Nothing is more dangerous than the Golden State Warriors taking things personally. The moment that they decide to be at their best is akin to a death sentence for the opposing team.
On Tuesday night, the Warriors played the roles of judge, jury, and executioner. The perceived crime: the recent surge of success by the Denver Nuggets, who have taken it upon themselves to seize first place in the Western Conference.
In all seriousness, the Warriors couldn’t care any less about finishing as the first seed. As was proven last season — where they pretty much coasted their way into the playoffs, resulting in a second seed finish — they will find the right time and the right place to snap their fingers and annihilate whoever is in front of them; the first-seeded Rockets can attest to that.
Judgment day for the Nuggets came as soon as the first quarter, where the Warriors rained fire and brimstone upon their hapless opponents. By scoring 51 points, the Warriors set a new franchise record for the most points scored in a single quarter, and it is also the NBA record for the most points scored in a first quarter. They did not waste a single second dilly-dallying, nor did they succumb to the trap of Denver’s high altitude environment, one that has made victims out of a considerable amount of visiting teams this season — the Nuggets’ 18-3 home record, a league best, is a testament to that.
Furthermore, the Warriors were able to knock down 10 threes in the first quarter, also a franchise record. It is a given that the Warriors have their best games when they reach the double-digit mark in made threes; to reach it in the first quarter was a portent of the misery the Warriors were able to inflict on the Nuggets.
Let’s dive into the offensive highlights of the Warriors’ historic first quarter.
The Warriors are their utmost peak when they are engaged on both ends of the floor. Offense may be their calling card, but defense is their pillar — it provides a strong foundation upon which they build the offensive momentum that has run so many of their opponents out of the building.
It is apropos, therefore, that the first points produced by the Warriors are a result of excellent defense translating into instant offense.
The Nuggets look to score their first points of the game by going to Jamal Murray, who has Kevin Durant defending him. Murray has inside position against Durant, and a pass to Murray would allow him to easily score. But Durant uses his length to deflect the incoming pass, and the Warriors force a turnover.
On the other end, the Nuggets all too easily allow Durant to walk up to the free throw line, where he goes up for his patented mid-range jumper — a shot that is impossible to stop due to Durant being seven-foot tall and having freakishly long arms.
Meanwhile, Klay Thompson gets off to a good start by burying this step-back three after after a fake puts his defender up in the air. While Thompson seemed to be regressing again — reverting back to a relatively mediocre shooting performance against the Dallas Mavericks — this three was a herald of his excellent performance that was to come against the Nuggets.
Already the deadliest scorer alive, adding several dimensions to his game has made Durant into a much better all-around player. He has made playmaking a point of emphasis throughout the season, as evidenced by his average of 6.1 assists per game, a career-high so far. He uses his height to see above everyone else on the floor; as such, he sees Stephen Curry on the weak side wing and whips the ball to him. A simple fake allows Curry to go up for the uncontested three.
After the Warriors get an offensive rebound off of a missed free throw, they see Thompson matched up against the much slower Nikola Jokić. Thompson gets Jokić up in the air with a pump fake, which gives him all the space he needs to drive inside for the slam dunk — a rare sight for the Splash Brother who prefers to score mostly from the perimeter.
Durant dishes out another assist from the low post, where he often gets favorable matchups against smaller defenders. The Warriors do an excellent job of using off-ball screening to get Durant mismatches on the low post, where he receives the ball and has several options open to him.
At the same time, Thompson nudges his defender toward Kevon Looney’s screen, breaks free, and receives the pass from Durant for an open three. This action is very difficult for defenses to stop, since they often have to pick their poison — a Durant jumper down low, or a Thompson three from the perimeter.
The Warriors specialize in immediately pushing the pace after giving up a basket. After Jokić scores, the Warriors immediately take advantage of a lumbering Nuggets defense by passing the ball just slightly ahead of Durant. The Nuggets scramble to stop Durant’s parade toward the rim — but Thompson has stationed himself in the left corner, ready to receive Durant’s kick out pass, and the sequence ends with the Nuggets wondering where they went wrong.
Durant’s interaction with Curry is already deadly with one of them handling the ball, but it is equally deadly during off-ball screening actions and interchanges. With Draymond Green handling the ball, Durant and Curry come together, forcing the defenders to be cognizant as to which course of action to take. Curry’s simple curl and dive inside allows Durant to pop out, and while the defender does his best to stick to Durant, that slight moment of hesitation allows Durant to bury the three.
