OAKLAND, Calif. — His star point guard slowed by a sore left ankle, Warriors coach Mark Jackson told Stephen Curry in the first half he might shut him down for the rest of the game.
Curry quieted his coach with a resounding answer.
Curry shook off the soreness in his ankle to score 22 of his 31 points in a spectacular third quarter, leading the Warriors past the Denver Nuggets 115-101 on Sunday night for a commanding 3-1 series lead.
"It was almost like a boxer that knew he was on the ropes, because it was just a matter of time" said Jackson. "I told him I don’t need him to be a hero. Talk about smart coaching. And I guess he realized and sensed it. He captured and embraced the moment. The thing that stood out to me, it was almost as if he had been waiting for this his entire career and he wasn’t going to allow his body to tell him it was too hurt to match the moment."
Curry finished 10 of 16 from the floor, including 6 of 11 from long range, and added seven assists in a dominant and dazzling display that rivaled his days in the NCAA tournament for tiny Davidson. Only this time, he stole the spotlight in the NBA playoffs, earning praise from Hall of Famers and past and present All-Stars all over social media.
Curry took a pain-killing injection before the game for the first time in his career, though he looked slow early and even covered his head in a towel on the bench late in the first quarter. Then, he hit five 3-pointers in the third quarter to lift Golden State to a 20-point lead and its third straight victory in this frenetic and flashy series.
"I don’t know what happened. Something kicked in there," Curry said.
Jarrett Jack added 21 points and nine assists and Andrew Bogut broke out in the first half with 12 points and five rebounds for the sixth-seeded Warriors, who can close out the Nuggets in Game 5 on Tuesday night in Denver.
Ty Lawson scored 26 points and Andre Iguodala had 19 for the third-seeded Nuggets. Denver won the rebounding battle for the first time in this series — 37 to 29 — but Golden State didn’t miss much.
The Warriors outshot the Nuggets 55.7 to 46.5 per cent.
"The next 48 hours are going to be difficult, to say the least," Nuggets coach George Karl said. "They found some magic, and we have to find a way to take it away."
The Warriors lost All-Star forward David Lee to a season-ending hip injury in Game 1, and Curry sprained his left ankle late in Game 2. Seemingly down and out, Curry has carried the load anyway.
The quick-shooting point guard hit 5 of 8 from beyond the arc in a jaw-dropping third quarter, when nearly every gold-shirt wearing fan in the sellout crowd of 19,596 stood and cheered. Curry scored all 22 points in the final 6:22 of the quarter, showing the kind of range that helped him make 272 3-pointers in the regular season — three more than Ray Allen’s record set in 2005-06 with Seattle.
Curry capped his remarkable run with two of his most highlight-reel plays.
He stole the ball from Lawson, stopped in heavy traffic and dropped in a 27-footer before sprinting all the way to the bench high-fiving and chest-bumping teammates. Following a timeout, Curry sprung free near for a corner 3 — looking back right in front of Denver’s bench — that gave Golden State a 91-72 lead entering the fourth.
Curry’s five 3s in the quarter were a Warriors playoff record for a half.
"As soon as he gets the ball in the half court, he’s in range," Bogut said.
Curry, wearing heavy tape around his nagging ankle, gave fans another scare when Corey Brewer poked Curry in the right eye going for a rebound early in the fourth. He returned about 4 1/2 minutes later, receiving another standing ovation from the home fans and later said his eye wouldn’t be an issue.
While Curry scored only seven points in the first half, Bogut broke out in a big way to provide the one-two punch Golden State had long envisioned.
The 7-footer from Australia had three big dunks in the first half, including a thunderous right-handed slam over JaVale McGee. Bogut, who received a technical foul in Game 3 for daring Denver’s big man to punch him on the chin during a face-to-face altercation, stared back at McGee while backpedalling down court.
"I just gathered myself and the ankle held up," Bogut said.
Bogut sat out the final 4:37 of the first half with three fouls, and Andre Miller — whose last-second shot in Game 1 is the only thing keeping Denver alive — almost single-handily brought the Nuggets within a bucket. Then Curry hit his first 3-pointer of the game — officially a 27-footer that seemed closer to the scorer’s table than the arc — as Golden State scored the last 11 points before the break to go ahead 56-44.
Lawson, who scored a career-playoff high 35 points in the Game 3 loss, rallied from a slow start to highlight a 14-4 run that sliced Golden State’s lead to 62-58 midway through the third quarter. Just when it seemed they might crawl back, Curry countered one devastating swish after another to put a major dent in Denver’s playoff hopes.
That’s not the only patchwork needed, either.
Nuggets forward Kenneth Faried kicked a hold in the wall just inside the visiting locker room afterward that symbolized his team’s frustration. The scene was reminiscent of the hole Dirk Nowitzki put in the wall outside the locker room– which remains till this day — when he threw a chair after his top-seeded Dallas Mavericks were upset in the first round by Golden State in 2007.
"There’s no good news," said Faried, who had eight points and 12 rebounds. "The effort of coming back and trying to keep playing, it was there. But when they come down and just hit 3s when you’ve just crossed half-court, you can’t scheme around that. You can’t stop that. We just have to find a way to not let them do that.
NOTES: For the third straight game, Jackson listed Carl Landry at power forward in his starting lineup submitted before the game, even though Harrison Barnes started at power forward and Landry came off the bench. Jackson said beforehand that he’d do it again because "it worked." Karl said it’s not what coaches typically do but joked that Jackson is "consistent" and maybe "superstitious." … Jackson’s wife, Desiree Coleman Jackson, sang the national anthem.