OAKLAND, Calif. -- How does a team forget how to play defense after four days off?
It's a question the Golden State Warriors, who now pride themselves as a top-five NBA defensive team, must answer in the wake of a 123-116 loss to Denver on Wednesday night that looked like one of those old Nellie Ball shoot-em-ups.
The Nuggets exploited the paint and got numerous transition baskets to shoot 61.9 percent in the first half, then held off the Warriors' numerous charges down the stretch thanks to Nate Robinson and J.J. Hickson.
Robinson, the diminutive former Warriors guard, went off in the fourth quarter, scoring 14 of his 24 points. Hickson, meanwhile, grabbed 24 rebounds and made two critical buckets after the Warriors had taken a 116-115 lead with 1:13 to go, one in which he picked Stephen Curry clean and scored at the other end with 48.7 seconds left.
But Mark Jackson thought the seeds of the defeat were sown much earlier than that. The Warriors coach said his team's defensive effort simply wasn't up to snuff much of the night and paid the price as a result.
"We were bad," he said. "Defensively, that's as bad as it gets. Four guys score 20, one guy gets 24 rebounds, they score in transition, score in the paint. We couldn't control or contain the pick-and-roll. It was just a bad display by us."
The Warriors made repeated second-half runs at Denver only to be turned back.
Robinson hit a 14-foot pull-up jumper with 4:05 to play that gave the Nuggets a 113-105 lead. But the Warriors battled back behind David Lee, who scored 12 of his game-high 28 in the final period and hit two free throws with 1:13 left for a one-point edge.
Hickson, however, split defenders down low to answer for Denver just nine seconds later, then when Curry tried to break him down on a one-on-one isolation at the top of the key, Hickson stole the ball, raced to the other end and scored, drawing a foul to boot with 48.7 seconds left.
Curry only had two turnovers in the game, but that one was a killer.
"We've seen him dance and make plays out of it, but give them credit," Jackson said. "Steph turned it over. I'll live with Hickson defending Steph Curry on the perimeter, but tonight he didn't make the play. That pretty much summed up our night. You can't disrespect the game and think it won't bite you."
Much was made of how the Warriors might play after a four-day layoff. Generally that kind of break impacts on offense, but Golden State scored more than enough points.
"You can't use being tired in the Brooklyn game as an excuse and then turn around and use too much rest as an excuse for this loss," Lee said. "I just think we need to play better."
The Warriors did play better defense in the second half, but when Robinson got rolling, there was no stopping him. At one juncture, he scored 12 straight points for Denver, including back-to-back 3-pointers after the Warriors had gotten back to within 97-95.
"That's what Nate can do," Denver coach Brian Shaw said. "When he's on a good streak, he's as good as anybody in the league."
The Warriors might have survived if Robinson was the only player doing damage. But Denver got 22 apiece from Wilson Chandler and Tyson Lawson, and 21 from Randy Foye.
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