OAKLAND, Calif. (AP)—Allen Iverson squared up, hit a 3-pointer and raised his arms to the air, having thwarted Golden State’s final charge. There was no downplaying the importance of this win that put the Denver Nuggets in control of the race for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
Iverson scored 33 points, J.R. Smith added 24 off the bench and the Nuggets overcame a 16-point deficit in the first quarter to win their playoff showdown with the Warriors 114-105 Thursday night.
“Everybody knew what was at stake,” Iverson said. “It’s easy for players to say it’s just another game. But everybody knows it wasn’t just another game. It was a game that both teams felt they had to have.”
The win moved Denver (48-31) a full game ahead of the Warriors in the race for eighth place in the West with only three games remaining. The Nuggets also control the tiebreaker, meaning they can clinch their fifth straight playoff berth by winning two of their final three games.
Golden State (47-32) probably will need to win its final three games and hope Denver loses twice.
“They’re in the catbird seat right now,” Warriors coach Don Nelson said. “We’ve got a big problem as far as making the playoffs at this particular time. We’re going to need a lot of luck and probably have to win out.”
The Nuggets erased the early deficit by scoring 19 straight points in the second quarter and built the lead up from there, putting the back-to-back losses to Sacramento and Seattle from last weekend behind them.
“It was a must win for us. We came up with that attitude,” said Anthony, who had 25 points, including a 3-pointer that made it 104-90 with 7:52 to go. “It was ‘win or go home’ in our minds.”
The lead grew to 17 before the Warriors mounted one last run, scoring nine straight points to cut it to 107-99 on Kelenna Azubuike’s 3-pointer with just over 4 minutes remaining.
Golden State had two chances to cut into the lead more before Iverson’s jumper got the lead back to 10. Iverson then hit the 3-pointer that made it 112-101 with 2:06 to go, icing the most important game of the season.
“AI likes to take that 3, that dagger 3,” coach George Karl said. “We were kind of caught in the quandary of should we try to score or run clock. That 3 ended the quandary. It got us over that hump where we didn’t have to be scared to death of them making that 3.”
Both teams talked about how this game had a playoff feel to it. The yellow “We Believe” placards that were prevalent during the Warriors’ playoff run a year ago were taped to each seat. But the Warriors have not been playing with the same energy down the stretch this season as they did during their memorable playoff run a year ago.
They have lost nine of the past 16 games in a lackluster finish to their best season in 14 years. Golden State committed an uncharacteristically high 18 turnovers, missed nine of 24 free throws and got poor shooting nights from Stephen Jackson and Baron Davis.
Davis had a triple-double with 20 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds, but shot only 9-for-25. Jackson had 18 points on 5-for-17 shooting. Monta Ellis led the way with 29 points and Al Harrington added 20.
“We’ve got a job to do, we’ve still got games,” Jackson said. “We can’t sit and dwell on this game because we lost. Definitely, everybody’s upset, but at the same time we can’t do anything about it. We’ve got to get ready to play the next game.”
The notoriously slow-starting Warriors had their best opening quarter in months, taking a 37-22 lead after one for their best start since leading Cleveland by 16 after one back on Dec. 23. That advantage was quickly erased when the Iverson and Smith found their stroke and the Warriors struggled against Denver’s zone early in the second.
“All I know is zones change offenses,” Karl said. “When teams zone us, I’m not sure it works but it makes us play different. It makes us play in a way we aren’t 100 percent comfortable.”
It had a similar effect on the Warriors, who missed their first eight shots of the quarter. Iverson had nine points and Smith scored eight in the big run that gave Denver a 43-38 lead.
Golden State F Brandan Wright and Denver F Nene missed the game with groin injuries. … Davis has three triple-doubles this season. … The Warriors have not won back-to-back games since taking three in a row March 7-12. … If Golden State wins two more games and misses the playoffs it would tie the 1971-72 Phoenix Suns, who also went 49-33 and missed the postseason.