Warriors snap out of defensive stupor to finish Nuggets

The Warriors ended 2016 having the second-best defense in the NBA. Monday night at Oracle, it looked like that’s exactly where they left it.

Though the Warriors topped the Nuggets 127-119, it was in no thanks to their defense.

This story has been updated with quotes and post-game material from the Warriors’ locker room at Oracle Arena.

Luckily for the Warriors, Draymond Green tipped in a Stephen Curry missed 3-pointer with 28 seconds to go to put the Warriors up eight and push the game out of reach. What’s even better is that the rebound was Green’s 10th of the night and gave the power forward his second triple-double of the year with 15 points, 10 rebounds and 13 assists.

But if you asked Green he couldn’t care less about it:

“I don’t care at all, it’s not really a focus of mine. Trust me if I cared I would have a lot more than two this year. I’d have a lot more than that if I cared. It really doesn’t matter to me as long as we win. We have a great team, it’s not about chasing stats.”

Whether he cared about it or not, the Warriors needed all of his stats, especially his rebounds, as Denver absolutely beasted the Warriors inside from the beginning. They had 36 points in the paint — at halftime. The Warriors entered the game giving up just 43 points in the paint per game.

And it continued all game as Denver ended the game with an astounding 60 points in the paint.

It was Denver’s two-headed European center monster that put Golden State on their heels as Nikola Jokic and Jusuf Nurkic combined for 36 points on 14-for-25 shooting and 19 rebounds. Twenty of those points came in the opening half, where the Nuggets shot 84.2 percent at the rim.

Curry said that the team trusts that if they continue to play hard on defense they will eventually get stops:

“You don’t want to play with fire but we know we have a lot of energy throughout 48 minutes to leave an imprint on that side of the floor. You have to just be patient and trust and just continue to contest shots and eventually we’ll figure it out.”

Luckily for the Warriors Zaza Pachulia started the new year playing his best game in quite some time. Pachulia put up nine points, six rebounds and an assist in the first half, better than his season averages of 4.7 points and 5.7 rebounds. He scored in double figures for just the third time all year and finished with 11.

Kevin Durant was happy with what the big man gave the team, even if it wasn’t a triple-double like Durant predicted:

“Whenever he was in the game he was huge for us. Offensive rebounding, screening for everybody, he played great tonight and we are going to need that from him every night. But I’m going to keep getting on him for not getting a triple-double, he’s got to get a double-double first before he can get a triple-double, but close enough.”

The Dubs were able to turn off the faucet a bit in the second half, limiting the Nuggets to just 21 points in the third, after giving up 30-plus points in the first two quarters. But the defense was still nowhere near as suffocating as we had seen in 2016.

It was a defensive game to forget for Steve Kerr and the Warriors, as he was not happy with the effort from his team:

“I didn’t think we had the defensive intensity that we needed. I thought we finally started defending well the last five minutes of the second quarter and that carried over into the third.”

The Warriors offense, however, was as balanced the Warriors have showed this season.

The trio of Klay Thompson (25), Curry (22) and Durant (21) led the team, and all topped 20 points for the 12th time this season — with the Warriors 12-0 in those games.

It was a relatively quiet game for Durant, who came in averaging 29.4 points per game against Denver, and had 942 career points against the Nuggets, which is the highest career point total against any single opponent.

They didn’t need it though as the Warriors had balanced scoring from start to finish. Six players followed the big three in double figures, including Ian Clark off the bench who went scored 12 points on a nearly perfect 4-for-5 shooting. Clark went off in the second quarter scoring nine of his 12 and helped the Warriors fight through their poor defensive effort.

Kerr said that balance is in the DNA of this Warriors team:

“That’s kind of who we are. A lot of people sharing the ball and sharing the shots. They’ve really figured out how to play together.”

JaVale McGee just missed out on joining his teammates in double figures as he finished with nine points on 4-of-4 shooting in just nine minutes of action.

McGee continued to dunk his way to points and per cbssports.com is 13th in the league in dunks. Right now he has more dunks than LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Karl-Anthony Towns—and he plays just 8.4 minutes per game.

As weird as that stat is, what might be weirder is that the Warriors and Nuggets could be a potential first round playoff matchup, as Denver sits half a game back from the eighth seed in the West with the Sacramento Kings.

And if it truly is a preview, hopefully then Warriors defense isn’t stuck in 2016.

Up Next

The Warriors continue their five-game homestand when the Portland Trail Blazers will travel to Oracle Wednesday. Portland has been without superstar Damian Lillard for the past four games and it’s uncertain if the point guard will be able to make his return to his hometown.

Notes

Patrick McCaw missed his second straight game with flu-like symptoms. McCaw who was sent down to the D-League on the 29th, and recalled the very next day after playing one game for the Santa Cruz Warriors. … Steph Curry hit three 3-pointers Monday night to give him 1722 for his career, it vaulted him past Dale Ellis and gave him sole possession of the No. 15 spot for most 3-pointers in NBA history. He now sits behind the Cavs J.R. Smith who is 14th on the list with 1,729 career threes. … Kevin Durant entered the game amassing three straight double-doubles. He leads the team with 14 on the year, two more than Draymond Green who is second on the team with 12.


Curtis Uemura is SFBay’s Golden State Warriors beat writer. Follow @SFBay and @CUemura on Twitter and at SFBay.ca for full coverage of Warriors basketball.