Coming into the game, there was much talk of the Warriors attempt to deceive the public about Andrew Bogut’s injuries, his surgeries, and his timetable for recover. It had been found out that the procedure performed on the Australian center’s ankle was not the simple clean-it-out orthoscopic operation most believed it was. Instead, the big man was said to have received a micro-fracture surgery in his ankle, making it clear why he was not prepared to play to start the season. The timetable for recovery is significantly longer. Bogut’s statement to the media about it included these gems like “We’re not trying to deceive anyone, anymore,” and told of how the front office had asked him not to talk about the surgery.
But tonight, the focus was back on the court, where Bogut was not. In the game against the Nuggets, the Warriors trailed by as much as 16 before making a late 2nd half run that saw them retake the lead mid-way through the 4th quarter. Led by David Lee’s 31 points, the Warriors battled back and forth with the Nuggets to the end, when the game began taking some crazy turns.
Up 106-103 with a little less than 10 seconds remaining, the Nuggets brought the ball up court and passed to Andre Iguodala who was immediately fouled by Jarrett Jack to try to prevent the tying 3-point shot attempt. Instead, the official nearest the play ruled that Iguodala was in shooting motion before the foul and awarded the Nuggets 3 shots from the line for the potential tie. With 3.4 seconds remaining, the Denver wing sank the first 2 before missing the 3rd badly. The rebound ricocheted off of Draymond’s green hand in a 3-man scrum between he, David Lee, and Nugget forward Kenneth Faried.
So with 2.1 seconds left, the Nuggets had the ball again, this time down just 1 point 106-105. On the ensuing in-bounds play, the ball was lofted into the air near the rim for 5’10” Denver point guard Ty Lawson, who never jumped, and tried to collect the alley-oop pass off the bounce. The ball again went out of bounds, this time said to have gone off Warriors point guard Stephen Curry. In the replay, now being used for the 3rd time in less than 5 seconds, the ball as seen to be going off Lawson. It also showed an uncalled potential foul on Curry that might have impeded the catch. Again, with some question, the ball was awarded to the Nuggets with .5 seconds remaining.
At this point the Warriors’ home crowd and even a few players were taking their frustrations out on the referees. On the in-bounds, it was Iguodala again getting the ball, this time a 3 for the win. Though the release looked late, the nearby official counted the attempt. The ball went in, and the game was over. The Nuggets had won. But again, replay was used, and this time, it came out in the Warriors favor. Instead of a 108-106 Nugget victory, Golden State held on to win 106-105.
It wasn’t pretty, and at times the Warriors looked pitiful on defense. They struggled for much of the game. But somehow, the Warriors had pulled out a come-from-behind win to regain first place in the Pacific division. Now 15 games into the season, the Warriors are 9-6, owning a tiebreaker over the Clippers (also 9-6) and a 2 game lead over the Pacific Division favorite Lakers. They haven’t been in this position since the introduction of a third division.
How are they doing it? With a team supposedly built around offense and shooters, the Warriors are winning games with their defense and rebounding. They’re in the bottom half of the league in scoring efficiency, and in the top half defensively. Top 5 in rebounding. They’re 8th worst in 3-point percentage. All of this, without Bogut, who might not play for 3 more months, perhaps longer.
They’re playing defense as a team, and “gang rebounding,” as Mark Jackson described tonight after the win. It’s a far cry from the Warriors teams that did neither of those things for the better part of 2 decades. And as slow to jump the bandwagon as I’ve been, it’s fun to watch. Because winning is fun. The start of this season has been marked by insiders, critics, and beat-writers trying to figure out what the offensive identity of this team is. It’s been difficult, and still is. Perhaps it’s because this isn’t an offensive team.
Not yet, at least. Clearly, they’ve outlasted opponents more with defense than scoring. Maybe that changes, but maybe it doesn’t. So far this season, the Warriors look like what Mark Jackson has wanted them to become since his first press conference. A defensive-minded team. If the offense ever comes around to look like something Warrior fans are used to, this Warrior team could be legitimate threats to crash the playoff party not only as an 8 seed, but as high as 5 or 6.
It’s early, and by no means is this proof that the Warriors are good enough to win the Pacific Division. But they’re certainly raising expectations with each win, Bogut or not Bogut. It will be interesting to see how they fair on their upcoming road trip. A 7 game long tour of the Eastern Conference, it could certainly bring fans and players back down to Earth. But while including trips to Brooklyn and Miami, it also features games against Charlotte, Detroit, Orlando and Washington, all likely to be under .500. Of the 3 teams over .500? The Warriors have already beaten 3 of them, the Nets and Atlanta Hawks. Playing on the road is tougher, and especially, the Brooklyn and Miami crowds will greet the Warriors none too kindly. But 2 games from now, they begin a trip that will likely define their season. Was the good start real? Or are the Warriors simply doing a great job treading water with Bogut out?