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 …”
Warriors coach Mark Jackson still won’t say who will start in place of injured forward David Lee. No matter whom Jackson taps, veteran Carl Landry will play a significant role in Game 2 on Tuesday.
That isn’t the worst fall-back plan. Landry, in his fourth playoffs, represents one of Golden State’s most experienced players.
“I’m not David Lee. I’m not an All-star. I don’t average 20 points and I don’t average 12 rebounds per game. But I can pick up some of the weight that was lost.”
Landry proved to be a coup for Warriors management. General manager Bob Myers pulled off the improbable signing late in the summer, inking Landry to a two-year deal worth $8 million (with a player option for next season). But Landry can etch himself and Myers into Warriors’ lore with a big performance in place of Lee.
Such is even more likely if Landry gets back to the inside game that helped lead the Warriors into the playoffs.
Golden State did exactly what it wanted to do: slow down the NBA’s best transition team. Only problem with that was that put it put Andre Miller in play.
Golden State was on the verge of stealing Game 1, despite a subpar performance from Stephen Curry and an injury to David Lee. But Miller broke their hearts with a driving layup with 1.2 seconds left, handing the Warriors a 97-95 defeat, souring an otherwise gutsy performance.
JARRETT JACK: “We’re not into moral victories. In a simple phrase, we played good enough to lose.”
The Warriors’ defense contained speedy Denver point guard Ty Lawson and silenced forward Andre Iguodala, holding the Nuggets 11 points below their average. But Golden State couldn’t come up with an answer for Miller. He scored 18 of Denver’s 26 fourth-quarter points and finished with a game-high 28, taking advantage of the one-on-one defense he faced.
It was a dramatic end and a riveting start to a series most expect to be highly entertaining. The Warriors, even with the loss, head into Game 2 on Tuesday with plenty reasons to be confident.
“I thought we did some things very well,” coach Mark Jackson said. “What I told my team was that nobody came in here thinking that we were going to sweep the Denver Nuggets. You have tow in four games to advance and you can’t act like it’s over. So take the blow and be ready to make adjustments and respond.”
More on the Game 1 loss …
Game 1 of the Warriors-Nuggets playoff series tips off Saturday afternoon. It figures to be the epitome of Western Conference basketball. Both teams have skill and depth, which will make for an interesting chess match between Denver coach George Karl and Golden State’s Mark Jackson.
Neither team has the A-list star to carry them to the next round. That puts added emphasis on the plethora of interesting match-ups featured in this series. Throw in some injury issues, experience gaps and crazy home courts, and you’ve got the makings of something riveting.
Here’s a look at the key match-ups in the series and who has the advantage.