In a game short on drama for much of the first three quarters, the Golden State Warriors made enough plays late to eke out a 106-105 victory over the Denver Nuggets in Oracle Arena. Andre Iguodala hit what would have been the game-winning shot as time expired, but referees waived it off after reviewing the replay.
Fellow 2009 class point guards Stephen Curry and Ty Lawson had another memorable battle in this blossoming Western Conference rivalry. Curry edged Lawson in points (20 to 17), assists (10 to nine) and took slightly better care of the basketball (three turnovers to Lawson's four).
Lawson's speed again bothered Curry, who's had 13 fouls in the Warriors' three games against the Nuggets. But Lawson couldn't keep pace with the sharp-shooting Curry, who connected on four of his seven three-point attempts.
With both players recipients of recent contract extensions (for a combined eight years and $92 million), this is a rivalry that will only get better as these two teams climb up the Western Conference.
The question is which team made the better investment in their young point guard?
Lawson's advantage is easy to spot. He's one of the fastest players in the league and knows how to exploit his quickness.
Curry, though, offers that rare combination of great shooting and playmaking skills. He's the next legitimate candidate to join the 50-40-90 club. He's flirted with the numbers in years past. Even during his injury-shortened 2011-12 season, he managed to shoot 49 percent from the field, 45 percent from three-point range and 80 percent from the free-throw line.
Curry's improving as a defender as well. He may not be the elite defender that coach Mark Jackson thinks he is (via bayareasportsguy.com), but he's no longer the defensive liability he appeared destined to be during his first three seasons.
While Lawson entered the contest with a clear advantage over Curry in assists per game (7.5 to 5.5), that number is a bit misleading. Lawson doesn't share the same scoring responsibilities as Curry. Curry entered Thursday's game as Golden State's top scorer (18.4), while Lawson entered the contest as Denver's fourth-highest (13.3).
Teams can game-plan to take away Lawson's speed advantage. His 24.3 three-point percentage this season has allowed defenders to back off of him and close off his driving lanes.
Curry's been harder to account for. He's too good of a shooter to give him space around the three-point line. He's off to his worst shooting performance of his career (38.4 percent from three-point land), but that number's still ahead of Lawson's career average (37.7 percent).
Curry has good enough handles to beat crowding defenders. And he attacks defenses with his head up, then carves them up with his court vision.
While Warrior fans have worried about Curry's ability to stay on the floor, Nugget fans have worried about Lawson's plummeting numbers. His field-goal and three-point percentages have regressed in each of his four seasons, while his turnover numbers have increased every year.
These teams share a bright future at the point-guard position. But Golden State's star will prove to shine brighter over the oncoming seasons.