There was much for the Warriors to like Friday night, beginning with the overall effort and the encouraging performances of youngsters Justin Holiday and James Michael McAdoo.
And, yet, the disappointment surely went beyond the 114-103 loss to the Nuggets at Pepsi Center in Denver.
Handed an opportunity to showcase themselves bigger roles, veteran forward David Lee stumbled and starting forward Harrison Barnes fumbled.
Coach Steve Kerr had opted to rest starters Andrew Bogut and Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, as well as key reserve Andre Iguodala. Backup big man Marreese Speights, serving a one-game suspension without pay, was forced to sit.
If the Warriors were going to beat the odds, Lee and Barnes –- if not both –- would have to perform well.
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Lee responded with a poor first half, before recovering with a mediocre second half. His 31-minute stint featured 13 points (4-of-12 shooting), four rebounds, three assists and some staggeringly abysmal defense.
Barnes was even less fulfilling. For his 24 minutes of action, he finished with four points (1-of-7 shooting), six rebounds, two assists and two turnovers.
To study the impact and production of Barnes and Lee is to quickly understand how the Warriors (51-13) lost a game they came close to winning.
"I just think we ran out of gas," Kerr said. "I was thrilled with our effort: eight turnovers and 29 assists with our four main guys out. That's a really good offensive effort, and a lot of great individual performances."
The best work was done by Holiday, the seldom-used guard who in October nabbed the last spot on the roster, and by McAdoo, who spent most of the season putting in work with the Santa Cruz Warriors of the Development League.
Holiday, making his first career start in place of Thompson, played with poise and stayed aggressive. The 6-foot-6 guard finished with a career-high 23 points on 9-of-16 shooting, including 5-of-7 from beyond the 3-point stripe, in 36 minutes.
McAdoo, a 6-foot-9 forward who was recalled from Santa Cruz on Thursday, scored 16 points and grabbed five rebounds in a high-velocity 28 minutes off the bench.
"I don’t know if we learned anything we didn't already know," Kerr said. "Justin Holiday has played well for us during the season, just has been out of the rotation lately. McAdoo, every time we play him this is what he does. That's why we signed him for next year.
"It was just good to see those guys get a chance, but none of it really surprised me."
It was enough to not only keep the Warriors in the game but also provide a 96-89 lead when Holiday drained a jumper with 7:21 left. The Nuggets, however, recovered and took command with a 22-5 run that gave them a 111-101 lead with 1:04 remaining.
Denver (25-41) finished the game on a 25-7 run.
"We definitely fought," said Shaun Livingston, who started at point guard in place of Curry. "We had a chance to win. It never feels good losing. I don't believe in moral victories, but we did fight. We played with pride tonight."
The Warriors, even those who did not perform particularly well, brought energy. Festus Ezeli had 9 points, six rebounds and four blocked shots in 17 minutes.
As for resting the marquee players, Kerr explained his rationale.
"Steph and Klay were tired and we have Bogues and Andre on a routine, to give them a night off once in a while," he said. "Tonight seemed like the right night. We've got a game tomorrow night, 18 more and we might do this once or twice more. We'll see."
Leandro Barbosa and Livingston really delivered in the second half, combining for 23 points, 11 assists and zero turnovers.
The Warriors committed a season-low eight turnovers.
The Warriors escaped Pepsi Center without noticeable injury.
Barbosa and, to a slightly lesser degree, Livingston were dreadful in the first half.
Draymond Green didn't make his usual impact, which may be why Kerr shut him down after 20 minutes.
It seems the youngsters on the roster perceived their playing time as an opportunity to impress the coaching staff. Holiday and McAdoo certainly did their part to bid for more minutes over the final weeks of the regular season. They'll see more action.
Kerr and his staff surely hoped Barnes and Lee would, win or lose, lead the way. Barnes practically disappeared, while Lee often appeared lost. Lee has something of an excuse, missing three of the last four games and playing spot minutes all season. Barnes, by contrast, simply did not seize the moment.