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.

Steph Curry believes Sabrina Ionescu has basketball 'in great hands'

Steph Curry believes Sabrina Ionescu has basketball 'in great hands'

Two Bay Area legends were in attendance Friday night at Haas Pavilion when the University of Oregon women's basketball team played Cal. One was on the floor, and one was in the seats. 

Warriors star Steph Curry brought his two daughters, Riley and Ryan, to watch Oregon's Sabrina Ionescu. The Walnut Creek native recorded her 25th career triple-double as the Ducks downed the Bears, 93-61.

On Saturday, Curry paid his respects to Ionescu, who is a huge fan of the two-time NBA MVP.

"The game is in great hands," Steph wrote on Instagram, with a picture of him and Ionescu after the game.

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The game is in great hands 💪🏽

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Ionescu dropped 17 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists in what was her seventh triple-double of her senior season. She is nine rebounds away from becoming college basketball’s first 2,000-point, 1,000-rebound, 1,000-assist player.

"The competitive nature that she has, you can't teach that," Curry told Pac-12 Network's Kate Scott. "She could be blessed with all the talent in the world, but if she didn't have that, she wouldn't be who she was."

Ionescu, who starred at Miramonte High School in Orinda before going to Oregon, is expected to be the No. 1 overall pick in the 2020 WNBA Draft. She is averaging 17.1 points, 8.8 assists and 8.7 rebounds per game for the Ducks.

[RELATED: Curry says March 1 has 'always been' intended return]

While she's dominating on the floor, Ionescu certainly is excited for Curry's return to the court. Steph participated in his first live scrimmage at Warriors practice Saturday, after breaking his hand in the fourth game of the season, and he's eyeing a March 1 return to Golden State's lineup.

Basketball is in better hands when the two Bay Area legends are healthy and putting on a show in their sport. 

Watch Anthony Edwards, top NBA draft prospect, throw down poster dunk

Watch Anthony Edwards, top NBA draft prospect, throw down poster dunk

Anthony Edwards can get up and throw it down.

The Georgia shooting guard proved that Saturday, when he put Vanderbilt freshman Braelee Albert on an eye-popping poster with this ferocious slam.

Edwards scored 19 points to go along with his rim-rattling dunk, in an 80-78 comeback win over the Commodores. Georgia improved to 14-13 on the season with the victory, which came on a buzzer-beating 3-pointer.

Edwards, a freshman, again showed why he could be the No. 1 overall pick in the 2020 NBA Draft. He shot 7 of 16 from the field and also grabbed five rebounds. 

What really stood out, though, was Edwards' athleticism and vision on this play. 

Edwards, who doesn't turn 19 until August, has been questioned about his shot selection, but he's carrying the load on a Georgia team that isn't exactly full of NBA talent. It's just another reason why he could be an intriguing option for the Warriors in the June draft.

The majority of mock drafts currently have Golden State selecting Edwards with a top pick. He isn't a positional fit like Memphis center James Wiseman would be, but Edwards' athleticism and upside could be an instant boost. 

[RELATED: Should Warriors keep Wiggins if they win NBA Draft Lottery?]

Entering Saturday, Edwards was averaging 18.9 points and 5.3 rebounds per game. That's nearly what he dropped Saturday, as the 6-foot-5, 225-pound guard put his skills on display.

The Warriors surely have their eyes on every top draft prospect right now. Edwards' performance in a win over Vandy could vault him up their draft board, too.