OAKLAND --When the horn sounded on the Warriors' 92-88 series-clinching win against Denver on Thursday, the sellout crowd of 19,596 at Oracle Arena could finally exhale.
For long stretches of the second half, the Warriors looked to be turning Game 6 of their first-round playoff series into a blowout. They led by 18 with just over nine minutes to play.
If it were a fight, it was at that point in which it would have been stopped -- but Denver popped right back off the mat.
From there, the Nuggets were in full-on pursuit of one of the great comebacks in NBA playoff history. However, after Denver closed the deficit to 90-88 with 32.4 seconds left, Golden State, somehow, hung on.
"Each possession, it can't get any worse than this. Then it does," Stephen Curry said. "We gave them every opportunity to get back in the game."
Golden State will open its second-round series Monday in San Antonio against the second-seeded Spurs, who swept the Los Angeles Lakers in the first round. The Warriors split the season series with San Antonio, but haven't won in their building since Tim Duncan was drafted No. 1 overall in the 1997 draft.
"It's a model organization and it's going to be a tough task," Warriors coach Mark Jackson said. "They are clearly the favorite. But it's going to be a lot of fun."
A Warriors turnover following a timeout gave Denver a shot to tie it with about 15 seconds left, but a pair of inside misses ensued and Golden State reclaimed possession. Jarrett Jack then converted a pair of free throws with seven seconds left to put the Warriors up 92-88.
In building the 18-point lead, Stephen Curry did what Stephen Curry does. With a flare for the dramatic, he again shook off a quiet first half before sending the raucous crowd into a near unfathomable frenzy.
He scored 14 third-quarter points as the Warriors, who trailed by as many as 11 in the first half, turned a 42-40 halftime deficit into a 73-62 lead at the end of three. The lead grew to 80-62 with 9:11 left in the game.
Curry finished with 22 points and Andrew Bogut scored 14 points and pulled down 21 rebounds. Both figures are highs for Bogut in a Warriors uniform and it goes down as his first career playoff double-double.
"You know, 21 rebounds, 14 points, four blocked shots, 39 minutes," Warriors coach Mark Jackson said of Bogut. "I didn't expect that."
The game also saw the surprising return of All-Star forward David Lee, who played despite being ruled out for the postseason.
It was clear Jackson wanted to use Lee as an emotional lift.
After sending him to the scorer's table about midway through the first quarter, there wasn't an immediate in-game stoppage. Jackson then chose not to put him in following a timeout, instead opting to wait for a natural stoppage when it would theoretically impact the crowd the most.
That didn't happen before the next timeout, so Lee came in at the 2:23 mark of the first quarter, alongside Jack.
"I guess the New York City in me, the Willis Reed impact as a kid, really played a role," Jackson said. "Not only did I put him in, but I ran a play for him for a shot, just about where Willis hit his shot."
Lee the jumper and pulled down one rebound before exiting in favor of Festus Ezeli after 1:27.
If his presence was supposed to make an impact, it didn't work out that way. At least not initially.
Nuggets coach George Karl had trouble comprehending why Lee was in uniform.
"It was weird, I guess, would be my best," he said. "You read he's out for the season, out for whatever, three months, whatever. I thought he was playing a Willis Reed impression, save the team."
The Warriors were just 15-of-39 from the field in the first half (38.5 percent) and allowed Denver to come up with 13 offensive rebounds. Curry and Klay Thompson were a combined 2-for-13 from the field and the Warriors turned it over nine times before halftime.
#WarriorsTalk Tweet of the Game