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Recap: Nuggets rally but lose to the Warriors 119-104

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Down 30 at halftime, the Nuggets mount a comeback in the second to lose respectably to the champion Warriors

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

The Denver Nuggets had no answer for the passing, cutting or shooting of the Golden State Warriors in the first half of Friday's 119-104 loss, falling behind by 30 points at halftime.  They found their offensive rhythm in the second half however and through defense, ball movement and outside shooting fought back with 60 points over the final two frames.

Danilo Gallinari was the lone bright spot of the first half with 19 of his 25 points in the first 24 minutes.  Will Barton, Gary Harris and Jameer Nelson - practically invisible in the first half with just 5 points between them - fought back to score 40 of Denver's 60 second half points.  Golden State had a natural letdown after blowing the Nuggets out of the arena in the first half, but the Nuggets also played stretches of inspired ball that showed a glimpse of what this team could be like when finally at full strength and with accumulated familiarity both with each other and coach Michael Malone's concepts on both sides of the ball.

Game recap:

An easy dunk for the Dubs opened the game. Kenneth Faried hooked a reply over Draymond Green, and Emmanuel Mudiay clanked his first shot after penetrating the lane.  The Nuggets moved the ball well early, and a beautiful dish from Mudiay to a slashing Gallinari made for an easy layup. Golden State was Golden State, hitting early 3s to take a 10-4 lead, and Malone called a timeout at 12-4 to try to stem the tide. The Nuggets begin their substitution early to try to keep their starters fresh for the whole game, but the Warriors kept hitting threes  against the incoming reserves and got easy inside buckets to take a 26-14 lead with 5 minutes to go in the first. A beautiful steal from Barton after a Hickson turnover turned into a great dish-n-dunk by Gallo, but Stephen Curry answered with a 3 from four feet behind the line, and a transition dunk took the champs to a 31-16 lead. Curry forced Will Barton's first turnover of the year, then buried his 4th three of the quarter at the end of the period and the Warriors finished the first up 40-23.

Blocks by the Warriors and turnovers by the Nuggets marred the start of the second quarter and led to a 10-0 run by Golden State.  The Warriors destroyed the Nuggets on the offensive glass with Faried on the bench for most of the first half to that point, as well as shooting 55% from the field. It was 47-23 Warriors when Jokic, still suffering from a tweaked back, made an appearance and missed a pair free throws.  The Nuggets got caught in a blizzard of turnovers and poor passes, and didn't score in the 2nd until 7:43 - and that was with free throws. The Warriors continued to rain threes and put back second-chance buckets.  Mudiay hit the first bucket of the quarter for Denver with 6 minutes to go, then missed a good interior shot after a nice drive and Faried threw Green to the ground during a rebound in frustration.  Curry blazed down the court for a layup and GS lead 63-33. Gallo hit a 3 and had 14 of the Nuggets' 36 to that point, but he was the only player showing a real pulse. Curry hit a sidestep three after avoiding Gallo, then Mudiay passed to Faried for a vicious dunk a minute after ripping a rebound away from Thompson and showing some fire.  The Nuggets began to get their ball movement together on offense, but Klay Thompson and Steph both nailed threes to push the lead back to 30 at the half as Faried's turnaround hook doesn't go, 74-44

Halftime stats:

1) Gallo lead the Nuggets with 19 points

2) Denver shot 34% from the field to Golden State's 51%

3) Three pointers: 12-22 for the Warriors, 3-11 for the Nuggets

4) The Nuggets were outrebounded 37-19, with just 5 offensive rebounds for Denver.

5) 28 assists on 30 made baskets for the Warriors, 8-on-15 for the Nuggets.