Curry’s first three of the game takes advantage of his knack for catching defenders off-guard with his off-ball stop-and-go movement. Watch Murray in this sequence, who is guarding Curry. Looney encounters trouble inside, with Murray thinking that the Warriors’ offense has completely bogged down. But he loses track of Curry, who suddenly zips toward the corner to provide pressure release for Looney. With Murray scrambling to keep up, Curry knocks down the wide-open corner shot.
Durant’s ability to score on his own is often taken for granted, due to how he makes it look so easy. His uncanny ability to dribble like a guard is a huge aspect of his scoring prowess. In this sequence, a quick crossover allows him to blow past his defender, allowing him to put in a tough floater over Jokić.
Due to Steve Kerr’s philosophy of off-ball movement and screening, the Warriors rarely run the pick-and-roll. But when they do, it often involves Curry, who is absolutely deadly both as a scorer and as a distributor in the pick-and-roll. After several off-ball screens, Looney goes up to screen for Curry, who drives inside and draws several defenders onto him. This leaves Looney wide-open to roll toward the rim, and Curry’s exceptional bounce pass makes it way to Looney for an easy dunk.
Of course, an offensive explosion from the Warriors wouldn’t be complete without a deep pull-up three from Curry. In response to a corner three from the Nuggets, Curry buries one from way beyond the arc and kills the excitement of the home crowd.
As if to respond to his fellow superstar’s three-point shot, Durant also goes up for a three after the Warriors get the offensive board. When both him and Curry are on their absolute A-games offensively, the fact that the other team is also playing well on that end is rendered moot.
Curry’s highlights mostly consist of his otherworldly feats on offense, but in this possession, it’s his defense that takes center stage. He does an excellent job of staying in front of his man, funneling him against the baseline and forcing an errant pass that he easily intercepts. This leads into a fastbreak, where Curry locates Andre Iguodala running ahead of everyone else.
With the departure of JaVale McGee and the scarce amount of playing time being given to Jordan Bell, the Warriors find it difficult to run several of their plays that take advantage of the presence of a vertical spacer. But in this sequence, that role is filled in by none other than the high-flying Alfonzo McKinney.
Green screens for Durant off the ball, which has the effect of drawing two defenders onto Durant. Upon receiving the ball, Durant immediately threads the pass on the short roll to Green, who has a two-on-one situation with McKinney. Green throws a lob and McKinney goes up for the athletic finish.
Durant continues his perfect scoring quarter with another example of using his length to negate excellent defense. Receiving the ball in the corner, Durant is funneled along the baseline and toward the tall and lengthy Mason Plumlee. Plumlee uses his long arms to contest Durant’s shot — which goes in anyway, since Durant himself is long and simply uses that to counter Plumlee’s contest. It’s a shot that is, quite simply, unstoppable.
The Warriors tie their franchise record of 9 threes in a single quarter through another Curry three. Once again, Durant is running things from his lofty perch on the low post, with the option of calling his own number, or passing out to an open man on the perimeter.
The Nuggets send a triple team his way, however, so he is forced to pass out to Green up top. Meanwhile, Curry sneakily relocates from the corner to the wing, with the defender falling for his fake shortly after receiving the ball.
Not long after, the Warriors break the franchise record, courtesy of a deep, Curry-esque pull-up three from Durant.
With the quarter winding down, Durant gets ahead of his defender and receives the long inbound. He turns on the jets, crosses over Plumlee, and leaves behind a befuddled Nuggets defense for the emphatic slam dunk, which comprised their 51st point of the first quarter.
Again, 51 points in the first quarter alone.
Most teams would consider scoring 38 points in a single quarter an incredible feat. The Nuggets were able to accomplish that against the Warriors — and on some nights, that would be enough to contribute to a victory against the defending champions.
However, the Warriors — who have plausibly denied that they take regular season games personally — performed like they did take this game personally. They have certainly heard whispers of their demise being scattered around the Association; they have lost to contenders who have been labeled as the usurpers who will finally dethrone them from their status as the gods of basketball; and they have shown signs of falling victim to internal strife and drama.
They heard those whispers, and they responded with a bang: a 51-point first quarter, shooting 19-of-25 from the field, 10-of-15 from three, and 15 assists to go with only 1 turnover.
The Nuggets tried to be one of those usurpers on Tuesday night, eager to prove that they are deserving of the top spot in the Western Conference. But the Warriors didn’t waste any time in reminding them and the rest of the league that they can destroy anyone who stands in their way, through a Thanosian snap of the fingers.
They did so without their fifth Infinity Stone. But that chapter is yet to come. And it will be a chapter that the rest of the league will have to brace themselves against.
Forty-four down, 38 more to go.
Stay Golden, Dub Nation.