OAKLAND -- There may be better teams, more experienced teams, teams that will ultimately go farther in the postseason, but there is no more entertaining show in these NBA playoffs than the Golden State Warriors. Hardly anyone expected the performance to run beyond the first round, but it turns out that the Warriors aren't ready to exit stage left. You'll be able to catch their act in the Western Conference semifinals, thanks to their series-clinching 92-88 Game 6 win over the Nuggets Thursday night at Oracle Arena.
The underdog Warriors, who open their second-round series against the second-seeded Spurs on Monday in San Antonio, were at their most thrilling -- in good ways and bad -- in denying the Nuggets' bid to send the series back to Denver for a Game 7. Start with the good: Their brilliant point guard, Steph Curry, went on one of his white hot binges in front of the home fans, who cranked up the decibel level to the point that it sounded like the game was being played on the tarmac at Oakland International. After shooting one-for-six in the first half, Curry had 14 points and four assists in the third quarter, hitting all four of his three-point attempts. "[Andrew] Bogut set some good screens on the high pick and roll," Curry said. "Off the dribble, I knocked down my first three. Then things started to click from there. If we stick to our execution, at some point things open up for us."
During one virtuoso sequence, Curry hit three treys and whipped a pass to Carl Landry for a layup, and a big "Make Noise" sign appeared on the Jumbotron screen. As if the raucous Warriors fans needed to be told.
They're loud all the time, but a Curry hot streak makes them deafening. "The great ones find a way, even during nights that they're struggling," Warriors coach Mark Jackson said of Curry. "At times he was struggling, but he found some moments to change the game. I think he separated himself from a bunch of guys in this league, very good players. Steph Curry has proven to be an elite player."
Curry's sterling third quarter helped Golden State turn a 42-40 halftime deficit into a 73-62 lead heading into the fourth. The Warriors, who also benefited from 20 rebounds and some stout interior defense from Bogut, stretched it to 80-62 with 8:19 left in the game, and it seemed like the Oracle celebration was about to begin in earnest. But then the bad Warriors suddenly appeared to make the game exciting again. The Nuggets began double-teaming Curry to get the ball out of his hands and trapping in the corners. The defensive pressure forced the suddenly panicky Warriors into nine turnovers in the final nine minutes, and the Nuggets pulled within two, at 90-88, on Kenneth Faried's two free throws with 32 seconds left. But they missed their chance to tie it when Wilson Chandler couldn't finish on a drive to the hoop. A pair of follow-ups around the basket also wouldn't fall, and the Warriors' Jarrett Jack made a pair of free throws with 7.3 seconds left to ice the game and start the yellow confetti falling in celebration of the Warriors' playoff series victory since 2007.
It was just another dramatic night for the ever-theatrical Warriors. Jackson added another flourish to the evening when he unexpectedly activated forward David Lee, who was supposed to be sidelined for the rest of the playoffs after suffering a torn hip flexor in Game 1, for a surprise cameo. Lee entered the game to an ovation in the first quarter, but his 87 seconds proved inconsequential.
In a series in which both teams irritated the other on the court and in the media, the Lee gambit was one final piece of gamesmanship. Denver coach George Karl wasn't exactly thrilled by Jackson's move. Asked about it after the game, Karl hesitated for several seconds before finally saying, "Weird. I'm too old to be shocked by a surprise like that. I've had guys in the NBA, in Europe, the CBA, pull tricks out of their hats. ... But it was weird."
The Warriors are weird sometimes. Weird and spectacular and inexperienced and exuberant and inconsistent -- which is to say, really, really fun. There won't be many experts who will pick them to pull off another upset against the precise, unflappable Spurs, but it should be a blast to watch them try. With the confetti snowfall filling the air of Oracle after the final buzzer, it was easy to drift back to Game 2, when Jackson talked to his players in the huddle during a timeout. "In case I forget to tell you guys," he said, "I love you."
With the exception of the Nuggets and their fans, who doesn't?