Are you up for a game of word association with a Bay Area sports theme?
Bill Walsh? Genius.
Cal football? The Play (Chicago Cubs also works here).
Barry Zito? Redemption.
Tim Lincecum? F*** Yeah!
You could go a few different ways with this one, depending on your age. Older fans will probably think about Rick Barry and the 1975 championship season, others might flash to the team’s iconic The City logo. For me, the Warriors are synonymous with points, points and more points.
Whether we’re talking about Run TMC, the “We Believe” team or Garry St. Jean’s squad with Mookie Blaylock, Antawn Jamison and Gilbert Arenas, the Warriors have always known how to put the ball in the hoop.
And with Stephen Curry, David Lee and Klay Thompson, this season’s team isn’t straying from tradition. But as the Warriors prepare for Game 6 of their playoff series against the Denver Nuggets at Oracle Arena tonight, a few more words come to mind: tough, resilient, mean.
At this point, this team looks more like relatives of Mark Jackson’s New York Knicks and Indiana Pacers squads from the 1980s and ’90s than the run-and-gun Warriors of yesteryear. We’ve heard a lot about the culture change since Jackson’s takeover, and the last of the naysayers were surely converted after Game 5.
The physicality on the court combined with the war of words afterward was reminiscent of those blood battles between the Knicks and Pacers during Jackson’s heyday. It was East Coast basketball at its best: hard screens, two-hand shoves after the whistle, trash talk, accusations and scandal. The only thing missing was a Hollywood director sitting courtside, mixing words with Curry or Thompson. Maybe the Warriors can bring in George Lucas for Game 6?
After getting torched in three straight games, Nuggets coach George Karl realized his team couldn’t keep pace with the Warriors’ scorching offense. With Curry hobbled, the Nuggets’ best option was to go hard and deliver a knockout blow.
In Game 5, the strategy worked, initially. JaVale McGee and Kenneth Faried each took shots at Curry in the game’s opening five minutes, and with the Warriors rattled, the Nuggets stormed out to a 20-point lead at halftime.
But the second half epitomized the transformation of the Warriors under Jackson. His team lost the game, but it may have won the series in those final 24 minutes.
Had the Nuggets continued to blow out Jackson’s club, they may have gained much-needed confidence and momentum heading back to Oracle for Game 6. Instead, it was the Warriors who sent a message, fighting back physically and on the scoreboard with a near-incredible comeback.
Of course, it didn’t end when the final seconds ticked off the clock. With his team bruised and battered, Jackson carried the Warriors’ momentum into the postgame news conference. By accusing the Nuggets of putting a hit on Curry, his star will likely get protection from the refs in Game 6 and he definitely fired up the locker room in the process. It’s gamesmanship with a Phil Jackson-like touch.
Yes, the Warriors should come out firing for their home crowd tonight. When the final buzzer sounds, there might be only one word to describe the Nuggets: eliminated.
Paul Gackle is a columnist for The San Francisco Examiner. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter @GackleReport.