Ugly Win Proves Golden State Warriors More Versatile Than We Thought
They missed 7-of-10 shots from the floor, committed seven fouls, turned the ball over nine times and nearly blew what had been an 18-point lead as a result.
"Nearly" being the operative word here. Despite fumbling around like a team of Benny Hill's nephews, the Warriors pulled out a 92-88 win to close the book on the Nuggets and earn their first playoff-series victory (in their first trip to the postseason) since the "We Believe" Warriors upset the top-seed Dallas Mavericks in 2007.
As disconcerting as the series-ending sloppiness was, it can't even begin to undo what this Golden State squad accomplished; they upset a team out of Denver that had set its NBA franchise record for regular-season wins (57) by way of a 23-3 spurt that led up to the playoffs.
The Warriors snapped what had been the Nuggets' 24-home-game winning streak by way of one of the most impressive displays of shooting in the history of the Association's postseason. And in Game 6, they fended off a hard charge from an opponent that was as long on talent as it was on desperation.
Thus, there might even be reason to take heart in how the Warriors pulled off this last one.
At no point down the stretch did the Dubs devolve into "Stephen Curry and the others." Rather, it was rookie Draymond Green who broke the Nuggets' 13-point spell with a stretch that saw him score six straight Golden State points. It was another rookie, Harrison Barnes, who nailed a pair of free throws to extend the Warriors' tenuous hold back to six points with just over a minute remaining. It was Jarrett Jack who sunk two of his own at the line to essentially seal the deal with seven seconds left on the clock.
And, of course, it was Curry who, in the midst of it all, took just two shots and made one—not from behind the three-point line, but in the paint on a nifty scoop shot:
To be sure, the poise was lacking at times for the Warriors, as their many mishandles and bad passes would suggest. Curry's score served as a brief respite from the chaos caused by his four turnovers and two personal fouls. Green looked plenty green when he blew a layup and subsequently gave the ball away on consecutive possessions. Even Jack, Golden State's de facto steady hand, got into the act with a couple miscues of his own.
Still, there was never any true panic in Mark Jackson's players. The Warriors knew full well that they were the better team, that they would send the Nuggets sailing off into a long summer.
They'd outplayed the Nuggets in Denver in Game 1 only to see Andre Miller go bonkers to save his squad's skin in the fourth quarter. They'd blown out the Nuggets in Game 2 while hitting nearly 65 percent of their shots. They took care of home court in Games 3 and 4, and nearly finished Denver off with a late rally of their own in Game 5.
The Warriors were well-aware of their upper hand. All they had to do was figure out how to leverage that advantage into a decisive blow, which is easier said than done.
How far will the Warriors go?
Closing out an opponent is always the hardest part of winning the series in the NBA, especially when the team attempting the closing has never been in such a position before.
The Warriors were fortunate to wind up with the upper hand in this, their first postseason experience as a group. Not even the Oklahoma City Thunder, the NBA's chic "dynastender" (credit to Grantland's Bill Simmons for that term), can claim that much. In 2010, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and company pushed the eventual-champion Los Angeles Lakers to six games in the first round without ever having the edge in the series.
That being said, the experience of winning two playoff games in their first collective postseason was massive for the Thunder. They went on to crack the Western Conference Finals the very next year and the NBA Finals the year after that.
That's not to suggest that Golden State is the league's next OKC. Rather, it's to point out that the Warriors are already ahead of schedule in their rebuild. They went from strategic tanking last season to winning a playoff series this season—a quantum leap, to say the least.
Even more so when you consider that this was the Nuggets' 10th consecutive trip to the NBA's Big Dance and ninth time out of those 10 being ousted in the first round.
Of course, winning one series hardly guarantees that the Warriors will win another. They'll pick things up against a San Antonio Spurs squad that's well-rested, well-coached, talented, experienced and hasn't dropped a home game against Golden State since Tim Duncan came aboard in 1997. If there's any team that understands how to make the Warriors pay for their playoff-high 18.7 turnovers per contest, it's the shrewd, efficient Spurs.
But few likely expect Golden State to upend San Antonio, just as few pegged the Warriors to shoot their way past the Nuggets. At this point, the Warriors are playing with house money.
Money that they've used to buy themselves valuable experience, in winning every which way (pretty, ugly, inside, outside, etc.) and in closing out a feisty opponent, that will come in handy in the near (and distant) future.
In essence, then, those last eight-and-a-half minutes of Warriors basketball, ugly as they were, may well serve as a milestone for now and a stepping stone to bigger and better things.
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