Warriors' blowout over Nuggets shows their greatness when fully focused

Warriors' blowout over Nuggets shows their greatness when fully focused

OAKLAND – It was only one game, at home, against their closest competition in the Western Conference. And before claiming victory, the Warriors had to overcome a few moments when they put the worst of themselves on full display.

So don’t allow yourself to be persuaded into believing all is well with the defending champions.

What the Warriors did Friday night at Oracle Arena, burying the Nuggets under an avalanche of defense and Klay Thompson’s white-hot shooting, was provide a glimpse of how great they can be when properly motivated and inspired.

“It was a good step in the right direction,” Stephen Curry said after a 122-105 victory gave the Warriors a two-game lead over second-place Denver in the Western Conference.

“There is still a lot of things that we can correct,” Draymond Green said.

The corrective action is mostly directed toward the offense, which was sloppy enough to give Denver 29 points off 17 turnovers. That allowed the Nuggets, who trailed throughout the second half, to dream.

That Denver wiped out an early 19-point deficit, briefly going ahead in the second quarter, and in the third quarter chopped an 18-point deficit to eight, was enough to carry a measure of suspense into the fourth quarter.

Aside from that, the Warriors were a team with a cause. They had their most impressive first eight minutes, going up 27-8, since Jan. 28, when they built a 21-point lead late in the first quarter the Pacers in Indianapolis.

The Warriors on that night were eager to punctuate a 12-day road and return home.

On this night, they were determined to rinse the stink of a humiliating 128-95 loss to the Celtics on Tuesday.

“We were all embarrassed the other night,” coach Steve Kerr said. “Couple good days of practice and our guys were just locked in and focused from the start. You could feel the energy and the intensity and (we) got off to a great start.

“We didn’t sustain it. But we, for the most part, played a good game. We had some lulls, but that is to be expected. We’re not going to flip it all around in one night, but this was a great start to getting back on track and playing like ourselves.”

Thompson, after missing the last two games with knee soreness, scored 27 points in the first half and finished with a game-high 39. Kevin Durant tossed in 26 points. They combined to shot 23-of-37 from the field and 11-of-13 from beyond the arc.

But it was the defense that set the tone. The Warriors limited Denver to 22.2-percent shooting in the first quarter and closed the half with a 14-0 run during which the Nuggets were 0-of-5 from the field with two turnovers.

“We understand that an open floor with whoever has the ball pushing in transition that we’re tough to stop,” Curry said. “And overall, we executed better in the half court for a better stretch of the game. But when we get stops we’re pretty lethal.”

When the Warriors are at their best, it’s because they’re defending ravenously as a unit. They’re swarming and chopping and blocking and swiping. They had 10 steals, 10 blocks and countless disruptions to Denver’s offense, rarely letting any of the Nuggets get comfortable.

To be determined is whether the Warriors can maintain this level of defensive engagement for sizable portions of the final 17 regular-season games. They made it clear that they’d like to seize the No. 1 overall seed for the postseason – certainly in the West – and realize it starts with defense.

“Our focus level right now is more important than our energy level,” Green said. “Obviously, the energy was great. But we’re not going to play with that energy every night. I’m not going to sit here and lie and act like we are.

“But we can play with that focus every night.”

[RELATED: Watch Kevin Durant sign shoes for Warriors fan before big game vs. Nuggets]

If indeed they do, the Warriors will find a way to at least approach the 60-win mark. That almost certainly would assure the best record in the West.

For one night, the Warriors were the team many expect them to be most nights. They were inspired. They had a wound to heal.

They’ll need different motivation next time and beyond.

Michael Malone used Clippers' Game 2 win over Warriors to inspire Nuggets

Michael Malone used Clippers' Game 2 win over Warriors to inspire Nuggets

When you're getting your clock cleaned, sometimes you need something to inspire you to keep trying.

On Tuesday night, while his Nuggets were losing big in Game 2 to the Spurs, head coach Michael Malone used the Warriors' Game 2 loss to the Clippers to motivate his team.

"There was a timeout midway through the third quarter, I thought it was a pivotal point in the game," Malone told the media in Denver after the game. "We're down by 16 points and I could see it on some of the guys faces, you know, which way is this game going to go? And I reminded them we have 18 minutes to go. I reminded them what the Clippers did last night and how much basketball was left. It's only going to happen if we believe, we commit and we fight and we attack. And the guys took it to heart and we closed the game out I think on a 57-32 run from that point on."

A night earlier, the Warriors blew a 31-point lead at home against the Clippers, the largest blown lead in NBA playoff history.

As Malone stated, his speech worked. The Nuggets rallied for a 114-105 win to tie the series 1-1.

The Warriors and Nuggets, the top two seeds in the Western Conference, aren't breezing through the first round of the playoffs as expected.

[RELATED: KD, Kerr at odds over star's shooting]

Based on what happened on Monday night, the Warriors may be the ones in need of an inspirational speech.

Is Malone available?

Tim Hardaway, Kevin Durant on same page about Warriors’ game strategy

Tim Hardaway, Kevin Durant on same page about Warriors’ game strategy

Programming note: Watch the pregame edition of Warriors Outsiders on Thursday night at 6, streaming live on the MyTeams app.

Kevin Durant took just eight shots in the Warriors' Game 2 loss to the Clippers. He did attempt 12 free throws, however, and ended up scoring 21 points. 

"I'm not gonna go out there and just go shoot 20 or 30 shots," he explained to reporters after practice Wednesday. "I don't play like that. Every time I touch it, I'm not gonna just break the play. ... I'm gonna play basketball. We won Game 1 that way. We were up [31] in Game 2."

Durant's and-one dunk with 7:31 left in the third quarter gave the Warriors a 94-63 lead. With Curry on the bench in foul trouble, Golden State did look to run the offense through the reigning two-time NBA Finals MVP.

Things didn't work out as planned on this possession:

But a couple minutes later, Durant was alert and ready to take advantage of a Clippers breakdown:

Shortly thereafter, an aggressive-minded Durant got physical with Patrick Beverley and was whistled for two very questionable offensive fouls. 

During a radio appearance Tuesday, former Golden State point guard Tim Hardaway was asked if the Warriors should have KD try to repeatedly punish the smaller Patrick Beverley on the block.

"As a team, you can't let one player get your team out of sync. You gotta run your offense. You gotta run your offense the way you've been running your offense all year long," the five-time All-Star said. "If you keep posting up Durant -- you're letting the Clippers dictate the game.

"You're telling them we're gonna run a different offense than we normally run. No. Keep running your offense."

Hardaway and Durant are very much on the same page.

"I got a pest, Patrick Beverley, who's up underneath me," KD described. "I could definitely shoot over the top and score every time if it's a 1-on-1 situation. But we got a guy that's dropping and helping, and then we got another guy that's just sitting on me and waiting for me to dribble the basketball. 

"I'm not gonna get in the way of the game because I want to have a little back-and-forth with Patrick Beverley. I'm Kevin Durant. You know who I am. Y’all know who I am."

Here's a perfect example of what KD is talking about:

[RELATEDKD, Kerr at odds over how much Warriors star should shoot]

Durant didn't take a shot here, but he certainly wasn't passive or tentative. Just because you only attempt eight field goals doesn't mean you were tentative.

But one thing everybody can agree on is that nine turnovers is way too many.

How will Durant approach Game 3? It's safe to assume he won't be taking advice from Tracy McGrady.

Thursday night can't get here soon enough.

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