ORACLE ARENA — “I think we see Willis coming out!”
ABC analyst Jack Twyman spoke those words moments before Game 7 of the 1970 NBA Finals.
Warriors forward David Lee nearly duplicated that seminal moment in NBA history Thursday night, stepping onto the court with 2:23 remaining in the first quarter after being activated despite a torn right hip flexor.
Heavily bandaged with a series of wraps, Lee played 1:27, took one 18-footer which he missed and grabbed one rebound.
Warriors coach Mark Jackson said the New York City in him and the impact he saw from Willis Reed had an impact on his decision bring Lee into the game:
Warriors coach Mark Jackson
Video: CSN Bay Area
“Not only did I put him in, but I ran a play for him for a shot, just about where Willis hit his shot…Obviously part of it was for inspiration, and it got the crowd going…I wanted to capture that moment.”
That brief appearance boosted the performance of Andrew Bogut who had 14 points and 21 rebounds to power the Warriors to a 92-88 win over the Nuggets and a first-round series victory in six games.
Video: Golden State Warriors
Stephen Curry led the Warriors with 22 points including 4-of-7 from beyond the arc after starting the night cold with only 6 points at the halfway mark.
Jackson said he knew Curry would step up and have a moment, and had a conversation with the Warriors guard at halftime:
“When we were down in that first half, I pulled him aside and I said, there is going to be a point in this game where you’re going to take over because you’re the best player on the floor. What will happen is everybody else will follow. Sure enough, that’s exactly what took place.”
Draymond Green had his first career double-double adding 16 points and 10 rebounds off the bench, while Bogut poured in 14 points with 21 rebounds and locked the Nuggets down defensively with four blocked shots.
In the loss, Denver’s Andre Iguodala scored a game-high 24 points. Ty Lawson added 17, but shot 7-of-21 from the floor.
The difference which kept the Warriors in the game was poor shooing by the Nuggets, who could only manage 35 percent from the field.
Denver’s veteran guard Andre Miller said the Warriors outplayed the Nuggets in every category:
Nuggets guard Andre Miller
Audio: Ryan Leong/SFBay
“I mean our goal was to get out of the first round. We got outplayed, we got outcoached, we got outworked, we got outrebounded, we got outsmarted, got outtoughed. When you don’t get the job done you’re going to go home, that’s all.”
Within 90 seconds in the third quarter, Curry knocked down three triples to put Golden State ahead by six points. Curry later found Bogut with a chest pass for the flush to put the Warriors up 57-49.
Nuggets coach George Karl said that Curry’s ability to go off in the third quarter broke Denver’s confidence:
Nuggets coach George Karl
“Curry, I’d like to check his stats for the third quarter. My recollection is every third quarter he seems to get loose on us…Most of the time it creates a frustration, it creates an edge that we had to fight through. As I said, we did. But the three ball got loose and we could make a shot to build any confidence or rhythm.”
Bogut attacked the basket all night on both ends, with key rebounds as well as tip-ins and layups.
Carl Landry’s driving layup and a foul with 5:22 left put the crowd into a frenzy with the Warriors leading 63-53.
Jarrett Jack shot two free throws to increase the lead to 13 points with 2:16 remaining in the third and the crowd chanting “Warriors! Warriors!”
A 3-pointer by Draymond Green with 9:51 left in the fourth quarter really got the crowd on its feet to stay. Klay Thompson’s running jumper made it an 18-point lead with 9:07 remaining.
At that point, everyone sensed that the Warriors were looking ahead to San Antonio and a second round matchup against the Spurs.
Denver closed the deficit to four points when Green took it upon himself to get the Warriors back into the game. After a scoring drought of 4:31, Green made a driving layup.
For a stretch he was the only Warriors’ player contributing on offense, though his back-to-back turnovers — along with others by Curry and Thompson — created a late-game nail-biter, nearly squandering an 18-point fourth quarter lead.
A clutch 3-pointer by Iguodala and one free throw by Kenneth Faried cut the lead to two points with 23.5 seconds left. A sequence where the Nuggets couldn’t get the tying shot to fall eventually led to the Warriors retaining possession.
Jack made two more key free throws with 7.3 seconds left to give Golden State a four point lead and the ensuing victory.
Curry told SFBay after the game that he was excited about winning, but that the feelings were a strange mix because of the last few possessions:
Warriors guard Stephen Curry
Video: CSN Bay Area
“For me, my first playoff series win, first for the organization in a while. Everybody is relieved to kind of get it done. It’s still a hazy kind of feeling because of the way the game ended, it going down to that last possession. Just a sense of relief with the way the game finished.”
The Warriors now face the San Antonio Spurs in the second round. San Antonio has been resting since Sunday, having swept the depleted Los Angeles Lakers out of the playoffs in the first round.
The Warriors 4-2 series win over the Nuggets is only their second series win in 22 years. … Game 1 of the second round against the Spurs will begin May 6 at San Antonio. … The Nuggets were eliminated in the First Round of the NBA Playoffs for the ninth time in the last 10 years. … The Warriors are now 10-1 in home closeout games since they moved to the Bay Area in 1962. … The Warriors committed nine turnovers in the final 7:23. During that span, the Warriors largest lead of 18 points (80-62) evaporated to two points (90-88). … Green finished with 16 points and 10 rebounds off the bench. Green is the first Warriors rookie to post a double-double in the playoffs since Chris Webber on May 4, 1994 (16 pts. 13 ast.). First to do so off the bench since Chris Gatling (14 pts. 12 reb.)