they always found a way to lose (and almost did here too), but now they are finding ways to win.

    Klay’s and Stephan’s shots are coming around nicely. Barnes had a rare off game, but Jack took up the slack. Lee was a beast, and has been playing better and better of late. The way Draymond Green is contributing, Richard Jefferson will be lucky to see the floor again, and even Beans is giving short but quality minutes.

    If they ever get a healthy Bogut, watch out! If not, it still appears this team can survive and thrive.

  • Joe Barely Cares

    Earlier in the month Curry was missing a lot of his long 3′s from center court. If last night is any indication, the problem was that he needed to step back even further…those long balls in the second half were amazing.

  • geryt

    Is it my imagination or is Curry beginning to look like a bona fide point guard?

  • haastheman

    Great game last night. This team can really be frustrating at times with their shot selection. Steph and Klay can get a little too cute with their games at times. They almost have that YMCA shot selection. It’s funny how our backcourt seemed small when it was steph and monta, but they don’t play that small with Jack and Steph together. Jackson had a very interesting rotation in the second half. There are too many times that this team blows double digit first half leads. Good Win overall. Very frustrating at times. I had to show incredible restraints because of the 3 kids sitting around me so there was a lot of pent of frustration i couldn’t release.

  • haastheman

    BTW the Warriors are 9-6 and the kings are 4-10. I’m glad we went with Mark Jackson over Keith Smart.

  • Joe Snuffy

    I don’t think the WCW comparison is fair. David Lee has way more offensive skills than Webber and a much better attitude. And Lee doesn’t have Webber’s athleticism. The comparison is ridiculous. Webber ruined the Warriors for a decade with his refusal to play, just ’cause coach yelled at him. What a baby.

  • Joe Snuffy

    The W’s should be 10-5. They threw away the double OT game against Denver by missing free throws down the stretch that could have sealed it.

  • Xraided

    what i dont understand is how the refs could miss the fact that Curry clearly didn’t touch that inbound pass that dribbled out off the opposing players hands. they looked at it for 5 stinkin minutes! that was worse than the 3 FT’s Iggy shot .. ridiculous

  • TV Fan

    Definitely a game of ups and down. Lot’s of credit goes to the Dubs for their grit hanging in there for the win (in spite of the refs). This game was a classic example of poor NBA officiating. I find it infuriating the way NBA refs consistently don’t call contact fouls when a big athletic guy smacks a smaller player while blocking an in-the-paint shot. I typically count 5 – 10 missed calls a game. This game was closer to 10. The Dubs were lucky on the out of bounds non-call which led to their first 4th Qtr lead. The 3 shot Iggy foul call was a totally shameful joke. The TNT announcers were debating what the refs were checking in the replay. They thought the shot could not be questioned by replay and that the refs were merely verifying if the foul happened behind the 3-point line. If that was the case, the replay rules need to be changed to get the call correct rather than be limited. If the announcers were wrong and the refs used the replay to determine if a shot was attempted, then the officials should be suspended for an inexcusably bad call after review.

  • jsl

    Joe Snuffy: If you think Lee has “way more offensive skills” than Chris Webber, well, either you’d not really watched a lot of Webber in the ’90s or you know absolutely zilch about bball.

    Lee played a terrific game last night, tho Denver helped a ton by playing pretty small. Still, this four has a higher percentage of his shots blocked than anyone I can remember. How many times did you see Webber get blocked? And when was the last time you saw Lee set a good, tight pick? Webber used to really knock ‘em down, when he wanted to.

    Truth is, they both like the high post and can hit the mid-range. But when you get the ball on the block, Webber could make Lee look like a junior high kid.

    And, tho he was not a great defender — and we ARE talking O skills — Webber’s worst defensive games were better than Lee’s best.

    Try watching some old film if you’re still thinking Lee’s got the kind of O game Webber had. Not that hard to see the truth.

  • Dave

    As Lee wisely said, “The biggest thing is that people were talking about the Warriors. People were talking about the positive things within the organization.”

