Warriors hang on, close out Nuggets

Dave Del Grande, The Sports Xchange
The SportsXchange

OAKLAND, Calif. -- The Golden State Warriors don't have much of a playoff history, but in their rare appearances, they've done one thing consistently well: surprise first-round opponents.
The Warriors shocked another playoff foe Thursday night, using Stephen Curry's four 3-pointers in a game-changing third quarter to finish off the Denver Nuggets and set up a second-round matchup with the San Antonio Spurs.
Andrew Bogut and Draymond Green contributed double-doubles, and David Lee, seemingly done for the season, made a crowd-pleasing cameo appearance as Golden State spurted past the Nuggets and held on down the stretch for a 92-88 victory that wrapped up a 4-2 upset in the best-of-seven, first-round Western Conference series.
"My first playoff win. It's been a while for this organization," Curry said after Golden State's first postseason series win since 2007, which also was the last time the Warriors made the playoffs. "You're excited, but it's still a hazy feeling because of the way the game ended. A sense of relief."
The victory for the sixth-seeded Warriors earns them a series against San Antonio, with the Spurs hosting Game 1 on Monday. The pairing is the teams' first in the playoffs since Golden State, as the seventh seed, upset the second-seeded Spurs 3-1 in a best-of-five, first-round series in 1991.
The Warriors and Spurs split their four-game series in the 2012-13 regular season, with San Antonio basically conceding the final meeting April 15, electing to rest four starters. All four games were won by the home team.
Golden State swept its three home games in the past week against the Nuggets, although Game 6 appeared tilted in Denver's direction during a first half in which the visitors led by as many as 11.
The Warriors turned that around in the third quarter. But just when they seemed totally in control, leading 80-62 with 9:07 to go, it was Denver -- with its defense forcing 10 fourth-quarter turnovers -- that mounted one last comeback, falling just short.
A 13-0 Nuggets flurry made it an 80-75 game with 4:42 to play. Then five Warriors turnovers in the final 1:37 gave Denver a chance to pull it out.
Down two with 20.8 seconds left, the Nuggets got a steal from Andre Iguodala and two subsequent shots at a tie from within six feet of the hoop, including a point-blank tip attempt by Wilson Chandler. Both were off the mark, and Golden State was able to punch its ticket into the second round with two Jarrett Jack free throws with 7.3 seconds left.
"Every possession, it was like ... it can't get any worse than this," Curry said of staggering to the finish. "We gave them every opportunity to get back in the game. I'm pretty sure that same scenario won't happen again going forward."
Warriors coach Mark Jackson labeled the win "a miracle." Green, a rookie who had nine of his 16 points and half his 10 rebounds in the fourth quarter, said it reminded him of his collegiate days at Michigan State.
"I remember all through college," he said. "It wasn't pretty, but survive and advance."
Curry led the Warriors with 22 points, 14 of which came in the decisive third period. He added eight assists. Bogut recorded his first postseason double-double with 14 points and 21 rebounds, and he also blocked four shots. Jack, hitting nine of his 10 free throws, added 13 points.
The Warriors even got a surprising boost from Lee, who suffered what appeared to be a season-ending torn hip flexor in the first game of the season. Lee suited up and got 1 minute, 27 seconds of action in the first quarter, recording one rebound.
"I thought I could help the team," Lee said. "That's part of being a leader."
Iguodala, making five of his eight 3-point attempts, led Denver with 24 points. Ty Lawson had 17 points, Chandler scored 11, and Kenneth Faried finished with 11 points and 11 rebounds.
In the end, Nuggets coach George Karl applauded his club's fight to the finish and blamed Denver's ninth first-round playoff exit in the past 10 seasons on earlier results.
"We didn't lose the series tonight. This was a proud loss," he assured. "We lost the series in Game 1 and 2. We didn't play well enough to sustain some confidence.
"In Game 1, we won a close game. Game 2, we gave back everything that we worked for -- 57 wins to get the third seed. We gave that back by having a flat game, and that's on me."
The day began with Jackson being informed he was being fined $25,000 for what the NBA labeled "making public comments in an attempt to influence the officiating." It was unclear if that was a reference to his remarks immediately following the Warriors' 107-100 loss in Denver on Tuesday night, when he criticized the Nuggets for what he said was dirty play, or his comments before practice Wednesday in Oakland, or perhaps both.
If Jackson's comments had any influence on the game, it was in silencing the referees for the better part of the first half. Only two fouls were called in the first quarter, resulting in just two free throws.
However, three rapid-fire calls on Faried in the first two minutes of the third quarter set the stage for the Warriors' pull-away, which began with them down 44-40. Curry, who missed both of his 3-point attempts in the first half, buried four in a row in the third quarter, helping Golden State go up by as many as 13.
Golden State's biggest lead was 18, after which the Nuggets simply ran out of time.
"We got an opportunity to win the game," Karl said. "When you miss shot after shot after shot, it's frustrating."
The Nuggets shot poorly in every aspect of the game -- free throws (61.9 percent), 3-pointers (25.0 percent) and overall field goals (34.7 percent).
The Warriors made 23 of 24 foul shots (95.8 percent), and they hit 40.3 percent from the floor, 28 percent from 3-point range.
NOTES: Karl labeled Lee's brief appearance "weird." ... Jackson left the door open regarding a possible appeal of his fine. "I don't like it. I disagree, but that will take care of itself," he said, noting he's never been fined for criticizing the referees in his two-year coaching career. "My body of work will speak for itself." ... When informed Jackson had been fined for "attempting to influence the officiating," Karl responded, "Interesting interpretation." ... There were 41 fouls called in the game, 22 on the Nuggets. ... Since moving west in 1962, the Warriors are now 10-1 in home playoff games when they've had a chance to close out an opponent. They beat top-seeded the Dallas Mavericks in a similar situation in Game 6 of the 2007 playoffs, an upset that still stands as one of the biggest in NBA history.

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