Leading 87-79 after three quarters, the Golden State Warriors collapsed in the final period of Sunday’s tilt against the Denver Nuggets and suffered their third loss in four games, falling by a final of 116-105.
A strong shooting night kept Golden State in prime position for the majority of the night until Denver–now 14-2 at the Pepsi Center–blew past them with a 19-2 run to start the fourth quarter. It marked only the second time this season that the Warriors have lost a game that they led after three periods, following the overtime defeat to the Lakers.
“That’s not our brand of basketball, offensively or defensively, that we played in the fourth quarter,” coach Mark Jackson said following the game. “Things fell apart early on. We gave them life, and they capitalized on it.”
Jackson pinpointed a barrage of late turnovers as one of the big factors in the Nuggets’ 37-point final quarter. Denver outscored Golden State 29-7 in points off turnovers, as Klay Thompson had an especially rough night, throwing away several possessions with misplaced passes.
“Uncharacteristic for him,” Jackson said tersely after the game.
There were upsides in the loss, a game that the Warriors looked poised to win going away entering the last period. David Lee played 42 minutes and poured in 23 points to go along with 13 rebounds and six assists. Stephen Curry led all scorers with 29 points despite suffering what looked to be a leg injury in the second half. Curry remained in the game and continued to be effective despite having to limp off the court during a timeout after the initial injury.
However, as is becoming a theme in virtually every Warriors loss, the team was outplayed underneath by the Nuggets, the league’s best squad at tallying points in the paint. Denver also entered the game as the best offensive rebounding team in the NBA (14.2/game) and looked every bit the part with 14 more on Sunday. It was yet another reminder that without Andrew Bogut, Golden State isn’t likely to consistently go toe-to-toe with teams built to dominate inside such as the Nuggets.
Danilo Gallinari led Denver with 21 points while Andre Miller added 12 points, eight assists and six rebounds off the bench, gashing the middle of the Warriors’ defense with several easy drives to the hoop late in the game.
Some boosters might chalk up the fourth quarter collapse to the Rocky Mountain altitude, but more realistically we are seeing the Warriors’ first real lull of the season. Now losers of three out of four, Golden State is in the midst of perhaps its toughest stretch of the season. They will have two nights off before returning home to take on the defending champion Miami Heat. If any misplaced inkling that LeBron James and company might not be prepared for the Warriors exists, disregard it now. The Heat will be out for blood after Golden State shocked Miami on its home floor earlier in the season.
The challenges don’t end there. If you asked any NBA “expert” who the four best teams in the league are, there’s a good chance they might tell you Miami, San Antonio, the Los Angeles Clippers and Oklahoma City. Those juggernauts make up four of the next five games on the docket for Golden State (with a “should-win” against New Orleans squeezed in the middle) and might dictate exactly where the 2012-13 Golden State Warriors stand. Go 3-2 or even 4-1, and you’ve got yourself a true contender. Anything less has to be considered discouraging after the way the team started the year.
Mark Jackson should use the next two days to find a stopgap remedy for his team’s post play woes and build his team’s energy–which hasn’t appeared as potent as normal–back to where it needs to be in the fourth quarter. Without a step up in both areas, it could be a cake walk for Miami on Wednesday.