In a boon to insecure men everywhere, the Golden State Warriors proved it’s not the size of the team, it’s the motion of the offense. Despite the presence of reigning MVP Nikola Jokic and former Warriors NBA Finalist DeMarcus Cousins, and the Denver Nuggets’ 37-28 advantage in rebounding, the Warriors’ trio of hot-shooting guards - Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, and Jordan Poole - went for 73 points, and the Warriors held off the Nuggets in Denver, 113-102.
After rookie Bones Hyland led a 15-0 Nuggets’ run that gave Denver the lead in the second quarter, and Jokic led a 8-0 run to close the first half, the Nuggets stretched the lead to 14 following an Austin Rivers layup. Then Steph Curry, perhaps offended by his brother-in-law’s impertinence in scoring on his friend Andrew Wiggins, went nuts. He scored 18 points in the final six-and-a-half minutes of the third quarter, which included three three-pointers and a three-point play. Oh, and the Curry Flurry also put him past 20,000 career points - he’s now 49th all-time, just behind Warriors legend Antawn Jamison.
The Warriors’ other points in that run came from rookie Jonathan Kuminga, who had nine points in the third. He may have been fired up by Hyland dropping him on a vicious move earlier.
And that itself may have been revenge for an absolutely nasty dunk Kuminga made over Cousins earlier.
The game continued to go back and forth in the fourth, with the Warriors jumping out to an eight-point lead, before Monte Morris and Jokic collaborated on a 10-0 run where each kept feeding the other for buckets. Jokic showed off an incredible hook shot to tie things up.
Kevon Looney did an admirable job battling the Joker all night, but that lefty hook is simply unblockable. In fact, Jokic was mostly unstoppable inside, going 9-13 on his two-pointers, but his 0-8 mark from three-point range might be the biggest reason the Warriors survived this game.
That’s when Coach Steve Kerr pulled his rookies - Moses Moody was solid despite early foul trouble - for Thompson and Poole. Jordan Poole hadn’t been closing games since Thompson returned but he was amazing down the stretch in this one, his fifth straight 20+ point effort. After the Nuggets pulled ahead, 100-98, Curry hit three straight layups, one of them sparked by a clutch Klay steal. But Poole was the closer, knocking down two of the most open threes you’re ever going to see in crunch time.
Poole finished with 21 points, seven assists, and five rebounds, and a whopping +29 plus/minus in his 34 minutes. He also blew up a late Denver possession by knocking a Jokic pass away with the Dubs clinging to a two-point lead. It doesn’t look like they’re going to be able to keep Poole on the bench at the end of games much longer. He also had just two turnovers in all that time, part of the Warriors’ game-long commitment to ball control - they only had seven turnovers as a team! The points-off-turnovers disparity was huge - 26 for the Warriors, only ten for Denver.
It was a rough shooting game for Andrew Wiggins, who went 1-7 from three-point range and 0-3 from the free throw line, continuing a slump that seems to have started the moment he was named an All-Star starter. He seems to be literally slumping on the court, with teammates exhorting him to run more off turnovers. Of course, he might simply be tired - but Kenny Smith specifically called him out in Kenny’s Pictures at halftime, for not running back on defense in transition. Wiggins did have five assists and three steals, so it was overall a decent game, but the Warriors are going to need Canuck Anderson to make his freebies even if he’s not making jumpers. Also, confidential to Wiggins: If Austin Rivers is guarding you, don’t take a pull-up jumper - go to the hoop! If history has shown us nothing, it’s that you can dunk on Austin Rivers.
Curry started off the game hot, scoring ten points in the first quarter and quickly preserving his now-186-game streak of games with a made three-pointer - he was 5/12 overall from deep, and he’s up to 40% three-point shooting in March. The Nuggets stayed close thanks to Morris and Jokic, who stole a bucket from the Warriors out of a timeout by firing a long outlet pass to Aaron Gordon for a dunk before the Dubs were even out on the floor, much to Kerr’s dismay.
In the second, some lackluster defense and Bones Hyland play making let the Nuggets take a 12-point lead with Jokic sitting. Overall, Denver’s bench had 27 first-half points. The run forced two Kerr timeouts. He broke out the emergency Steph Curry after the first, then yanked everyone on the court like a disappointed dad. The chastised team responded, with great ball movement - three Kevon Looney assists in 90 seconds! - and some hot shooting from a fired-up Klay Thompson.
Overall Thompson’s jumper isn’t back yet - he was 7/20 from the field - but his defense was great down the stretch, and he also blocked two shots.
Curry was very quiet in the second quarter, in part due to frustration. He missed a crazy long three after his teammates ignored his pointing and moved sluggishly, a classic Draymond move, then gave up a steal to Rivers, seemingly out of rage. Speaking of Draymond, he spent the game aggressively coaching from the sidelines while dressed like a Santa Cruz lifeguard.
He was moving around wonderfully while confronting teammates and referees, so fans should be optimistic about his return on Monday.
While Nemanja Bjelica had a rough second quarter, it was overall an impressive game for the big man, despite going scoreless. Three assists, two steals, and a block went a long way to countering Denver’s size advantage inside. Damion Lee only played six minutes, but his energy was crucial, and he ended up +8.
Steph didn’t just score 34 points, he also made the day of a young Curry fan who missed him twice - the original, cancelled December matchup and the makeup game Curry skipped Monday night. It’s now the Warriors’ PR department’s job to find a crying Curry fan in every potential playoff city to inspire him for road games. Little P.J. O’Brien can only do so much!
The Curry family went 2-0 against the Rivers family Thursday night, with Seth defeating Doc’s 76ers in a blowout in the early TNT game. In the brother-in-law battle, Austin outscored Damion Lee 2-0, but he was -7 overall. Next up, the Warriors have the Antetokounmpo brothers Saturday night, with Thanasis and some guy named Giannis fighting for playoff seeding and family honor.