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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.”

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.

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