There will be no game 7. The Warriors did what many, including me, thought they could not do before this series started. By holding on to beat the Nuggets 92-88 in game 6, they clinched the series and head to the 2nd round where they’ll face the San Antonio Spurs for the right to advance to the Western Conference Finals.
The Nuggets didn’t make it easy, however. In the first half, Denver struggled make shots but picked up their defensive intensity to force some turnovers while also pounding the Warriors on the offensive glass to take control of the game. Combined with an assertive Ty Lawson, the Nuggets jumped out to a quick 12-5 lead early, flashing signs that they would carry over their energy and effectiveness from their game 5 win.
The Warriors, meanwhile, didn’t look ready to deal with a Nugget team that was clearly ready to fight for their playoff lives. Golden State was sloppy in executing their offense and couldn’t find ways to free up their back court for the open looks that fuels their effectiveness. And even though they got a nice emotional boost from David Lee playing a short stint in the 2nd quarter, it didn’t translate into them being more accurate from the floor as they only hit 15 of their 39 first half shots and a two point deficit heading into halftime.
In the 3rd quarter that all changed however. After the game Stephen Curry said that head coach Mark Jackson kept telling him that it was his time and that he needed to find a way to raise his game. Curry must have taken those words to heart because when the 2nd half started he was a changed player.
In that 3rd period, Curry was nearly unstoppable scoring 14 points on 4-6 shooting with all of his makes coming from behind the arc. Beyond his shot making, Curry also dished out 3 assists and roasted the Denver defense when they tried to overcommit to him in the the open court.
Joining Curry as a difference maker in the period was Andrew Bogut, who scored 6 of his 14 points and grabbed 7 of his game high 21 rebounds in those 12 minutes. Bogut was masterful on defense, contesting shots at the rim and closing out possessions with his strong work on the glass. Further, when Curry drew attention on the perimeter, it was Bogut who slipped open around the rim and was able to finish inside.
With Curry rolling as both a scorer and distributor, the Warriors broke the game open, turning that 2 point halftime deficit into an 11 point lead heading into the final period.
However, the Nuggets weren’t simply going to go quietly with their season on the line. In the 4th quarter they rallied to pull the game within striking distance, even after falling behind by as many as 18 points. Led by a masterful Andre Iguodala (24 points, 9 rebounds, 6 assists for the game), the Nuggets scratched and clawed their way back into the game by turning up the defensive pressure and then feasting on the Warriors mistakes. In the 4th quarter alone, the Warriors turned the ball over 10 times — many of them on careless plays where they simply didn’t value possession of the ball.
As the game got close and closer, you could sense the Warriors tightening up and the mistakes continued to hurt them. But a few calls in their favor — including a dicey blocking call on JaVale McGee — and some big free throws from Harrison Barnes and Jarrett Jack were enough to allow them to hold on down the stretch. It certainly wasn’t their best effort to close a game, but it was enough. Moving forward, they’ll have to clean things up if they’re to hang with the Spurs but that’s a topic for another day.
Meanwhile the Nuggets are going to have a long summer to think about all the things that went wrong in this series. From the lack of adjustments in the first few games to some bad mistakes on individual possessions in the clincher, there’s a lot for them to contemplate. The injury to Danilo Gallinari certainly didn’t help, but they had many good chances in this series and couldn’t find a way to get it done. And now, for the 9th time in 10 seasons, their playoffs end in the first round.