Every so often a team delivers a performance so powerful it makes you rethink everything you thought you knew.
Tuesday morning, game one seemed like a game that the Warriors could have gotten lucky and stolen. Wednesday morning, it look likes a game that the better team lost with a couple of dumb end-of-half plays.
Tuesday morning, the Warriors were a team without a chance, having just lost their third-best player for the playoffs. Wednesday morning, Harrison Barnes is making a lot of people say "David who?"
Tuesday morning, the Warriors were a scrappy underdog who nobody expected to win against a team with the biggest home court advantage in the league. Wednesday morning, they might be the best team in the series, and they don't have to win again in Denver to advance.
Tuesday morning, Denver had won 24 home games in a row. They hadn't lost at home since January 18th. Wednesday morning, they haven't lost at home since ... Tuesday night.
Make no mistake. This was the best Warriors performance since 2007. We didn't steal a game in Denver - we earned it. We played through some dubious calls (not as bad as some Warriors fans thought, but still some questionable ones). We played through the return of Kenneth Faried and the loss of David Lee.
We showed why we're a team that can play with anyone, any time.
The first half of this game looked like it was heading for a typical Warrior close loss. Curry was struggling to find his shot, but doing his best to put an end to the "real point guard" talk by breaking the double team with assist after assist. The pace was fast, fast, fast. As one commenter put it, "First one to play defense, wins."
It felt like the sort of game where the thin air and Denver's depth would cause us to hit the wall in the second half. A few bizzaro plays by Jarret Jack flailing like a spastic monkey trying to draw contact.
In the second quarter, Stephen Curry showed why he's the best shooter of all time, as he found the basket again and again, pushing the Warriors to an 8-point lead at the half - but it was still the sort of lead that felt like it could vanish in the thin Denver air in a millisecond. There's no way we could keep shooting 61%, right?
And then the third quarter, all of a sudden, it was Falcon time. Harrison Barnes took over. This is the player we want him to be, that his athleticism promises that he could be. He put the team on his back with drives, creating his own shot with dunks and jumpers. And that reverse dunk (while getting hit in the head!) was a thing of beauty.
Denver deserves a lot of credit here. A great game requires two great teams, and Denver played with a ton of heart. There wasn't a single Warrior fan who was comfortable with a double-digit lead with six minutes left. Ty Lawson did a great job of exploiting the Warrior lack of help defenders, picking spots to blow by his man whenever Bogut and Ezeli were both out of the game. Denver refused to quit, and pushed the Warriors to a higher level, forcing them to hit big shots to preserve the lead.
This was a true team win by the Warriors. Ezeli only played 16 minutes, but he played big. He made smart rolls to the basket for dunks (and he actually caught the ball!) in addition to his normally solid defense. Jack shook off a mediocre start to provide crucial baskets down the stretch, and even remembered to look to pass. Bogut showed some nice offensive moves, and did his usual great job stopping the easy inside stuff despite battling foul trouble all night (we really are a different team with him playing. Opponents are afraid to take the ball inside). Draymond hit a three-pointer and made another key play to get to the line. He even put in some yeomen's work defending the five (maybe not Mark Jackson's best idea, but Dray was game).
And here's the thing: over two games, the Warriors have been the better team. The series is tied, sure, and Denver has a proven ability to win on our home court, but it is Denver, not the Warriors, who is lucky that the series is tied.
This has to go down as one of the most unexpected, most satisfying Warrior games I can remember. Sure, beating Dallas was satisfying, but we all knew we matched up well against them. I don't think anybody expected this.
And it was also a reminder that there must be something terrifying about playing the Warriors. We saw it when Denver started making a second half run. A couple of turnovers, a couple of plays, and they had the lead down to single digits. And then Curry hits a three. And then he finds Klay for another three. Just like that, Denver's momentum is gone.
Warrior wonder? Egads. I can only give this out once? It's really between two players.
Steph Curry was his usual best player on the floor. 30 points on 23 shots, 13 assists, three steals, and only one turnover. On the other hand, Harrison Barnes had a real breakout game, with a stretch of play in the second half that justified the hype he got as a high school player, that he hadn't yet shown he can live up to. It's a tough call, but I'm going with:
Not to slight Barnes at all, but the simple truth is that Curry is playing at a level that few players have ever achieved. After going one for his first six, he went 12-17. He made shots and consistently found his teammates for open looks. Barnes was great, and gave us a performance that would win Warrior Wonder in most games. But not tonight.