By Marcus Thompson II
OAKLAND — It might’ve taken all the defibrillators in the Bay Area to revive the nearly 20,000 fans at Oracle Arena whose hearts stopped Thursday.
Golden State nearly squandered an 18-point lead, and another star-like performance from point guard Stephen Curry — who changed the tide of the game with another big third quarter before his home crowd. But in the end, after a compilation of turnovers, guard Jarrett Jack made a pair of free throws in the final seconds to seal the 92-88 win over the Denver Nuggets, clinching the riveting first-round upset, 4-2.
The sixth-seeded Warriors advance to the second round against the No. 2 San Antonio Spurs. Game 1 is Monday in Texas.
“When we were down in the first half,” coach Mark Jackson said. “I pulled him aside and said, ‘There’s going to be a point in this game where you’re going to take over because you’re the best player on the floor. And what will happen is everybody else will follow you. And sure enough …”
In Game 4, Curry turned the game around with 22 points in the third quarter, 19 over a four-minute stretch. In Game 6, he had 14 points and three assists during the game-changing run.
He started it with a drive to the basket, which led to a pair of free throws that tied the game at 44 with 10:13 left in the third. After Nuggets forward Wilson Chandler missed a jumper, Curry knocked down a 3-pointer to stoke the Oracle faithful. After Chandler missed a 3, Curry knocked down another 3-pointer, capping a 10-0 run and putting the Warriors ahead 50-44.
Curry drilled his third straight 3-pointer to put Golden State up 55-49. Then, having seized the attention of the entire Nuggets’ lineup, he drove past Nuggets point guard Ty Lawson and slipped a pass to center Andrew Bogut — who had 13 points, 21 rebounds and four blocks in 39 minuets — for a two-hand dunk.
Forward Carl Landry put the Warriors up 64-53 with a three-point play at the 5:22 mark. Golden State led by 11 entering the fourth quarter.
“I have confidence,” Curry said. “No matter what happened before that period of the game … I have the utmost confidence in the next play, in the next play. Especially at home, you start to feel the energy of the crowd … I just have confidence and try to make an imprint because the opportunity is huge right now. It’s a big stage. … I have to live up to it.”
The Warriors then, with Curry on the bench, opened the fourth quarter with a 7-0 run to push the lead to 18. Rookie forward Harrison Barnes converted a fast-break layup. The Warriors then got a 3-pointer from rookie forward Draymond Green, who finished with 16 points and 10 rebounds to become first Warriors rookie since Chris Webber in 1994 to post a double-double in the playoffs. Guard Klay Thompson’s pull-up jumper had the Warriors ahead 80-62 with 9:11 left.
Oracle was rocking. Denver was on the ropes. The Spurs staff might have even popped in the Warriors’ game film at that point.
But then it all disappeared. For the next five minutes, the Warriors fell apart like a stale cookie.
It was almost a colossal choke job as the Warriors managed just 19 fourth-quarter points and turned it over 10 times in the fourth quarter, succumbing to the pressure of the desperate Nuggets.
Golden State’s next eight possessions were squandered with four missed jumpers and four turnovers. That led to a 13-0 Nuggets run, shifting the pressure pendulum completely over to the Warriors. A pair of free throws by Nuggets guard Andre Miller cut the Warriors’ once-18-point lead to 80-75 with 4:42 left.
It looked as if Golden State had held off Denver after Curry drove past Nuggets guard Ty Lawson and scooped in a layup, putting the Warriors up nine with 2:10 left.
But Denver swingman Andre Iguodala, who led Denver with 24 points, answered with a 3-pointer. Then Denver turned up the pressure defense and the Warriors struggled mightily, mostly while trying to force it to Curry.
Golden State’s next four possessions ended with a turnover — one of them an offensive rebound by Green that was stolen away by Chandler and converted to a layup, trimming the Warriors’ lead to 88-84 with 1:14 left.
Rookie Harrison Barnes hit a pair of free throws but Iguodala answered with another 3-pointer, cutting the deficit to 90-87. The Warriors’ advantage was down to two with 32.4 seconds left after Denver forward Kenneth Faried split a pair of free throws.
But the Warriors, trying to force it to Curry, turned it over again, as Thompson’s pass sailed over Curry’s head at halfcourt. Fans breathed a huge sigh of relief as Chandler’s ensuing runner rimmed out, as did his putback, and the Warriors got the ball back.
Following multiple heart-stopping attempts to inbound the ball. Jack sealed it from the line with 7.3 seconds left.
“It was ugly,” Thompson said. “We can’t let this happen again. But we finished it out. We’re going to the next round. That’s what matters.”