6a) Mudiay: 7 points (2 assists) in 16 minutes

6b) All other guards: 5 points, 3 assists in 37 combined minutes (if you add Barton: 15 minutes, 0 points, 2 rebounds - remember this)

The Nuggets go on a 7-0 run at the start the second, then Harris cut to the rim aggressively, earning foul shots.  Another turnover by the Warriors turned into a three-on-two break and a Faried lay in and Warriors called time out at 77-55 as the Nuggets' corpse found a pulse.  Gallo pulled a great fake on Ezeli and drained the long two, but Ezeli came back at him for a pair of buckets. Harris snagged a steal and went coast to coast for the dunk and suddenly had 12 points in the contest. Barton puts up an interior basket, his first points of the night, then fought for and won a rebound.  Mudiay took (too) tough shots all night but finally made one, then a beautiful Mudiay pass to Jokic and on to Barton for a layup brought the lead down to 16.

Curry answered with a runner and a 3 like the champion he is.  Mudiay kept taking long shots and missing them and the Denver ball movement suffered for it, while the Warriors got fastbreak points and layups, and a Curry 3-point play pushed the Golden State lead back to 24 to end the third. The Nuggets still hadn't quit, though - an improvement from their last couple of losses.

Arthur hit a long two and Barton a long straightaway three at the beginning of the fourth to get the number down to 19. Jokic cut and got a layup, then Jameer's steal and looping pass to Barton netted a three point play. The Warriors called a timeout at 101-85 as their fans began to get restless.  Barton remains aggressive, driving the floor and shooting threes.  The Nuggets kept pressuring the ball and getting rebounds.  Foye jacks up a 3 for a miss but Barton hit another layup after a steal, for 16 points at that juncture in the 2nd half after zero in the first. The Warriors come out of a timeout with 5 straight points. They are the world champs, and blowing a 30-point halftime lead isn't in their DNA.  Jameer gets the next hot hand and hits a trio of threes to bring it to 112-102. Barnes stems the bleeding with a pair of free throws.  Barton finally misses and Arthur couldn't clean it up on the carom. Mudiay hauled in a board but couldn't get the putback, and Barnes hit a 3 to make it 118-102 with 2:02 left.  Harris put in a layup in transition but tweaked his ankle on the play, which was the only cause for concern with the game finally out of reach. A turnover by the Nuggets ended the game 119-104 in favor of the Warriors.

Three things of note:

1) The Nuggets backcourt finally showed up. Gallinari carried the load in the first half, but with Jameer, Harris and Barton ( a wing but a ball-handler in transition for sure) writing their presence all over the second half, hopefully the Nuggets have something to build on.  It can't all be the Gallo Show if Denver hopes to make any hay this year. Barton especially earned his place with 19 points and 8 boards in 39 minutes.  If he can figure out how to show up in the first half he could really help jump start this offense.  Green's second half was a nice boon as well on both offense and defense - hopefully his rolled ankle is nothing serious.  We need both men to be consistent contributors.

2) The bench vets are still not pulling their weight. Jameer aside (who had a nice 4th quarter) the Pine Veterans are not helping their case for getting rotation minutes when this team gets healthy. Foye: 18 minutes, zero points.  Arthur: 12 minutes, 4 points, 4 fouls.  Hickson: 7 minutes, 5 points, 2 turnovers and some bad basketball.  Foye is going to lose minutes to get Barton on the floor in a scoring capacity and that should happen immediately. Denver will need bench contributions to get Western Conference wins, but it might have to wait until our injury situation improves.  The veterans getting minutes now aren't giving the necessary production.

3) The Nuggets finished strong.  It might have been in part due to Malone trying to give early breaks to his starters, or it might just have been luck.  Regardless, finishing the game rather than losing both energy and focus halfway through the third was a good start and something to build on for this squad.  Mudiay kept taking the hardest shots on the court, but at least he wasn't merely passing with no intent to score. The passing was however much improved for large swaths of the second half, and the transition game cranked up (the Nuggets finished with 21 fastbreak points and 44 in the paint).  All good signs.

There are no moral victories, but there are teaching moments.  Hopefully the bright spots in this second half can be translated into a full 48 minutes going forward.  The Nuggets are now 2-4, but this loss ended about as well as it could have: with a nice glimpse of hope and steps along the learning curve that is this season.

Every step counts.  The next one is to earn a home win, and Portland comes to town next. Get it done, Nuggets.