BY DANIEL GLUSKOTER
Bouncing back from an unimpressive stretch in which they lost five of their last eight games, the Warriors got out of the gate quickly for a change Friday night, jumping out to a big early first quarter lead on the way to a dominating 122-105 win over the Denver Nuggets in a battle between the top two teams in the Western Conference standings.
The victory enabled the Warriors to take a two game lead over Denver in the battle for home court advantage throughout the Western Conference playoffs.
While Golden State’s defense helped spark their first quarter surge, holding the Nuggets to 22% shooting in the quarter, and 38% for the game, Denver actually fought back from a 19 point deficit to briefly take the lead mid-way thru the second quarter. That lead would last all of 54 seconds as the Warriors posted a near wire to wire victory.
Klay Thompson, returning to the lineup after a two game absence due to knee soreness, sparked Golden State from the outset, leading all scorers with 39 points including nine of his 11 three-point attempts.
The Warriors reestablished their dominance with a late second quarter run that stretched their lead to 67-50 at half time behind the hot shooting of Thompson and Kevin Durant. Thompson had 27 at the break including 6-7 shooting from behind the arc. Durant added 16 while shooting 6-8 from the field.
DeMarcus Cousins also made a huge contribution in the post, holding Denver’s All-Star center Nikola Jokic to 16 points and just five rebounds. Cousins solid line included six blocks and three steals, complimenting 13 points, six rebounds and six assists. Durant finished with 26 on the night while Steph Curry added 17. Draymond Green pitched in ten rebounds for the Warriors.
Malik Beasley and Monte Morris paced the Nuggets with 17 points each off the bench, while Mason Plumlee added 12 boards.
After the game, Thompson weighed in on the Warriors track record of bad starts to begin games, “I am sick of hearing about our slow starts and all that stuff. It is nice to change the pace and we got out to a big lead that we were able to sustain. When we play ahead like that I think we are so hard to beat, so hopefully we continue this trend towards the end of the regular season.” He added, “I just play with energy, those two games (missed due to injury) felt like an eternity and you miss it when your teammates and friends are out there competing, so for me it is about playing with energy and passion and focus because then other parts of my game will open up.”
Meanwhile, Warriors coach Steve Kerr was effusive in his praise of both Thompson and Cousins. Speaking of Thompson, he stated, “He impacted the game in so many ways. He obviously had 39 points, but it’s his defense too. Chasing ball handlers over those high screens, being physical, using his length and intelligence to make guys uncomfortable. It was huge having Klay back. He was amazing. He was awesome.”
Asked about Cousins all-around game, Kerr said, “I thought DeMarcus was great with the six blocks and the three steals. He was all over the place defensively. Then he finally got that three to go down and put his hands to the heavens. He’s been great. His approach, his attitude, he’s a joy to coach and he’s passionate. Sometimes he’s out there just yelling and screaming at the world. I love coaching him. He’s really been good for our group and the last couple days just energizing the other guys. He’s still finding his way with our team and the way we play, but he’s doing a great job.”
The Warriors return to action on Sunday night hosting the Phoenix Suns at Oracle. They game tips off at 5:30 pm.
The Warriors improved to 12-1 in games started by Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and DeMarcus Cousins.
The Warriors improved to 14-6 this season in games following a loss. They also improved to 28-3 in games when it scores 120-or-more points this season.
Golden State made 53.6 percent of its field goal attempts and improved to 26-1 this season when shooting 50 percent-or-better from the field