OAKLAND, CA - DECEMBER 23: Gary Harris #14 of the Denver Nuggets handles the ball against the Golden State Warriors on December 23, 2017 at ORACLE Arena in Oakland, California.
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Defense Leads the Way Again as Nuggets Defeat the Defending Champion Warriors

by Christopher Dempsey
Nuggets Insider

OAKLAND, Calif. – If Friday night’s win at Portland was about very personalized statements being made by a Nuggets team and its players, then Saturday was about announcing big intentions to the NBA as a whole.

What better way to do that then win in the house of the defending champion – the Golden State Warriors?

The Nuggets did just that in an impressive display of defense and poise down the stretch. Their 96-81 victory over the Warriors at Oracle Arena snapped Golden State’s 11-game winning streak – seven of which came after the team lost star Stephen Curry to an ankle injury. It had been a long time since the Warriors sent reserves into a game with over three minutes remaining, raising a symbolic white flag acknowledging defeat. It had been a long time since fans at Oracle left a game early in disappointment.

But they did on Saturday.

It was a perfect cap on a two-game road trip that saw the Nuggets collect back-to-back victories in two of the toughest road venues – at the Moda Center in Portland and at Golden State.

“I think teams that don’t have big plans would have been happy with the win (Friday) night,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “That was never our mentality. I woke up this morning feeling very confident in our chances tonight, and our players had the same mentality. We came in here not to be happy with the win in Portland. We came in here to be greedy, to be selfish, and to get another (win). Hats off to our players, because they did a phenomenal job the whole game to pull out a win in a very tough place to play.”

In doing so, they forced Golden State into some of the most uncharacteristic team, and individual, statistics anyone has seen.

It started with the point total. Golden State’s 81 points was by far a season low. It continued with the 3-point line. The Warriors are second in the NBA in 3-point percentage and fifth in 3-pointers made per game. But they were harassed by a sticky Nuggets defense into one of their worst long-range shooting nights ever – 3-of-27 – from the arc. Klay Thompson missed his first 10 3-point shots before making one to finish 1-of-10 from the 3-point line.

Kevin Durant was 0-of-5 from the 3-point line. The superstar finished with 18 points, but he took 17 shots to get it. He and Thompson were a combined 12-of-38 (31.5 percent) from the 3-point line.

And holding those two to mere mortal numbers fell on the shoulders of Gary Harris and Wilson Chandler, who handled the primary duties of covering them. For Harris, it was a second straight night of solid defense. He’d slowed down Portland’s C.J. McCollum the night before.

Chandler quickly deflected individual praise.

“I think it was everybody believing in the next man,” Chandler said. “Teammates looking out for one another, helping on drives and just scrambling out on shots. I think everybody helped today. It wasn’t just Gary or myself.”

Five Nuggets scored in double figures, led by Harris’s 19 points. Nikola Jokić had 18 points, nine rebounds and four assists. Chandler and Trey Lyles both finished with 15 points. Chandler added nine rebounds.

And the Nuggets handled business down the stretch. The Warriors cut into a double-digit Nuggets lead, reducing it to single digits on a couple of occasions. But the Nuggets answered with steady execution and built bigger leads. It was a 17-point advantage with 3:32 to play when Warriors coach Steve Kerr pulled his starters.

“What a great effort, what a great performance, what a great win for us,” Malone said. “Third game in four nights. For us to play that kind of defense against that team…I think it’s spectacular.

“Those guys took that challenge and were head-on and did a phenomenal job. I can’t remember seeing many teams hold that team to 3-of-27 from the 3-point line. So, it’s a helluva win for us and it’s going to make Christmas that much merrier.”

Christopher Dempsey: christopher.dempsey@altitude.tv and @chrisadempsey on Twitter.