If seeking the source behind the awakening of the Warriors, one must start with James Harden staring them down in the glow of triumph.
They have not lost since being victimized by Harden’s incredible game-winning shot, in overtime, over premier defenders Draymond Green and Klay Thompson, on Jan. 3 at Oracle Arena.
After giving away a game they know they should have won, against a team they like to torture, the Warriors weren’t mad. They were seething. And they were resolute.
This would not happen again. And, yes, we know it’s “only” the regular season.
It would be 12 days before they could redeem themselves against a serious foe, and when that chance arrived Tuesday night in Denver, the Warriors pounced. They jumped on the Nuggets early and did not let up until they had a 142-111 victory that got the full attention of not only the upstart contenders, but also the entire NBA.
Hello, remember us?
“We’re way past making statements,” Stephen Curry told reporters at Pepsi Center. “We understand what type of team we are and what we’re capable of. There’s no doubt in our locker room that if we play the way we did tonight, we’re the best team in the league.”
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There was a modicum of debate about that before tipoff. The Nuggets owned the best record in the Western Conference, and the best home record in the NBA. They had beaten the Warriors in October. They have defeated enough quality opponents to qualify as a legitimate postseason threat.
So the Warriors, on alert, attacked from the jump, lighting up the scoreboard with 51 first-quarter points, a franchise record and the highest scoring first quarter in the NBA’s shot-clock era.
[RELATED: Warriors set franchise records in first quarter vs. Nuggets]
“I don’t remember a better first quarter,” coach Steve Kerr said. “That was a fireworks show.”
It got no better for the Nuggets over the next three quarters.
“It was beautiful basketball,” Kerr said. “I liked the way our guys moved the ball, got our shot fakes, playing with purpose, playing with a simple style of execution but aggressive at the same time. Finding that balance is always what we’re looking for and that was as good as it gets.”
The overall numbers were plenty impressive: 60.0 percent shooting from the field, including 53.8 percent from beyond the arc; a franchise-record 10 3-pointers in that scalding first quarter; 38 assists against 10 turnovers; limiting the Nuggets to 39.6 percent shooting in the second and third quarters, essentially burying them.
What was striking, though, was the efficiency of the Warriors. After so many games in which they allowed opponents to come back -- the Rockets, who overcame a 20-point deficit on the Harden dagger, come to mind -- the Warriors were utterly ruthless once ahead.
“They have won multiple world championships for a reason and they sent a message tonight,” Denver coach Michael Malone said. “They came in and kicked our ass. We will learn from it.”
That was the point. Sure, the Warriors had beaten the Kings, Knicks, Bulls and Mavericks, in order, since losing to Harden and the Rockets. The Nuggets were different -- more of a challenge -- and the Warriors responded with that in mind.
Denver got no closer than 12 after the first quarter. The Warriors led by 19 at the half, by 29 after three quarters and hiked it as high as 38 in the fourth.
“Obviously, [we] understand what they’ve been doing all season, top two teams in the west going at it,” Curry said. “It was a good night for us. It’s what we expected to do. It’s not surprising. We have obviously been talking about putting together game-after-game in a row at a high level. It’s been a good stretch and we want to keep it going.”
The Warriors endured four consecutive losses and a winless road trip in November. They were blown off their own floor four times, by four different teams, and were humiliated on national TV on Christmas Day by a Lakers team that they wanted to destroy.
Though those losses cannot be erased, they didn't generate the kind of anger that surfaced when Harden delivered a nasty backhand to the face of the defending champs.
The edge of the Warriors has looked considerably sharper ever since, and that was enough for them to leave the Nuggets in a heap in their own house.