Imagine thinking the Golden State Warriors might actually be in trouble. Couldn't be me.
Relative to what they're capable of, the Warriors have not played particularly well this season. They came into Tuesday's game against the West-leading Denver Nuggets with the second-best record in the conference but had gone just 9-12 against .500-or-better teams. They'd suffered an uncharacteristically high number of blowout losses, and their signature blowout wins had almost exclusively come against lottery teams.
But there are certain games the Warriors get up for, and it's clear they can still be ruthless as all hell when they sense an opportunity to send a message. Tuesday's contest – against a team that's already beaten them this season and has emerged as a potential challenger to their Western Conference hegemony – was one such instance. The Warriors piled up an NBA-record 51 first-quarter points while besting their franchise record with 10 3-pointers in the first frame. They finished the game with 21 made threes, 38 assists, and a 71.4-percent true-shooting mark in a 31-point win that moved them back into the top spot in the West for the first time since mid-December.
It was the kind of casual soul-destroying performance that makes it seem as though they can do this whenever they choose. The message was clear: This is what it looks like when Golden State flips the switch.
"We've been paying attention," Stephen Curry told reporters after the game, according to ESPN's Nick Friedell. "We know who's been playing well – and to be honest, we haven't played as well against the playoff teams in the West. We wanna kinda correct that going into the last half of the season. So, this is a big night for us to continue to build momentum. We want to be able to carry this and put a nice little streak together, and we're doing it."
Said Kevin Durant about the Nuggets: "I think they know who we are."
Even the Warriors can't shoot as lights out as they did against the Nuggets every night, but when they bring this kind of energy, flow, and decisiveness, they don't have anything to worry about. When they're locked in offensively, the ball movement is crisp, their sets are fluid, and they opportunistically push the tempo. It became very obvious very quickly Tuesday that the Warriors were locked in.