Well, that turned out eventful.
The Warriors started fast in Andre Iguodala's much-awaited return to Denver, leading by as much as 15 in the first half. It looked as though it would be another blowout win, as Stephen Curry was in God Mode early on, but Denver made things interesting after Curry picked up three early fouls. Denver came all the way back to take a third-quarter lead, and the game tightened up in the second half. Golden State and Denver traded buckets through most of the fourth quarter, but the Warriors were able to get scores and stops when it mattered most in crunch time.
Interestingly, the Warriors missed their first eight free throws before David Lee hit two to make the Warriors 2-10 from the line in the third quarter. The Nuggets, in stark contrast, were able to get to the line and convert, going 14-16 from the line going to the fourth quarter. This disparity in free throws and free throw conversion helped the Nuggets take a slim lead in the second half. However, the Warriors rebounded from their free throw problems to go perfect in their last ten attempts in helping them close the game out. Free throws are always important in the wide scheme of things; if you don't believe me, just check out last year's NBA Finals, where the Spurs "were as close as it gets to winning the title without winning it" in Game 6, but missed free throws kept the Heat alive. It's always said that it's not how you start, it's how you finish, and the Warriors proved that adage against Denver.
Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson were out of sync through three quarters. Curry was held to just eight points (and missed 2 FREE THROWS!!!) through most of the first three periods, and Thompson scored just five through three quarters. However, they both responded in crunch time, as Thompson had eight big points down the stretch, including a crucial fallaway to put the Warriors up five with under thirty seconds remaining. Curry was a steady hand down the last few minutes of the game as well, and hit some big free throws to ice the game in the final minute.
The Warriors defense stepped up again, limiting the Nuggets to just 38% shooting from the field in their house. The Warriors rank second with 12 games, behind only defensive juggernaut Indiana, in holding the opposition to under 40% shooting from the field, and have gone 9-3 in those games. On Saturday, Golden State held the Lakers to just 83 points on a season-low 32 percent shooting from three; Monday night, the Nuggets had only 81 points, and no player scored more than 16 for Denver. Also, the Nuggets shot under 25% for the game from 3-point land. Another stellar effort defensively, especially down the stretch. To wit, the Warriors held Denver to just one field goal and two free throws - four points - after David Lee's jumper put the Warriors up by one with 4:28 left in the fourth quarter.
Warrior Wonder: David Lee
Hmm, what a perfect segue into the Warrior Wonder! It's almost as though I planned that! Anyway, Lee was fantastic again, and really was the only Dub to do so throughout the whole game. His 28 points marked his fourth game in his last six with at least 21 points, and he had his ninth consecutive double-double as well in adding 10 rebounds. Lee and Andrew Bogut have both had double-digit rebounds in each of their past nine games; per Elias, they are the first teammates to achieve this feat since 1986, when Hall of Famers Charles Barkley and Moses Malone did it for Philadelphia. Lee's effort also marked his eighth 20-point, 10-rebound output of the season. Though Lee has definitely not been an All-Star this year - I don't care what Shaquille O'Neal says - his recent games have shown that he can still be relied upon for excellent production, and that the Warriors can win with an inside presence if Curry and Thompson aren't shooting the lights out.
This solid effort defensively hopefully will carry over into Wednesday, when the Warriors play the Clippers at the Roaracle in the nightcap of the marquee games annually shown on Christmas. It's the first time Golden State plays the Clippers at home this season, and it should be a fun one on ESPN featuring two Western Conference playoff teams looking to make the next step. Can the Warriors show they belong in the top tier of the Pacific Division and the West? Wednesday night will show.