OAKLAND-- The Warriors now know they can beat the Denver Nuggets without shooting 65 percent, and the result is a dramatically different Western Conference quarterfinal.
Using sounder defensive principles, Carl Landry and Jarrett Jack to supplement the evening’s Curry, and Denver’s seemingly habitual ability to blink in the big moments, Golden State held on through an excruciating fourth quarter to win Game 3, 110-108, and take a 2-1 lead in the series.
Stephen Curry, who spent 40 minutes testing a wonky ankle before the game, pronounced himself cured with 29 points and 11 assists, not to mention grabbing the game as Denver was poised to pull away in the early third quarter. He wasn’t the game’s best player – that was Ty Lawson, the Denver point guard, who finished with 32 points and 10 assists.
But Curry was the most influential, and in this series, influence counts for everything. Lawson got insufficient help from the other Nugget mainstays, Andre Iguodala and Corey Brewer, and Andre Miller couldn’t find the basket with a subpoena, while Jack, Landry and Harrison Barnes combined for 59 points and 17 rebounds. The lopsidedness of their attack clearly played on the Nuggets all evening, so much so that Golden State’s 22 turnovers didn’t kill them the way 22 turnovers should.
Denver won the second quarter by a wide margin, and as a result took a 66-54 lead into the half. Lawson and Iguodala were conspicuous by their presence at both ends, and Kenneth Faried made more of a nuisance of himself defensively. Golden State shot well early but cooled by the second quarter as a serious rash of turnovers stopped their offense cold.
Fourteen turnovers, four by Jack alone, kept the Warriors from getting any separation in the early going, and when Denver made its 12-4 run to start the second, the Warriors did all they could do just to get close. As it turned out, it was more than they could do, and given their cavalier attitude toward the ball, being down 12 was actually something of a godsend.
Another problem was the first-half disappearances of Klay Thompson and Barnes. Thompson in particular had been conspicuous both times in Denver, but couldn’t find a shooting rhythm, and Barnes couldn’t make himself be seen or heard with Denver’s bigger lineup.
The third quarter, though, was Golden State’s as much as the second quarter was Denver's, and a slow but noticeable climb back into the game was capped by Jack’s runner with a minute to go to put the Warriors up, 85-83.
The Nuggets didn’t penetrate with as much alacrity, and didn’t finish at all, missing 13 of 20 shots and losing momentum entirely, as the Warriors used their early 18-4 run to take an 87-84 lead into the fourth.
A lead that, as events would show, they maintained all the way until Sunday evening.
Curry was fine. Not 100 percent fine, where he was turning on a dime and going to the basket with impunity, but fine enough to own yet one more game. Mark Jackson used him judiciously (18 minutes in the first half, even though Denver built a double-digit lead largely in his absence), and Curry needed to be husbanded because of foul trouble, but he was there-plus when it mattered. The ankle, though, will remain a point of concern for Warrior fans through the rest of the series.
THE TICKET BASE
The standard crowd at the arena, 19,596, came hell-bent to make as much noise as the old bowl would hold, to the point where it roared through parts of the national anthem and during the excess-troductions of the Warrior starters, especially Curry. Clearly they felt yelling at the tops of their lungs might help speed the healing process to Curry’s ankle.
On a scale of 1-100, 100 being the old Chicago Stadium and 1 being any game in Atlanta, the crowd was a solid 91. In addition, free yellow T-shirts, the new standard fare for big games, with the legends “Battle,” “Defend,” “Protect” and “Unite” helped make the arena look like a tribute to rampant jaundice. Oh, and points off for the stupid thunder sticks; either you can make noise with your own hands and lungs, or you don’t make any at all.
Game four Sunday at 6:30 p.m. As if you didn’t know.