OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) – A franchise-record regular season ended in all too familiar fashion for the Denver Nuggets with a disappointing first-round playoff loss.
Stephen Curry had 22 points and eight assists to help Golden State break out to an 18-point lead before Denver’s furious finish fell just short at the end of a 92-88 loss to the Warriors in Game 6 on Thursday night that ended the Nuggets’ season in the first round for the ninth time in 10 years.
“Our goal was to get out of the first round. We got outplayed, we got outcoached, we got outworked, we got outrebounded, we got outsmarted,” guard Andre Miller said. “We weren’t able to get the job done and we go home. That’s all.”
This year was supposed to be different for the franchise that has had so many playoff disappointments in recent years. The Nuggets won 23 of their final 26 regular season games to earn the Western Conference’s third seed, then lost four of the final five games to Curry and the Warriors.
With top outside shooter Danilo Gallinari sidelined by a season-ending knee injury and no one able to stop Curry or keep up with his scoring on the offensive end, the Nuggets were unable to keep up with the fast-breaking Warriors.
“We didn’t lose the series tonight. This is a proud loss,” coach George Karl said. “We lost the series in Game 1 and 2. We didn’t play well enough to sustain some confidence. In Game 1, we won a close game. Game 2, we gave back everything that we worked for 57 wins to the third seed, we gave it back by having a flat game. That’s on me.”
The Nuggets did show some serious fight at the end when they scored 13 straight points after falling behind by 18 early in the fourth quarter.
After the Warriors went back ahead by nine, they nearly collapsed. Wilson Chandler stole a rebound from Draymond Green for an easy layup to get within four, Andre Iguodala hit another from long range and Kenneth Faried made 1 of 2 free throws to bring Denver within two with 32.4 seconds to play.
Iguodala stole Thompson’s pass on the ensuing play. Chandler’s running layup rimmed out, he missed a put-back and then knocked the ball out – a call that stood after a video review and had the Nuggets wondering whether the ball ever bounced out after the game.
But instead of Corey Brewer saving the ball to set up a game-tying dunk, the Warriors kept possession and got two free throws from Jarrett Jack to ice the game.
“There are a lot of plays that are questionable,” guard Ty Lawson said. “The refs are in a tough position. They have to make a call in a split of a second. I don’t think the ball went out. Corey said the ball didn’t go out at all. It was a tough call.”
The Warriors advanced to the second round for the first time since 2007, when the “We Believe” team upset top-seeded Dallas in similar fashion – at home and in Game 6. Golden State lost to Utah in the second round that season.
“To finally get it done, it’s kind of a hazy feeling,” Curry said. “Just a sense of relief the way the game finished.”
Andre Bogut had season-bests and career-playoff highs of 14 points and 21 rebounds, and rookie Draymond Green added a career-high 16 points and 10 rebounds to power Golden State into the second round for the second time in 22 years.
The Warriors open the second round on Monday night in San Antonio.
“When we go in the locker room, we’re jumping up and down, we’re hugging, we’re changed men,” coach Mark Jackson said. “This is the greatest group of men as far as a team that I’ve ever been around or seen in my life.”
Iguodala scored 24 points and Lawson had 17 to lead the Nuggets, who were unable to overcome the loss of Gallinari to the injury last month.
Denver shot 7-for-28 from 3-point range in Game 6 and made just 31 percent from long range for the series.
“We do miss him but we can’t be worried about that,” forward Kenneth Faried said. “We had to go out there and do what we had to do. Without him it is tough because he’s our leading scorer.”
The Warriors only outshot the Nuggets 40.3 percent to 34.7 percent in the finale but dominated the rebounding matchup again, 55-44. They also overcame 21 turnovers – including 10 in the fourth – while the Nuggets only had seven.
Jackson ratcheted up the rhetoric after the Nuggets won a physical Game 5, saying Denver sent “hit men” out to take “cheap shots” at Curry. The accusations earned Jackson a $25,000 fine from the NBA for an “attempt to influence the officiating,” though neither side ever got out of control in the finale.
Except Curry’s shooting – again
On the ball or off the dribble, Curry connected all over his home court in another dazzling second half. Curry swished all four of his 3-pointers in the third quarter and brought the frenzies fans roaring to their feet each time.
Green also made a corner 3 in front of Denver’s bench, and Klay Thompson hustled for a rebound and a quick put-back to put the Warriors up 80-62 with 9:11 to play.
NOTES: All-Star forward David Lee made a surprising return for the Warriors after not dressing the previous four games with what the team had called a season-ending hip injury. He grabbed one rebound and missed one jumper in 87 seconds off the bench in the first quarter. … Aaron Hern, an 11-year-old from nearby Martinez, who was injured in the bombings during the Boston Marathon, attended the game with his family and honored on the videoboard during the first quarter.
By JOSH DUBOW, AP Sports Writer
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