The Denver Nuggets headed to Oakland to face off against the Golden State Warriors in a match up that could easily be described as David against Goliath. The defending champ Warriors were coming home on a high note as star guard Stephen Curry returned to the lineup following a two game absence due to a shin contusion. On Denver's side they enjoyed a pair of returns, Danilo Gallinari was back after missing a week and a half from a sprained ankle and Jusuf Nurkic made his season debut. Nurkic had been recovering from patellar tendon surgery from the offseason. Even with the return of Il Gallo and the Bosnian Beast, the Warriors were obviously heavy favorites in the game.
Golden State had all the looks of a world champion as the game started. Draymond Green was on fire and he hit three straight three pointers out of the gate (he'd play excellent through the night, racking up yet another triple double). Denver couldn't respond with anything other than a plethora of turnovers and before anyone knew it, the Warriors had raced out to a 19-2 lead. The Nuggets started to hang their heads a little bit and movement on offense became non-existant while they went into their usual rut of settling for jump shots. Nurkic checked in about half way through the first to make his season debut and didn't get a ton of minutes but was able to get to the line a couple of times for three points. Both teams were pretty cold from the floor as the quarter drew to a close but Golden State had a commanding 37-13 lead.
In the second quarter Denver's defense tightened up and Gallinari heated up. Will Barton also continued his excellent play and with Gallo now back in the fold the Nuggets had a two headed monster going that looked like it caught the Warriors off guard. Gallo showed off his full range of skills by hitting some spot up jumpers, getting to the basket for an easy jam and also drawing fouls to get to the free throw line. Barton and Gallinari's play started to rub off on Jameer Nelson and Darrell Arthur as both started hitting buckets with consistency and Denver's much improved play allowed them to close the gap to 16.
In the second half the Nuggets got a break as Curry was unable to continue after re-aggravating his shin injury. Unfortunately some listless defensive play and that patented Warriors ball movement made Denver pay regardless. Gary Harris had another one of those games where he quietly and confidently shows up just when you need him and the third quarter was his time tonight, making several key buckets to keep the Nuggets close. Coach Michael Malone elected to go small most of the game and the lineup of Nelson, Harris, Barton, Gallo and Arthur kept Denver from getting blown out. At the end of the third the Nuggets trailed by 13.
In the fourth quarter Denver really started clicking. They locked the Warriors down on defense and finally started to get some good ball movement which helped diminish the Warriors lead to single digits. Arthur played outstanding in the beginning of the fourth quarter, converting on mid range shots. Denver got within six but then followed it up with back to back turnovers and Golden State took advantage by constantly cutting to the basket for easy points. Still, with the game within reach the energy really picked up for everyone on Denver. The difference it makes to have two legitimate scoring options on the court in Barton and Gallinari can not be understated. When one would start to stall out the other picked up the slack. As the fourth quarter started to draw to a close Barton took over. He converted a breakaway dunk to bring it within two and then as the final seconds ticked off he converted a close shot to tie the game 102-102 with less than a second to go. The stat of the night might be that the Nuggets held the Warriors to 12 points in the fourth quarter
In overtime Gallinari opened with two free throws to give Denver their first lead. Unfortunately Gallo started to play a little hero ball but was unable to make shots. He was visibly frustrated after the game stating that there are no excuses and it was a game Denver should have won. Kenneth Faried did everything he could in the extra frame to keep Denver in it as he flat out beasted on the offensive glass. The Nuggets ended up running out of gas and a Klay Thomspon layup and free throws sealed the deal for the Warriors. A truly scary moment occurred on Thompson's layup when Marreese Speights shoved Faried near the top of his back and Barton fell on top of him which appeared to compress his neck area. Faried stayed down on the baseline well after the game finished and was taken off in a stretcher. He did have feeling and movement in his hands and feet and gave a thumbs up as he left the court. Word from the Nuggets training staff is that Faried will be taken to a local hospital for x-rays to determine if he has any fractures in a lower cervical vertebrae but he did not exhibit any symptoms of a more serious injury involving nerve damage. He was accompanied by Tim Connelly. Hopefully Kenneth is okay and the injury looked scarier than it actually is.
Reports: Kenneth Faried being taken off the court on a stretcher after this injury late in Denver-Golden State game pic.twitter.com/A4iWVKyAK0— Deadspin (@Deadspin) January 3, 2016
Gallinari was excellent in his return to the lineup and didn't appear to show any ill effects of his ankle injury. I've come to the point where I'm learning to live with his contested spot up shots. Gallo generally has the height advantage over anyone who is defending him which gives him an advantage in those situations. I'd still prefer that he try to get to the basket or the foul line instead and he did mix both of those in tonight, including a posterizing jam on Andrew Bogut. What might have been more encouraging about his play tonight was that tenacious defense that has been missing a lot this season was back. He stuck with Thompson or Green several times tonight and typically was able to slow them down more than anyone else who was guarding them. Nurkic's return was very short lived because Denver went small for the vast majority. He looked rusty in the post for sure but just having the Bosnian Beast out there was very good to see.
The Nuggets blew it on Ian Clark:
Clark was on the Nuggets summer league roster and played very strong. He showed then that his three point shooting ability was at an NBA level and it can be argued that he was their best player in Vegas. Unfortunately, the Nuggets did not extend him a contract offer and Clark ended up getting signed by the Warriors, the rich get richer. With Curry unable to play the second half Clark got extended minutes and he did not disappoint. He did more than just shoot threes, he was able to get to the basket on several occasions and convert. He went 7-8 from the field tonight for 15 points, including a clutch shot in overtime that came with a high degree of difficulty. He's not a great defender but if you're choosing between him and Randy Foye it's Clark all the way.
Gallinari and Coach Malone will tell you there's no such thing as a moral victory but this one truly was just that. I don't care that Curry was out the second half, Golden State is still a damn good team and Oracle Arena is still the toughest place to play if you're the visiting team. The Nuggets got punched in the mouth to open the contest and last year's team likely would have just gone through the motions after that. Not this team, they fought and fought the entire night and while they didn't get the win, they did treat their fans to the most exciting game of the season thus far and that's pretty good in my book. Once Mudiay is back, once Nurkic is full speed and once they add another young asset in the draft and get Wilson Chandler back from hip surgery...watch out.
Box score via ESPN.com