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In loss to Nuggets, Warriors show fight and fun . . . and futility

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Golden State offered viewers a little bit of everything on Thursday night.

Denver Nuggets v Golden State Warriors Photo by Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images

If you’re all about the tank, than Thursday’s game between the Golden State Warriors and Denver Nuggets could not have followed a more perfect script. It was grand theater, with dramatic highs and emotional lows.

It was gripping; perhaps the arms of your chair still have your fingernail marks in them. There were highlights. There were huge individual performances, and spots here and there to make you confident about the team’s future.

And they lost. A loss that further secured their spot at the bottom of the standings. A loss that increased their odds of earning a top lottery pick. A loss that, in many ways, is a win.

A loss that, it’s worth noting, gives the team more consecutive defeats (10) than their entire loss total in the 2015-16 season.

That depressing anecdote notwithstanding, what more could you ask for? Jordan Poole and Eric Paschall encouraged you. Willie Cauley-Stein made you reconsider the bad things you said about him. The draft positioning was strengthened. And to paraphrase Maximus, were you not entertained?

Until Steph Curry returns, this is the most you can possibly ask for. And the Warriors, before a Chase Center crowd ready to celebrate their horrible team on a rocking Thursday night, delivered.

The Nuggets, for their part, were brilliant in their supporting actor role. Sans Jamal Murray, Gary Harris, and Paul Millsap, and on the second night of a back-to-back, they were just sloppy enough to gift the Warriors an enormous lead. Yet powered by All-Star Nikola Jokic (23 points, 12 rebounds, 8 assists, and 2 blocks), and tantalizing redshirt rookie Michael Porter Jr. (18 points, 10 rebounds, 5 assists, and 2 steals), they had enough horespower to overcome a 19-point third quarter deficit.

It was entertaining. My goodness was it entertaining, half because the teams were making highlight play after highlight play, and half because they looked like they were playing in slippers on an ice rink in between said highlights.

Slowly but surely, the Nuggets chipped away at the lead, and a Jokic bucket in the paint with 10.8 seconds remaining tied the game, forcing overtime. It was only fitting. We craved some free basketball after that display, and, more importantly, we deserved it.

Denver took control of the extra period, and, after such an exciting end to regulation, it looked like we’d be stripped of fifth quarter drama. An Omari Spellman missed three, and subsequent Jokic rebound gave the Nuggets the ball with under 50 seconds remaining, and a seven-point lead.

A D’Angelo Russell steal, leading to a breakaway Alec Burks dunk made you think it was too little, too late, especially when the Nuggets successfully inbounded the ball. Porter calmly made two free throws, returning the Nuggets lead to seven with 31.2 remaining.

But Burks completed a three-point play to cut the lead to four, and after a pair of Malik Beasley free throws pushed the lead back to six, a nicely designed play out of the timeout earned Damion Lee a triple that cut the lead down to three.

Mason Plumlee kindly missed a pair of free throws, and Jokic fouled Draymond Green in pursuit of the rebound. Not typically a strong free throw shooter, Green made both, and suddenly it was a one-point game.

But alas. Beasley made another pair of free throws, and the Warriors, going the length of the court, got Lee a decent look at a game-tying three, but he prioritized the tank over an additional five minutes of basketball.

And really, who can blame him?

Lee, in his first game with a guaranteed NBA contract, finished with 21 points, 5 rebounds, and 6 assists. Green was Green, with 6 points, 8 rebounds, 8 assists, 1 steal, and 2 blocks. Russell struggled shooting (6-18), but dazzled nonetheless. Poole had a few highlight passes, and shot decently from deep for the third straight game, going 2-5. Burks led the Dubs with 25 points.

For a bad team on a Thursday in the middle of January, you couldn’t ask for too much more.