For about three quarters, the Golden State Warriors were in complete control of their meeting with the Denver Nuggets tonight.
The obnoxious bros in front of me, who were yapping about being Real Fans and posturing like they were going to fight the bespectacled man in front of them, left with a few seconds left in the third. The crowd switched into ambient noise mode as they just waited out what seemed like another blowout of a Denver team that seemed to already give up all hope of winning.
The good times
As an example, with just under four minutes left in the second quarter, Andre Iguodala brought the ball up the court calmly while surveying whatever it was the Nuggets were attempting to do on defense.
Eventually noticing a gaping hole in the middle of the court after a bit of chaos during the possession, Iguodala shifted into an attacking mode that he so often seems reluctant to utilize and went right through the middle of a Nuggets' defense that already seemed resigned to its fate for the night.
Emphatic dunk over a former employer aside, it was an easy two points for the Warriors in a first half full of lacking help, lackluster rotations, and a generally listless performance from the Nuggets' defense. Anyone that wanted to eat ate in that half for the Warriors and it looked like most would leave satisfied in a win that would possibly even end up more comfortable than the final score suggested for the most part.
And the crazy thing about how this started was that this was supposed to be a hard luck game as the Warriors stared the game without five players.
Iguodala was starting for the newly-injured Brandon Rush who was starting for the still-injured Harrison Barnes who was joined by Leandro Barbosa, Festus Ezeli, and James Michael McAdoo on the Warriors ever-growing injured list. Missing four rotation players, by most standards, would be considered adversity, a perfectly justifiable reason to drop an early-January game. For the Warriors it seemed to be creating an early framing narrative that would make a rather routine blowout of a visiting team they were expected to beat even more impressive.
Then that all fell apart.
When it all went wrong
While it seemed that this one would be about the return of Stephen Curry, who missed the previous two games on the road due to a calf injury, it ended up being mostly about the team's lacking depth due to injury. Curry left the game with a calf contusion and didn't even play in the second half. And at first the team that looked lost without Curry earlier this week now almost seemed comfortable bringing home the win without him.
Green leads Warriors to win against Nuggets
Draymond Green scored or assisted on every basket in overtime, refusing to let Golden State lose in front of the Oracle faithful.
Yet with the Warriors' starters out to begin the fourth quarter, the Nuggets ended up cutting the lead to just eight with 9:13 left in regulation. So back in came Iguodala, Andrew Bogut, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson to save the day and it seemed that the Nuggets' run would end shortly thereafter. But part of what makes basketball great is that it's a game of heart and confidence and for about a quarter's worth of time, the Nuggets found enough to somewhat stunningly take control of this game.
The Nuggets suddenly looked like the aggressor, confidently hitting a couple of big threes, watching the Warriors' shots suddenly fall short and playing as loose as a team that came into the game expecting to win. After Will Barton scored on a drive with less than one second left, the game was headed to overtime.
Others will re-hash what specifically happened after that point, but one angle for this game is that the bench blew it again. And just as the Nuggets seemed to gain confidence on top of confidence during the fourth quarter, you have to wonder whether each successive blown lead is taking its toll on the bench at this point. And the fact that they'll be playing short-handed for even longer now means that some combination of fatigue and confidence is going to come into play.
And Draymond Green can't be expected to keep dropping triple-doubles every night can he?
Draymond Green's triple-double
Green finished with a monster stat line of 29 points, 17 rebounds and 14 assists. And he did a ton of damage right at the outset.
The Warriors had a 63-47 lead by halftime, fueled in large part by Green's huge scoring outburst. Green had 18 points in the first quarter as the Nuggets opened the game searching for answers. And, as usual, it was a well-rounded performance by Green, who was more than halfway to a triple-double by halftime with six rebounds and five assists as well. He matched a season-high in the first half alone by hitting five of his six 3-point attempts. For most players, that's a full night's work; for Green, it's just part of an increasingly upward trend that can lead to nowhere but the 2016 NBA All-Star Game.
So what's remarkable about this game is that the Warriors won at all - yes it fits the narrative of the lead evaporating against an inferior opponent once the bench comes in, but that's what happens when you're suddenly playing without the majority of your rotation. The fact that they didn't lose speaks volumes about the resolve of this team and just how good their non-Curry stars are. Beyond the disappointment of going from blowout to nail-biter, we shouldn't actually take that much from this game -- if they had a healthy roster, they probably have enough to put the game so far out of reach that there is no Nuggets comeback.
Nevertheless, it's moments like these that make it hard to build up faith in the bench and as a team with a target on its back that is a growing concern, if only a first world one.