OAKLAND -- This wasn't a chess game, this was a four-quarter stampede happening in the middle of a basketball court.

It sure wasn't ballet. It was loud and mind-boggling for long stretches and impossible to fully comprehend at all times.

But the Warriors' 110-108 Game 3 victory over Denver at Oracle Arena on Friday was just as frantically entertaining as you could possibly want a playoff game.

And it gave the Warriors a 2-1 lead in this first-round series, with another game set for Sunday at Oracle and with the upstart Warriors now on the brink of putting Denver in a stranglehold.

This game was very different from -- and slightly more significant than -- the first two because this one featured both teams in full flight and still the sixth-seeded Warriors toppled the third-seeded Nuggets.

Game 1 was a slowdown wrestling match out of character for both teams; in Game 2, the Warriors slugged first and could barely miss and Denver never recovered.

But on Friday, Denver played well and played incredibly hard.

And the Warriors played better and harder. When you build a foundation, those are the things you build it on -- and those are the things that move you through the playoffs.

"Everyone kind of laughed off Game 2 and said we're not going to score that much again, and we knew we wouldn't," center Andrew Bogut said. "But we knew if we grinded it out and played some defense -- we won the rebound count again, which is great -- that's the style we need to play.

"We're so good offensively that sometimes we forget we need to defend."


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Mostly, on Friday the Warriors did it in the final minutes of the third quarter, with Stephen Curry getting a rare rest.

That's when Jarrett Jack scored or assisted on seven of eight baskets and helped turn a four-point deficit into a 87-84 lead heading into the final period.

From there, the Warriors got just enough offense from Curry, including back-to-back wheeling, whirling short-range baskets, and just enough defense from everybody else.

Draymond Green was a rock off the bench. Harrison Barnes made a giant basket and then fed Klay Thompson for another one.

And Bogut kept banging into as many Nuggets as he could, as hard as he could, stirring up emotions and giving the Warriors a physical edge.

Denver kept charging and running and feeding Ty Lawson, who rocketed his way through the Warriors' defense for a game-high 35 points and 10 assists.

Lawson almost single-handedly brought the Nuggets all the way back in the final moments, but the Warriors walled him off one last time, survived two near-fatal turnovers and a missed free throw in the final minute, then Andre Iguodala's half-court heave at the buzzer clanged off the rim.

In the end, Curry led the way with 29 points and 11 assists -- returning from his sprained left ankle in Game 2 and playing 38 minutes.

Curry battled through the injury and through a swarming Nuggets defense that in the early-going seemed to overwhelm the Warriors.

So what was accomplished? The Warriors didn't shoot as spectacularly as they did in Game 2, but they still won because they shot well enough and did almost everything else well.

"We're going to go at them, and they're going to go at us," said Green, who played 15 crucial minutes filled with hustle and defense on Friday. "It's going to be a physical brawl until somebody takes the series. In a series like this, you're going to have to win it like this. They're not going to come easy."

On Friday, the Nuggets were good and up for a stampede. The Warriors were good and tough and ready to stuff a stampede with their own bull rush.

They played well enough to win a game, and, if it continues, a series.

Read Tim Kawakami's Talking Points blog at blogs.mercurynews.com/kawakami. Contact him at tkawakami@mercurynews.com.