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 …”
When rookie forward Harrison Barnes drove the lane and dunked it backwards over Nuggets forward Anthony Randolph, Golden State’s bench went crazy in celebration. Warriors forward David Lee, on the bench in a blazer, wanted to join them. But with his torn right hip flexor, which has knocked him out for the rest of the playoffs, he had to be very careful with his celebration.
LEE: “I had to wait an extra second to stand up. I had to let the traffic clear out, then I stood up and cheered.”
It’s killing Lee to not be out there. But he said it didn’t bother him at all watching the performance his teammates put together in Tuesday’s improbable win at Denver, the Nuggets first home loss in more than four months.
Indiana forward Paul George, who seized the throne of the Pacers franchise after Danny Granger was lost to inject, was named the NBA’s Most Improved Player Award. George, selected as an All-Star reserve, averaged 17.4 points, 7.6 rebounds, 4.7 assists and 1.8 steals. He was the only player in the league to record at least 140 steals (143) and 50 blocks (51).
He received 52 first-place votes and won easily with 311 points. Warriors point guard Stephen Curry finished in eighth place with one first-place vote.
So, naturally, Curry — who was already an All-Star university — would be disappointed right? This news changes things for Game 2, right, as he would now be determined to prove voters wrong, huh?
“I finished eighth?” Curry asked when confronted with the votes.
This is the part where he rants about being disrespected and not getting his just due. He paused got a minute, staring at his teammates shooting around while he composed his answer.
“Wait, what does that mean? Does that mean people think I wasn’t good last year and I surprised them? Or does it mean not a lot old people think I improved? I’m not sure how I should feel.”
Them, he shot me a look that, if it were a hashtag would say #aintnobodygottimeforthat
Klay Thompson had the 12th most votes, including one first-place vote. Guard Jarrett Jack got one third place vote.
I cornered Warriors general manager Bob Myers to talk to him about his star player. Not even six months ago, he was stuck between a rock and a hard place with Stephen Curry. He wanted to sign him, but was it wise to pump all that money into a player with a persistent, perhaps career-threatening ankle issue? Is it too precarious to let him play it out and see how his ankle responds, risking he goes off and gets a max contact the Warriors couldn’t match?
In the end, Curry took a discount and Myers took a leap of faith. And now, they’re in the playoffs and Myers looks like a genius.
Q: You said you gave Curry the extension because you believed in him. Why?
You know why I had such a strong belief in that is because of who he is. Usually in life, the people who deserve success and put in all the time— even if you have obstacles and hurdles to overcome — usually it does happen. He happened to have some major hurdles. Not that anybody deserves that, but he didn’t deserve it. He doesn’t deserve it. He handles life the right way, he treats people the right way. So I always felt like a guy like him, he was going to get his opportunity to shine. And he obviously has.”
Stephen Curry was named the Western Conference Player of the Month for April by the NBA on Friday. Curry is only the franchise’s third player ever to receive the honor. The other two: Hall of Famers Chris Mullin (twice) and Bernard King.
In eight April games, Curry averaged 25.4 points, 8.1 assists, 3.9 rebounds and 2.13 steals in 38.9 minutes. He made 36 from 3-point range this month, propelling him to the record for most 3-pointers in a season. He hit 20 of 39 from 3-point range the last three regular-season games (51.3 percent) to finish the season with 272 3-pointers, surpassing Ray Allen’s mark of 269.
Curry scored 20-or-more points in five consecutive games, the longest such streak of his career. That streak was punctuated by his 47-point, nine-assist performance in a loss at Staples Center on April 12, making him just the fourth Warrior since the team moved out west to score 45 or more on the road against the Lakers (Rick Barry, Guy Rodgers and Wilt Chamberlain were the other three).
It’s been 23 years since the Warriors had a player win Player of the Month award. Mullin won it in November of 1990 and January of 1989. King, recently inducted into the Hall of Fame, received it for January 1981.
The five Western Conference Players of the Month winners this season: Kevin Durant (twice), Chris Paul, Tony Parker and Kobe Bryant. New York Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony won the April honors for the Eastern Conference.