OAKLAND – After opening the game with five superb minutes of basketball, the Warriors spent the rest of Monday night getting dirty in one of the ugliest games of the season.
Their 89-81 victory at Denver opened in a sprint, the Warriors taking a 24-9 lead, before devolving into a long, grinding finish that succeeded with equal parts Warriors defense and Nuggets ineptitude.
Neither team played particularly well after the opening minutes, but the Warriors showed a resiliency they don't always exhibit. It was most evident in their defensive effort in the fourth quarter, when the Nuggets scored only 15 points – with only one field goal over the final four minutes, 54 seconds.
“It tells you how good we can be,” Warriors coach Mark Jackson said. “There is no question about (our) ability to score and shoot the basketball but the thing that can remain constant for us is our ability to defend, and defend at a high level. That’s going to win ballgames. So when those guys do establish a rhythm, it’s going to be awfully pretty.”
The Warriors, who shot 43 percent, leaned on David Lee for offense. He responded with 28 points on 11-of-21 shooting, while making all six of his free throws.
“The last 10 games or so, I've tried to be really aggressive, especially to start games, to attack the rim,'' Lee said.
This victory, however, was a result of the Warriors going back to basics. When they trailed 77-76, with 4:54 to play, the Warriors got stingy. Denver shot only 38 percent for the game. The Nuggets missed eight of their last 10 shots and committed three turnovers in the final six minutes.
Even when the Warriors were missing, as they often did, they stayed in the faces of the Nuggets.
“On the road, that's a big step in the progression of our team," point guard Stephen Curry said. “When you're not making shots but you still find a way to keep the game under control because you get stops on the other end.''
THE GOOD: Lee brought energy and production, particularly on offense. He personally ensured a quick start for the Warriors, scoring 12 points in the first eight minutes on 6-of-8 shooting as the team built a 26-12 lead.
Center Andrew Bogut and Lee continue to be relentless on the glass. They became the first teammates in 28 seasons (Moses Malone and Charles Barkley, 1985-86) with nine consecutive games with 10 or more rebounds.
Iguodala continues to round into game shape and re-blend with his teammates. He played 31 minutes, with 12 points (5-of-10 shooting), six rebounds and two assists.
THE BAD: While Klay Thompson's offense, missing for most of the month, showed signs of recovery in the fourth quarter, the struggles of Harrison Barnes remain in place. The second-year wing finished with two points (1 of 6 from the floor), one assist, zero rebounds and two turnovers.
THE TAKE: The Warriors played ugly, the Nuggets lost uglier. Good teams find ways to win games, even on the road, when they don't play particularly well. The Warriors haven't always been able to do that this season. They did it in this instance behind defensive intensity. Denver wasn't very good, but the lesson is the same: The Warriors are JAT (Just Another Team) when they don't bring the D.