Warriors remember championship lessons, pass playoff test vs. Nuggets

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Warriors rediscover championship heart, pass test vs. Nuggets originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea

The Warriors had no proof of their belief. No concrete evidence that after two seasons and almost three calendar years away from the NBA playoffs, they were still capable of the art form they spent five years perfecting:

Ripping a team's heart out and sending them packing.

Golden State's title core -- Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green -- believed it was in their DNA. Engrained in their very being. A feeling they couldn't forget.

Game 4 against the Denver Nuggets reminded that, no matter the difference in talent, it's difficult to knock off a team backed into a corner. Snuffing out a team with nothing to lose, one willing to bite, scratch, kick and claw to stay alive, is a learned skill. One sharpened over time and one the Warriors needed to show they still had Wednesday night at Chase Center.

For moments, there was reasonable doubt. The Nuggets took an 11-point lead in the third quarter. Denver answered an 11-2 Warriors run with a 10-3 run of their own and Golden State entered the final stanza down eight and in danger of giving the undermanned Nuggets more life with a Game 6 in altitude looming.

It was the first real playoff test for these Warriors. Would they dig down and rediscover the championship killer instinct that still keeps those in Houston, Cleveland, Portland, and elsewhere awake at night? Or were the lessons of playoff wars past too far gone for the Warriors to guide the Nuggets to the gallows?

Sure enough, the Warriors, now viewed by many as the title favorites, remembered how to take the life from an opponent and close out a series. That eight-point deficit was cut to two in three minutes and the Warriors took the lead at the 6:57 mark on a Gary Payton II 3-pointer.

The Nuggets tied the game with 2:26 remaining, refusing to be put down willingly. But Curry, who was cold for much of the night, scored eight points in the final 1:33 to put the Nuggets to sleep and prove the Warriors got their groove back.

"It means a lot," Curry said after the 102-98 win, the Warriors' first series victory since 2019. "You don't ever take it for granted. You understand that being on this stage, we understand that we hopefully have a lot left to do. But getting to the playoffs and getting through a series, winning four games against a good team, like it's hard. Every team wants to be in this position at the end of the year.

"And for me Draymond, Klay, Loon, we've all been there before and know that feeling and love the competition and the environment. It's also a reminder of like this -- tonight was just a weird feeling because we had not been there in a while. Again, we wanted it so bad. Kind of made it a lot more difficult on ourselves.

"But we still remember how to do it which is a good feeling."

Coach Steve Kerr said the Warriors "forgot" how hard it is to close out a series. Curry pointed to something different, their craving for this moment.

Desire can be a detriment. For the Warriors, who have spent almost three years planning and waiting for their playoff re-entrance, this was a moment of significance to a championship core who knew nothing but June basketball for a half-decade.

It was real proof of championship life.

No longer were the Warriors a nebulous idea or hopeful vision.

When the Warriors went on that 11-2 third-quarter run to cut the Nuggets' lead to one, they started to remember the lessons of past title runs and knew they could finish off the wounded Nuggets.

"Special," Green said of being back in this moment. "Like I said the other day, it feels a lot more familiar than the last two years felt. That's who we are. That's why we've had the success that we've had.

"We know how to win and we know how to win playoff games. We put the work in and trust in each other, and the results show in that."

RELATED: Steph saves best for last in eliminating Nuggets

No Warrior had a longer journey back from the depths than Thompson. A torn ACL and torn Achilles cost him 941 days. His climb back has featured potholes and rust.

But Thompson found himself near the end of the regular season and looked like the Klay of old in torching the Nuggets. Eliminating the Nuggets was a benchmark moment in his and the Warriors' journey back from basketball hell.

The job's not finished, but it's a moment for reflection and gratitude for the Warriors. Their faith in themselves was rewarded, and now we have proof the Warriors are still the team that knocks.

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