They sure don’t like to make it easy, do they?
The Warriors knocked the Nuggets out of the playoffs tonight, defeating Denver 92-88 to clinch the series 4-2. And while the Warriors and their fans can now officially celebrate their first Western Conference Semifinal berth in six years, they’ll likely need to catch their breath first.
Up by 18 with 9:11 left in the fourth quarter, the Warriors decided to make things interesting by nearly letting the lead slip away. Denver, with their season on the line, gave the Dubs one last charge, and it almost worked. The Nuggets pulled within two with less than a minute remaining, but the Warriors withstood the final onslaught and turnover extravaganza to escape with a narrow four-point win.
As a basketball fan, you can't ask for a more entertaining game. Game 6 had everything, and it almost feels like we’re being cheated out of what would have surely been an incredible Game 7 in Denver. But the Warriors could care less about that, because this was their night. It wasn’t very pretty, and it certainly wasn’t perfect, but they got the job done. And ultimately, in the playoffs, that’s all that matters.
The first half was fairly ugly, with both teams shooting less than 40 percent from the field. Denver dominated the boards early, particularly on the offensive end, which they utilized to put the Warriors in an early hole. But over the course of the first half, Golden State managed to chip away at that deficit, and went into halftime trailing only 42-40, despite shooting an uncharacteristic 38.5 percent from the floor. All things considered, the Warriors had to feel pretty lucky to only be down only two points, but that wasn’t the only piece of good fortune they received.
Nope, David Lee returned too.
Yes, that David Lee. The same David Lee that became the Warriors’ first All-Star since 1997 and led the league in double-doubles. The same David Lee that had been ruled out of the rest of the playoffs after tearing his hip flexor in Game 1 of this series. It’s unknown what put this development in motion, whether it was intended as morale boost for the team or if Lee truly had somewhat magically healed in the span of less than two weeks. What is known, however, is that it certainly couldn’t have hurt the spirit of another crazed crowd on Warriors Ground, who were genuinely energized by having one of their core players back out there on the court. Lee missed the only shot he took and played less than two minutes, but that’s not the point. In order to knock the Nuggets out, it was going to take a lot of heart, and can you imagine a more motivational display than seeing Lee strip off his warm-ups and run out onto the court after barely being able to walk just days ago? Probably not.
It wasn’t exactly Willis Reed in 1970 or Isiah Thomas back in ’88, but it was thoroughly impressive nonetheless. It has yet to be determined what Lee’s availability will be for the next round, if any, but that’s talk for another day. Right now, the Warriors can be satisfied knowing they took the Nuggets’ best shot and advanced, and did it with the help of their star power forward.
Speaking of stars, someone should tell Stephen Curry that it’s the third quarter, every quarter. Because if he put up points at the rate he does in the third frame, I’m not sure the Warriors could ever be stopped. This time, Curry scored 14 points on 4-of-6 shooting, and each one of those makes just happened to come from three-point range. I know…who could have guessed that? But, led by Curry and his 14, the Warriors turned a two point halftime deficit into an 11 point advantage after outscoring the Nuggets 33-20 in the third quarter. For the series, Curry was 23-of-34 (67.6 percent) on field goals and 13-20 (65 percent!) on three-pointers in the third. That, my friends, is what we like to call ownage.
The Warriors rode that third quarter momentum into the fourth, and even added to the lead in the opening minutes before stumbling down the stretch with what seemed like an endless sequence of horrific turnovers. You knew the Nuggets had one last run in them, and it was almost enough. But in the playoffs, almost doesn’t quite cut it, and the Nuggets have now found out the hard way…again. Despite their 57 wins, third seed and league-best home record, Denver has now been booted from the first round for the ninth time in the last 10 years. Ouch.
For a team that has only been to the playoffs two times in the last 19 years, the Warriors sure do like to make a big splash when they get there. We all know what happened in 2007 during the "We Believe" craziness, and it turns out 2013 is following a similar trend. First-round upset? Check. Game 6 home clincher? Check. Impossibly rowdy and LOUD Oracle crowd? Triple check. And while the "We Believe" team ultimately lost in five games in the second round, there’s something about this year’s team that makes you think the continuing trend could stop there. It’s hard to put a finger on exactly what that something is, but it probably has something to do with Andrew Bogut.
Bogut was an absolute monster tonight. His 21 rebounds were the most by a Warrior in the playoffs since Larry Smith hauled in 23 back in 1987, but his impact didn’t stop there. In addition to what proved to be 14 very necessary points, Bogut was credited with four blocked shots, and probably had even more. His combination of size and skill is a luxury the Warriors haven’t had since ... Nate Thurmond? It wasn’t easy for Warriors fans to watch him struggle to work his way back from injury all regular season long, but most fans would agree that it was well worth the wait. He was a game changer all series, and provided exactly the kind of impact the Warriors knew he could contribute when finally healthy. Sure, it would have been nice to have his 14-21-4 (not to mention his assists) all season long, but the Warriors will take it now. As we’re all becoming increasingly aware, in the playoffs, timing is everything.
When the series began, the Warriors were underdogs, and for good reason. But they accepted that role, thrived in it, and certainly didn’t play like it. It was an incredible team effort across the board, which was exactly what it was going to take for the Warriors to win only their second playoff series in 22 years. And what’s their prize? The dynastic San Antonio Spurs, who have been resting their ailing parts for a few days now after dispatching the Lakers in a four-game sweep. Lucky guys, eh?
But now is not a time for looking ahead. Rather, it is a time for reflecting and celebrating the amazing year the Warriors have had to this point, and it’s not done yet. For a team that many expected little of, the Dubs have reached tremendous heights this season, and just continue to set the bar even higher.
So go ahead Warriors and #DubNation, soak it all in. Tonight is your night. You earned it.