Third Quarter Surge Lifts Warriors Past Nuggets

Life against the Golden State Warriors exists in two states – what you think is happening, and what actually is happening.

The Nuggets lost to the Warriors 127-108 on Saturday night at the Pepsi Center. There were things they did well. There were things they didn’t do well. In the first case, the Nuggets still found themselves down, but with a manageable deficit. When instances of the second case kicked in, the Warriors pulled away and ended up with the win.

“Obviously, this was our sixth game in nine nights,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “That’s part of the NBA. We can’t use that as an excuse, but that definitely played into it, I believe.”

So how to view the game? Carefully.

The challenge of playing a ball movement/player movement team as effective as Golden State in the third of a three-games-in-four-nights stretch is the most obvious: weary legs. The Warriors tested the Nuggets legs out early, whipping the basketball around the court for open jump shots and layups. That led to a quick early lead.

But then the Nuggets found a formula that worked. It started by switching nearly everything, not just select screens, on defense. But moreso, fresh legs did the trick. Kenneth Faried entered the game and almost immediately started delivering highlight-reel plays – a blocked shot; a couple of alley-oop dunks. Meanwhile, they were also getting solid performances from Will Barton and Emmanuel Mudiay as well. They spearheaded a Nuggets 21-3 run in the second quarter that erased a 13-point Warriors lead and put the Nuggets in front.

“The reason we got back in the game in that second quarter is we played great defense and we only had two turnovers,” Malone said.

But staying in front is hard to do against a Warriors team that puts points up in the blink of an eye. The Nuggets were down just five going into the third quarter, but that’s when Golden State erupted. They quickly went on a 27-6 run, pushing the lead well over 20 points on the strength of a big third out of star guard Stephen Curry. He had 12 points in the period, hitting three 3-pointers in the process.

“We came out firing in the third,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said.

Golden State outscored the Nuggets 43-21 in the third overall, and that was basically that.

The loss snapped a Nuggets’ two-game win streak and leads them into two much-needed days off. They were led by Will Barton’s 21 points, eight rebounds and five assists. Mudiay finished with 15 points, seven assists and five rebounds. Trey Lyles, with 11 points, with the only other Nuggets player in double figures.

The Warriors were led by Kevin Durant’s 25 points, seven rebounds and seven assists. Curry finished with 22 points and 11 assists.

“Small silver linings,” Malone said. “That’s a good basketball team. Hopefully we can play better against them the next time we see them.”

Christopher Dempsey: christopher.dempsey@altitude.tv and @chrisadempsey on Twitter.

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