DENVER -- To stay in this first-round playoff series, much less give themselves a chance to win it, the Warriors knew they'd have to shoot as if Denver's defense didn't exist. That's precisely what they did in Game 2 on Tuesday night.
They were led, of course, by point guard Stephen Curry, now relentless on his mission to remind everyone he's the best shooter in the NBA.
Down after losing Game 1, the Warriors brushed off the absence of All-Star forward David Lee and evened the series with 65 percent shooting in a 131-117 victory over the Nuggets before 19,155 disappointed fans at Pepsi Center.
Three days after the Warriors slowed down the go-go Nuggets in Game 1, taking the game to a single play in the final seconds, they cranked up the energy and beat the Nuggets at their own game.
This is now a series, and with the Warriors returning to comforts of Oracle Arena for Games 3 and 4, the pressure is on favored Denver.
Curry put it there. With Lee watching from the sideline, placing a much greater offensive burden upon Curry's slender shoulders, the 6-foot-3 point guard handled the chore with herculean gusto, scoring a game-high 30 points, on 13-of-23 shooting.
"Our big guys did a very good job of setting screens and creating opportunities for him, and he was aggressive," coach Mark Jackson said. "The guy's a big-time player, and he put on a phenomenal performance."
After missing four of his first five shots, Curry wrinkled his brow and rolled his neck and spent the rest of the evening torching the Nuggets. He shot jumpers from deep, jumpers from in close. He drove for scoops and layups. He served up the full array.
Curry even limped off at one point in the third quarter, only to return to help his teammates finish the win.
For sheer giggling ridicule, he added 13 assists and three steals.
He got plenty of help, as Jarrett Jack bounced back from a forgettable Game 1 with 26, rookie Harrison Barnes had a season-high 24 -- including one of the nastiest dunks this postseason -- and Klay Thompson fired in 21. Curry and Thompson combined to shoot 9 of 16 from 3-point distance.
"In my opinion, they're the greatest shooting backcourt in the history of the game," Jackson said, sounding not the least bit hyperbolic on this night.
After a heartbreaking two-point loss in Game 1, the Warriors responded exactly as Jackson has been advertising: united and determined. They believe, even though they realize Denver won 10 more games in the regular and was an astonishing 38-3 at home.
"We've had that -- no expectations on us -- from the start," Curry said.
Though Jackson threw a wrinkle at the Nuggets and coach George Karl -- starting the 6-3 Jack as a replacement for the 6-9 Lee -- it was the basics that kept the Warriors in the game early and eventually allowed them to stretch their lead to as much as 20 points in the fourth quarter.
The shot better (64.6 percent to 50) and, for the second consecutive game, the Warriors owned the boards (36-26).
Though the Nuggets were aggressive early, taking advantage of two quick fouls on center Andrew Bogut, the Warriors took the lead with 8:26 left in the second quarter and never lost it. Bogut led the rebounding charge with eight, and Curry handled most of the scoring, driving the Nuggets to the brink of madness, their fans to the edge of despair and Karl on a desperate search for a stopper.
There was none to be found. Not 5-11 Ty Lawson, not 6-6 Evan Fournier, not 6-6 Andre Iguodala, not 6-9 Corey Brewer. Curry finished the half on a 7-for-10 roll and entered the locker room with 17 points.
"They're probably the best shooting team in the NBA," Karl said, "and maybe the best shooting team I've seen in a long time."
On the night the series became much more what we anticipated, snapping nets and all-out sprints, the underdog Warriors showed, at the very least, they're going to be a tough out even with Lee as a spectator.
A tough out, indeed, if out at all.
"This series is far from over," Jackson said. "We've got a tremendous amount of respect for them, and they are more than capable of coming into Oracle and beating us."
True. Yet the Nuggets, so clearly not invincible, even at home, have to wonder if they feel like the favorites.