    Lee is the only player in the NBA posting at least 17 points, 10 rebounds and 3 assists.

    Go Lee!

  • Dubfan

    I’ll say this about David Lee, at the very least…he is the most completely ambidextrous player I have ever seen. If he could only develop a 15 foot jumper with his right hand, he’d be unstoppable, but as it is, inside 7-8 feet, if you didn’t know that Lee was left-handed, you might very well think he is right-handed. His defense is far from stellar, but not as bad as many seem to think, and he is a double-double machine with passing skills, heart and passion. Remember the years of Jason Caffey, Troy Murphy, Al Harrington, Brandon Wright and Cliff Robinson? And who could ever forget Cherokee Parks!!

    Seriously, David Lee is the best power forward the Warriors have had since Chris Weber, or in the last 20 years, or so. And yes, putting aside the debacle of Weber’s short lived tenure with the Warriors, and comparing skills, Lee has a more consistent outside shot and is very, very good in the post. He does not have the strength nor explosiveness that Weber had (thus the blocked shots). Lee is a very good passer and good ballhandler. Weber was a basketball savant around the basket and very powerful in his prime, but it took him a long time to develop a decent jump shot, and even at that, it was never more than decent. Sure, if I had a choice of Chris Weber or David Lee in their prime, I’d take Weber, but what the hell does this matter? We have David Lee in his prime right now, and I for one and damn glad that we do!

  • haastheman

    I don’t think it’s crazy to say that Lee has more offensive skills than webber. “way more” may be a little far. However, outside of being able to jump out the gymn or blocking shots, there isn’t too much Lee can’t do. He can rebound, play facing the basket or back to the basket, he can finish with either hand, and he’s got an above average mid-range game. Throw in the fact taht he’s white, it’s a wonder they haven’t put up a statue yet

  • Derek

    #16 David Lee (who I like) can’t play defense, jump or block shots. He’s a far cry from Chris Webber who was in fact a difference maker. A winner, a star of the team type and a perennial All Star 5 times I believe. David Lee is a piece. A very nice piece, but none the less no elite talent.

  • PhilB

    That double OT win by Denver would’ve crushed the spirit of previous Warrior squads, but not this one. Credit Mark Jackson for sticking with Klay Thompson and the team for showing resilience.
    In the NBA (as in most sports) the difference between recognition and anonimity is winning and losing. David Lee is putting up the same kind of numbers he’s put up before but if the team keeps winning he’ll make the All Star squad. Book it.

  • GIZZM

    The Next 3 games are key. If the Dubs can find a way to beat the Pacers, the Magic and the Pistons on the road they will be 12-6.
    Jan and Feb are brutal, the Warriors will have played 35 of their first 60 games on the road.

  • Raider E

    Look at all you guys bowing down to Webber…. Last I checked the guy never won a damn thing, and even worse quit the Warriors because Nelly wanted him to log some time at center,

    I take Lee any day over Webber on attitude and leadership alone.

    Although Webber was a talent, he never did a thing for the Warriors, so he can go to h*ll….

  • http://cloudyhands.com johnpfree

    Mid-way thru the third Q I was all set to write a blistering flame about dumb coach MJ and small ball. But then they turned it around, so can’t do that :)

    But help me understand – If you’ve done well in the first half with your starting center and even with your backup center, why do you never, ever want to spend any time in the second half with anyone resembling a center in the game? Some games I’m sure that’s the ticket, but shouldn’t there be games where you would play your center in the 4th Q when the game is slipping away because you played great defense but can’t grab a ^#* defensive rebound?

    thanks!

  • deano

    MT2: Your articles are excellent: insightful and thorough. Thanks.

  • haastheman

    Jackson is going to always end the game with the vets on the floor. Ezeli and Barnes haven’t been seeing much time in the fourth qtr or late in the game. Jack and Landry are going to be on the floor when the game is important, that means Ezeli and Barnes don’t play. And if Klay or one of the big man is off, dramond green looks like he’s getting those minutes. It’s working too. First Place!!