The Warriors shot the lights out in Denver to steal Game 2 from the Nuggets, and home court advantage in the best of seven first round series right along with it.
In Game 3 at Oracle Arena on Friday, Golden State didn’t need an otherworldly performance to seal the victory; they only needed the Nuggets to implode.
Denver gave back all of a 13-point third quarter lead, and squandered the chances the Warriors gave them late. As a result, Golden State came away with the 110-108 victory to take a two games to one lead in the series.
This wasn’t one of the best played games of the playoffs, but it certainly was one of the more exciting. Credit the atmosphere in Oakland, and credit the willingness of both teams to play an uptempo style that’s almost oblivious to shifts in momentum and what the actual score and situation was at any given point throughout the night.
Defense wasn’t exactly stressed by either team, which led to plenty of easy looks at the rim, as well as from beyond the three-point arc.
Ty Lawson pushed the tempo for the Nuggets, and led his team with 35 points and 10 assists — just a monster effort in keeping Denver in the driver’s seat for most of this game. Corey Brewer, Andre Iguodala, and Kenneth Faried were all effective too, while Andre Miller struggled to get going, and finished just 2-13 from the field with four assists against three turnovers in 27 minutes off the bench.
Miller’s ‘old man game’ can be plenty effective in certain situations, and it was the main reason that the Nuggets escaped with the Game 1 victory in this series. But it had no place on this night, in what was an up-and-down affair that rewarded tempo and athleticism above all else.
The fourth quarter was pure mayhem, and both teams made their fair share of mistakes down the stretch that could have cost them the game.
A free throw from Jarrett Jack put the Warriors up four with 22 seconds to play. It was a two-possession lead that should have been enough given the time remaining on the clock. But in a game with hardly any strong defensive play, it shouldn’t have been a surprise that Denver was able to get a wide open look at a corner three from Wilson Chandler that cut the lead to one with 16 seconds remaining.
Here’s where it got crazy: After a timeout, the Warriors were inbounding the ball at center court with nine seconds remaining while clinging to that one-point lead. Jack was the passer, but as no one could free themselves to receive the pass, he waited too long to call the timeout, so the referee blew the whistle on the rare five second call, giving possession back to the Nuggets.
On the ensuing possession, Lawson, while guarded closely by Festus Ezeli, dribbled the ball out of bounds, turning it back over to the Warriors with just five seconds remaining. Denver fouled to send Harrison Barnes to the free throw line, where he made one of two to put the Warriors back up two with three seconds left.
Iguodala launched a prayer from beyond half court as time expired that hit the front of the rim, but ultimately wasn’t answered.
Stephen Curry led the Warriors with 29 points and 11 assists, and Jack finished with 23 points, but with as many assists (7) as turnovers.
The Nuggets can’t afford to get into another track meet with the Warriors in Game 4, especially not at Oracle Arena where Golden State’s home court advantage in the playoffs seems to be every bit as formidable as the one that Denver enjoyed during the regular season.
To escape with the series tied at two games apiece, the Nuggets are going to have to be much smarter with their possessions, and play at least some measure of defense to limit the Warriors offensively. Either way, Game 4 of this series is a must-watch.