COHN: Warriors advance, certify their superiority

OAKLAND -- When it ended, when the Warriors beat the Nuggets 92-88, when they moved on to the second round of the playoffs, yellow confetti floated down from the rafters. It filled the air like yellow snow. The crowd, in yellow shirts, stood and shouted, and the defeated Denver Nuggets, under the golden snow flurry, congratulated the Warriors and hugged the players and coaches.

The Warriors' win was inevitable. When they ended the first half just two points down, you knew they would win and the Nuggets were dead. We'd seen the scenario before, the Warriors coming back and putting teams away at the end, overwhelming them.

The Warriors had led about one minute into the first quarter and never again in the first half. But it didn't matter. In the second half, Stephen Curry, who had been strangely lethargic, started sinking 3-pointers from all over the place. His shots had hit the rim in the first half — clunk. But now they were true and they pierced the net as clean as possible — swish.

And Andrew Bogut did what he does — grabbed rebounds and slammed through dunks. And the Nuggets, who play hard, but can't shoot, who almost never score a 3, were no longer nuggets. They were fool's gold. And they were done. Done for the season. Well to be fair, things got pretty hairy for the Warriors at the end of the game, the Nuggets almost coming back from an 18-point deficit.

But Denver didn't make it all the way. And the Warriors' improbable story continues. Now they've eliminated the third seed in the West. And if the 2006-07 "We Believe" team was more heart-stopping and more dramatic than this season's version of the Warriors — was it? — this team is better, deeper, more talented.

The night started with Mark Jackson getting fined $25,000 for opening his mouth about the officials, for trying to influence them, according to the league. Jackson denied the charge, but the league was right. Jackson just about accused Denver coach George Karl of being a thug.

Jackson was objecting to the rough play of the Nuggets, and they were playing rough. It is Jackson's first time in the playoffs as a coach and he still is learning. So is Curry. Playoff ball is a whole different world than the regular season. They hit you hard in the playoffs, and the refs let them. They go after your weakness. They take you out of your game. This is what the Nuggets did to Curry — or tried to do. But no one can keep him down for long. He is the real nugget. The real gold.

And there's something else about playoff ball, especially a throat-tightening sixth game with so much at stake. These kinds of games tend to be low-scoring. Every made basket and every made free throw is valuable, so unlike the regular season which is all about point inflation. In the regular season baskets are almost worthless.

Not so on Thursday night. The Warriors did not score a ton of points, but they seemed like an offensive war machine out there. And the Nuggets, who couldn't get value for their shots — they were getting pennies on the dollar — were held to, get this, 20 points in the third quarter, and in the crucial, do-or-die fourth quarter, their future in the balance, Denver did not score a single point for almost four minutes.

So, who are the Warriors' heroes?

Jackson is a basketball hero. He is an announcer turned coach and, for a time, it seemed he was an orator, one of those so-called motivators in the manner of Mike Singletary — all hot air. Not so. He is a real coach, who got this team of rookies and kids to finish sixth in the West and beat a quality outfit like the Nuggets with no sweat, well there was plenty of sweat.

Curry is a hero because he made the offense dangerous, lethal really. And although the Nuggets tried to bother him and sometimes did bother him, he has a star's mentality, a star's magic, and he came through. "When we were down in the first half," Jackson said, "I took him aside and told him, 'There will be a point in this game when you will take over because you are the best player.' "

And Bogut is a hero because he is not yet entirely Andrew Bogut — he is what you'd call Andrew Bogut in a sense. But that partial Bogut gave the Warriors something they have not had in decades, a dominating, snarling, serious center who really can play basketball. "Bogut played his best game," Jackson said. "We knew what we got when we traded for him."

And Jarrett Jack is a hero because he owns the ball when things are desperate. And Harrison Barnes is a hero because he's only a rookie and he plays with a sliver of ice in his heart, and he makes 3s so easily you just want to scratch your head.

And Carl Landry is a hero because he makes the Warriors fierce and he has a sweet touch. And Draymond Green is a hero who scored 16 — how did he get so good? And Klay Thompson is a hero just because. And David Lee is a hero because he came back from a torn hip flexor — how? — and played one minute.

And even though the Nuggets came back in the fourth quarter and made the game a game, the Warriors held on. And that says something about who they used to be, and who they are now.

Who are they now?

They have the effrontery to challenge the San Antonio Spurs. Stay tuned.

For more on the world of sports in general and the Bay Area in particular, go to the Cohn Zohn at cohn.blogs.pressdemocrat.com. You can reach Staff Columnist Lowell Cohn at lowell.cohn@pressdemocrat.com.