Wow. Just wow.
I should be elated right now. I should be jumping up and down with joy. The Warriors made it to the second round. This, right here, represents a hugely successful season. The team battled to close out the season to hold onto the sixth seed. Nobody gave them a chance against Denver and their impenetrable home court advantage.
But I'm not jumping up and down. I'm exhausted. I'm numb. I can't believe the Warriors held on. They tried to choke this one away, shoving little plastic toys down their throats like a gaggle of drunken toddlers, struggling for air, flopping around on the floor ...
... and somehow, someway, they found a way to spit all that garbage out of their airway and hold on. So I'm coining it: the Heimlich maneuver win. A game that should be a choke job ... but somehow isn't. Let this game be the video in the wikipedia entry.
Sometimes a game looks like two games, with one team taking control for the first half, the other for the second. This was a tale of three games.
The first game was the first half. Denver came out with incredible hustle and energy, out-working the dubs for every lose ball, and slapping rebounds out of the Warriors' hands. The dubs would battle, play tough defense, and Denver just kept earning themselves more chances.
It's incredibly demoralizing to not be able to clean the defensive glass. It brought back memories of all the bad Warrior teams we've seen over the past two decades, memories of Utah and Carlos Boozer pounding us inside the last time we made it to the second round. Somehow, however, the Warriors kept it close. Andrew Bogut was a monster, with four first-half blocks and even more changed shots to keep the Nuggets from running up a big lead.
And somehow the Warriors just hung around. After feeling like they were getting the stuffing pounded out of them, they still managed to reach the break only down two.
And the third quarter, what can you say? Does Mark Jackson give the greatest halftime speeches in the history of sports? Does Curry have a bottle of some magic elixir that he can't drink until halftime? Whatever it was, it works. Curry, who struggled to get open shots in the first half (but did rack up five assists) got to the line. Then he hit a three. Then he hit another three.
And all of a sudden the Warriors were blowing the game open. Trying to take the ball away from Curry left the lane open for big men - Curry finds Bogut for a dunk. The party was on! The lead stretched to 18.
And then the fourth quarter happened. Warrior fans have seen this often this season. If there is any team that can't hold a lead, it's the Warriors. And today it was all on display.
Jarret Jack started with some dubious long two-point jumpers. The offense got stagnant, forcing him into isos. Curry missed an open three. A nearly 20 point lead was sneaking near single digits. And the characteristic sloppiness that has dogged the Warriors all year reared its head: lazy inbounds passes, dribbling into traps. The lead was nine. The lead was 7.
For almost five minutes, the Warriors didn't score. They turned the ball over 10 times in the 4th quarter alone. They lost the ability to inbound. Quite frankly, I still don't quite know how they held on.
This game could be dissected for days. I'm glad that it won't be, because there'll be a game against the Spurs soon. A few other random thoughts:
Corey Brewer: How about that foul at the end of the third quarter. At the time, did you think those two points might be decisive? I sure didn't.
Ty Lawson: Every time I watch this guy, I develop loads of respect for him. What I love about him is the way he combines athleticism and smarts. No help defender behind you? He's taking you off the dribble. Running him off the 3-point line? Pump fake for the foul.
David Lee. Uh, what the heck? Are you kidding me? When we first saw the tweets before the game, it seemed impossible. Wasn't he supposed to be out until next year? He only played a minute, missed one shot he probably shouldn't have taken (a long two) and grabbed a board, but still ... what? Really? Huh? Honestly, it felt a little like a gimmick, try to get people fired up, but it was still nice to see him able to move around out there.
Draymond Green. Wow. The rookie with by far the best game of his NBA career. Dray appears to be finally catching up to the speed of the NBA game with his shot. All Draymond has to do to turn into a Bruce Bowen/Shane Battier type player is start hitting those jump shots at a reasonable percentage ... and it's happening. If he can keep this up he's going to have a good career.
Jarret Jack. There is probably no player who Warrior fans have more of a love-hate relationship with. He does have an annoying tendency to take some dumb jump shots and make some poor decisions, but this wasn't all his fault. Too often the team stood around when he had the ball, forcing him into isos. Jack is probably never going to be the pure pass-first PG the fans want, and perhaps Barnes and Klay will develop more handles, cutting into how much the team needs him, but he also made some good aggressive plays - going coast to coast for some key buckets when the offense was struggling. The love-hate is going to continue.
Klay Thompson. He's turning into a key defensive player. His shot was not on tonight, but he still found ways to contribute. This won't go down as one of his better games, but his growth so far over this season has been substantial.
Harrison Barnes. Speaking of substantial growth, Barnes is showing it. While he had a few dubious decisions and was only 1-6 from three, he also continues to get better at getting free for cuts to the basket, and had a great coast-to-coast run for a layup. Perhaps most importantly, he made two ice-in-the-veins free throws with just over a minute left, and make no mistake: if he misses even one of those, the Warriors probably lose the game. Huge pressure ... and he knocked them down like they were nothing.
Stephen Curry has been the Warriors best player all season, but he wasn't tonight. He was solid. Some fans are getting on Steph for his "quiet" first quarters, but the way he focuses on distributing is a real plus. He doesn't get Rondo-esque "look at me" assists, but he just keeps finding guys. Five first half assists were a good indication of how he was finding ways to contribute without his shot.
And then in the third quarter, we saw the Steph who is the most dangerous shooter in the league, the guy who can score 8 points in 70 seconds. Unfortunately, he couldn't keep it up, and the 4th quarter reminded us of what he has to work on: his awareness of defenders behind him bringing the ball up isn't great. He still struggles against aggressive traps. He turns his back to the basket against double teams too often. Denver exploited these weaknesses ruthlessly in their comeback.
But Warrior Wonder? Draymond's development earns him some consideration, but really, there is no question.
Fourteen points on 10 shots. Twenty-one rebounds. Four blocks. Bullet passing - three assists! At times, he seemed like the only player who was capable of matching the Nugget's hustle, going hard for lose balls. Sometimes he looked like he was struggling to get up and down the court, but when he got there it was like he couldn't feel pain. Throwing his body around, single handedly holding the Denver offensive rebounding juggernaut at bay. Just amazing. He totally changes the team.
And we won! I don't know - this 4th quarter was so harrowing that it's hard to feel like celebrating. It's more relief than joy. But we earned the right to go against San Antonio.
There wil be time to break down that series over the coming days, but I've been saying all season that I want a win in San Antonio while Duncan is still Duncan. And you know what?
If When that happens in the playoffs, it'll be even sweeter.