OAKLAND – You got the feeling Friday night's playoff game between the Warriors and Nuggets would define something. Each team had won a game, had absorbed the other team's best blow, and now one team would take over, impose its will on the other and define the direction of this series.
The Warriors won 110-108, but it seemed neither team wanted the game at the end. With 9.4 seconds left and the Warriors up by one, Jarrett Jack, the Warriors' ball protector, tried to inbound the ball. It was strictly a nothing play. You've seen it a million times.
But the Nuggets guarded the Warriors well and Jack couldn't find anyone to throw the ball to and seconds ticked away. Although the Warriors had a timeout, Jack didn't call timeout. Five seconds elapsed and Jack was called for a violation, and Denver got the ball with the same 9.4 seconds left. And they could win the game. After all that, they could win the game.
Except for one thing. Their great guard Ty Lawson, who owned the Warriors all night – 35 points, 10 assists – drove for the layup that would win the game. Festus Ezeli rode him toward the basket and Lawson dribbled off his leg and the ball went out of bounds. “Somehow he dribbled it off his leg,” Denver coach George Karl said, “I don't know what to say.”
Warriors coach Mark Jackson knew what to say. “We're a defensive-minded team,” Jackson said. After Jack was called for the violation, Jackson gathered his team, told the players not to worry, told them they are a defensive-oriented team, told them to get a defensive stop. And that's what they did.
And the Warriors won even though Denver got the ball for a final shot from about 50 miles away and missed. Which means this may not have been a statement game, after all. These are two even teams, and every game will be a war and a heart-thumper.