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Warriors get up off the mat after perhaps their worst loss of the year, turn in perhaps their best — and most unexpected — win.
Well, I'm still not sure if revenge is best served cold. It would have been pretty sweet to avenge that infamous 140-109 drubbing the following week, on our home court, when we were still all hot under the collar and thirsting for blood. But man, last night's win was at least as tasty as cold pizza, and far more surprising. This was like staggering out of your room — miserable, hung over, and starving — to find a whole, delicious cold pizza sitting on the kitchen table, in what you were about 99.9% sure was an empty box.
Briefly, the Warriors: (1) started the game as prepared and focused on defense as they've been all year, forcing the league's most prolific offense to a clang-o-rific 3-23 fg in the first quarter; (2) finally got the Splash Brothers splashing in the second quarter to push out to a 23-point halftime lead; (3) frittered away 18 points of that lead in the abjectly-terrifying-yet-somehow-horribly-familiar first 7 minutes of the third quarter (full disclosure here: I was thisclose to shutting it off at that point, and may have done so if I didn't have to write this recap); and finally (4) somehow, thanks to some admirable sang froid by Klay and Curry and another blast of tough defense, got their crap together, stopped the bleeding in the 3rd, and blew it open in the 4th.
Two key moments for me:
• With 4:18 left in the third, the 23-point halftime lead dwindled to 5 and the Toyota Center rocking, Klay hits a jumper, then steals a Harden pass and finds Jack, who drives the middle and finds Curry for an open corner 3. Swish, lead back up to 10, and never again slips into single digits. The made shots were huge, for sure, but just as impressive to me at this juncture was the Ws' confident body language. Whereas yours truly was curled into a ball of terror and covering my eyes, Curry, Klay, and the crew had a confident, Obama-like "we got this" demeanor. Great to see (through my fingers).
• With 8:19 left in the game, the Warriors' 17-point early 4th quarter lead trimmed to 10, and the arena still fairly buzzing following two three-pointers and an and-one by the crafty Argentine Carlos Delfino, Jackson decides to sub in Bogut. I have to admit, despite his excellent first half, I was pretty nervous to see him here. It's not that I'm a fan of Coach Jackson's knee-jerk inclination to go with a small Landry/Lee look in fourth quarters; it was actually refreshing to see him go with the traditional, normal-sized lineup that got him the lead. At the same time, I wondered: what if Bogut reverts to the Big Slug we've seen periodically this year? What if he allows the Rockets to get out and run roughshod, and clangs a few key late FTs for good measure? Well ... no worries, mate. Immediately after checking in, the Big Aussie delivers a soft finish off a David Lee feed to push the lead to 12, then gets to work anchoring the same stifling defense we saw in the first half, crashes the glass with authority, and oh-by-the-way coolly swishes all four of his FTs with the Rockets resorting to Hack-a-Bogut. Door slammed. Taste it, Rockets.
Needless to say, a huge win for the good guys. Of course, they're all huge at this point in the season, but if ever a win counted for more than a win, this was it. For one thing, in terms of seedings, it was in fact a two-game swing: instead of trailing the Rockets by a half-game for the #6 seed, they now lead them by 1.5. With the Lakers and Jazz eyeing the #7 and 8 seeds hungrily, and sitting just two games back in the loss column, the Ws may just have tiptoed away from the precipice of a nightmare #9 seed scenario.
Beyond the huge impact on the Warriors' spot in the standings, and even beyond the "cold revenge" angle, it's hard to overstate the psychological impact of crushing a good, motivated team by 30 on their home floor, in a big game with playoff atmosphere and potential elimination in the offing. If the Warriors are going to make any noise at all in this year's playoffs (and by "noise" I'm talking realistically — say, a couple of solid first-round wins and some sweaty palms on the part of one of the top seeds) they're going to need confidence that they can win games exactly like this one. Just as so many of our irritatingly close, sloppy victories this season have felt like something less than a win, this felt like something more.
Still, as Klay Thompson noted post-game, if the team turns around and loses to the
Hornets Pelicans in New Orleans tonight, it all means very little. Well, it still means something — whatever happens tonight, this was probably the win of the year. But man, it'd be nice to keep this sweet feeling of vindication and confidence flowing for at least another day or two.
OK, now where was that old logo again? Ah, here:
With all due respect to the splendor of Kent Bazemore, there were three highly worthy WW candidates last night: Curry, Thompson, and Bogut. As a rule, I like to take the "Wonder" part literally: "feeling of surprise mingled with admiration, caused by something beautiful, unexpected, unfamiliar, or inexplicable." Curry's game (29 pts on 22 fga, 11 ast, 5 reb) was certainly beautiful and admirable, but then it's been that way for the better part of the season (22.1 pts on .581 ts / 6.7 ast / 4.0 reb at last count) so it's hard to give his him props for performing in any way "unexpectedly, unfamiliarly, or inexplicably." Ditto for Klay's great, clutch performance (26 pts on 18 fga, many of them at moments when we were dying for a bucket): on the season, his great, clutch performances have been much fewer and farther between than Curry's, but he's certainly had his share of them.
On the other hand...
This was the game of year to date from Mr. Bogut: 33 minutes, 12 points (4-8 fg, 4-4 ft), 12 boards, 3 blocks (and a ton more altered), 2 fouls, 0 turnovers. All while looking generally quicker, spryer, less sluggish and more confident on both ends than he has all season. I'm pretty sure no one went into this game expecting the Warriors' D, anchored by Bogut, to hold the league's best offense to 78 points. Unfamiliar, inexplicable ... wonderful.
More of the same tonight, please.