In Year 5 of the Golden State dynasty, the team’s regular-season flexes have become less pronounced. The Warriors “get up” for premier matchups only when they want to, and they rarely call on the full extent of their talent to show us how easily they can bend any opponent to their will. But some nights, they come out in full form and remind the rest of the league that they’re all playing for second place. And that’s exactly what they did in Tuesday night’s 142-111 win over the Nuggets.
The Warriors have plenty of tells that indicate when they’re about to go full supernova: Kevin Durant dominating on both ends of the floor, Draymond Green playmaking like a madman without having to score, Klay Thompson dunking and hitting everything from deep. But my personal favorite is when Steph Curry puts on a show after one of his 3s slices through the net. With about 1:20 remaining in the third quarter Tuesday night, Curry stared down Mason Plumlee near the 3-point line, gathered the ball before Plumlee could flinch, and pulled up for a 30-foot swish. Then, he did this:
Steph Curry. This is unfair. pic.twitter.com/Em9Oll2RNS— Legion Hoops (@LegionHoops) January 16, 2019
This is a next-level Curry shimmy: arms flapping downward, head bobbing, feet dancing. Curry’s celebrations, from his classic shimmy to the turnaround before the ball flies through the net, are signs of Warriors exceptionalism. He flexes because he knows that he and the rest of his team can’t be contained.
The Nuggets didn’t stand a chance Tuesday night. The Warriors scored 51 points in the first quarter alone. Curry made eight 3s, and the team downed 21. Thompson finished with 31 points and four dunks, and Green was a plus-41 despite scoring only four points himself. Durant had 27 on 15 shots. The team as a whole shot 60 percent from the field and 54 percent from deep. It was a complete performance—the unspoken, yet clear response to a regular-season darling like Denver—as well as a vicious nudge to the rest of the league: No one can beat us if we try.
The defending champions are rolling, having won five in a row to take back the lead in the conference they’ve ruled for years. Earlier this season, the giant looked vulnerable. The team was dealing with offensive lulls, strife between players, questions about system and depth, and more losses than usual. But now the Warriors have turned things around by relying on both Curry and Durant, who are having seasons that would lead the MVP race in any other year, and by developing the most efficient offense (they’re scoring an NBA-leading 115.3 points per 100 possessions). Overcoming their early-season flaws appears to have strengthened and emboldened the Warriors as of late, and if they can keep this up over the back half of the season, the rest of the league should be scared—especially since there’s no clear no. 2 team in the West.
The Thunder have an elite defense and an All-NBA talent in Paul George, but still not enough shooting. The Nuggets are a great story, but they’re young and the defense is regressing to the mean. The Rockets have James Harden, but that’s all. And without LeBron James, the Lakers don’t have much of anything. Some may have doubted the Warriors’ motivations early in the season, or looked at the fact that they’ve played in four-straight NBA Finals and wondered how they could create a chip on their shoulder seemingly out of nothing. But a game like Tuesday’s shows that they can be motivated when they need to be. Even as a juggernaut, they respond best when they’re doubted.
It is possible to overrate a single regular-season result, but not with the Warriors. This kind of overwhelming greatness always seems within their grasp, and it’s what makes them an avalanche of a team. Once it begins it’s over, and it’s over fast. Sure, there are still some issues below the surface—Durant and Curry splitting responsibilities in Steve Kerr’s offense, the team’s lack of wing depth beyond the starting lineup, and their shaky big man rotation. But if you’re still harboring any doubts about where this team will be come June, just remember: DeMarcus Cousins returns Friday.