They have a flare for the dramatic in Oakland.
The Oracle Arena played host to a crazy crowd, a return to the court that is being compared to Willis Reed and the biggest upset of the playoffs on Thursday night when the Golden State Warriors, youthful and inexperienced, beat the heavily favored Denver Nuggets in game 6 to see them through the first round.
It capped a series that showed just how offensively brilliant Mark Jackson’s team is and how defensively tough they can be when they want to. They’re going to need that same tenacity in the next round as they take on a San Antonio team that is the all business when it comes to strategy, defending, scoring, talking trash, breathing, heck everything short of going to the bathroom.
The Spurs are the complete opposite of the Warriors. They are aged, well seasoned at being in the postseason and ready to end this little fairy tale of Golden State’s. They won’t struggle in clutch moments the way Denver did and the Warriors won’t be able to make the mistakes they did in this round in big moments, but for today, the team and their fans can bask in the glory of an epic first round upset.
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It was supposed to be enough for this team that they made it this far. It was supposed to be stage one in a long evolution of taking the Warriors from traditionally being walked on to a contender. Instead, this team and its sharp shooting guards find themselves playing the most consistently dominant team over last two decades in a second round series that could turn Warriors franchise history on its head.
Their strategy against Denver of going head-to-head with the Nuggets in every way will have to be applied differently to the Spurs. Where the Warriors were outmatched against the Nuggets was obvious; in the paint and on the break the Nuggets were supposed to be superior, coming into the series as the No.1 team in the league in both categories, but the Warriors went toe-to-toe with them time and time again.
In game 6, the Nuggets held just a two point advantage in the paint and lost the rebounding battle 55-44. On the break, the Warriors held a 20-7 advantage, brilliantly eliminating the Nuggets fast break chances with good transition defense despite turning the ball over 19 times.
A big part of the team’s success comes down to two guys that were acquired in savvy trades; Andrew Bogut and Jarrett Jack. Bogut was massive in this series, protecting and attacking the rim like the elite level center everyone in Milwaukee expected him to be, but missed out on because of injuries. His 21 points and 4 blocks in game 6 were indicative of how he played throughout the series, something he’ll have to maintain if the Warriors are going to stand a chance at beating San Antonio.
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Jack, who finished third in Sixth Man of the Year voting, has declined an extension with the team and is playing like a man who is on tryout. His defensive performance in this series facing up against strong Nugget guards was a huge factor as he compensates somewhat for Stephen Curry’s weakness in that area.
For the playoffs, Jack is averaging 18 points, 5 rebounds and 7 assists per game and is a veteran presence on a young team. He brings to the table what coaches call intangibles and can help make a big difference in the next round. He recorded one of his finest performances of the season this year against San Antonio, scoring 30 points with 10 assists on Feb. 22.
It was six years ago that Golden State upset Dallas in the first round of the playoffs and the challenge they are about to face will feel a lot more like climbing that mountain again rather than the tough test that the Nuggets presented. Beating the Spurs is to challenge an institution. It will be the biggest test of their season, but no matter what happens, one thing will have changed. As a team, the Warriors will no longer be young and inexperienced after what they are about to face.