What we learned as Warriors collapse, lose on buzzer-beater


SAN FRANCISCO -- Before tipoff Wednesday night at Chase Center, Steve Kerr said he reminded the Warriors how much better it feels going into the All-Star break with a win than a loss. The message wasn't lost ... until it was, then it wasn't and then it was at the buzzer.

Steph Curry's three-point play gave the Warriors a two-point lead with 5.9 seconds remaining. The Denver Nuggets responded with Nikola Jokic taking Kevon Looney to the hole before finding a wide-open Monte Morris for a game-winning 3-pointer at the buzzer, sending the Warriors to crushing a 117-116 loss.

All night long, the Warriors couldn't pull away from the Nuggets and ran out of gas. They allowed 39 fourth-quarter points and were outscored 63-53 in the second half. 

Neither Curry nor Klay Thompson had an eye-opening night to remember. Curry scored 25 points and Thompson dropped in 16. The Splash Brothers combined to go just 4-for-17 from deep, but Steph did extend his streak to 179 straight games with at least one made 3-pointer.

Jokic did what he does, scoring 35 points with 17 rebounds. The last time the Warriors played the Nuggets, old friend DeMarcus Cousins was a free agent. He's a Nugget now and scored six points with five rebounds in 13 minutes off the bench. Cousins' bruising size stood out, but so did his limitations.

Here are three takeaways from a Warriors loss, making them 42-17 and giving them four losses in their final five games before the break. 

Rising Star

"I was disappointed he wasn't selected in the first place," Kerr said of Kuminga being named a Rising Stars Game replacement. "He's clearly one of the best rookies out there."

He again proved that to be true against Denver. 

Kuminga came off the bench and in 14 first-half minutes, Kuminga scored 12 points, was 5-for-6 from the field and made both his 3-point attempts. Here are how three straight Warriors possessions wound up near the end of the first quarter: Kuminga spin move on Cousins for two points, Kuminga 3-pointer, Kuminga takes it to the hole on Cousins for two. 

That was all in a span of one minute and four seconds. Just like that, the 19-year-old can make all the difference.

The Power of GP2

With the Warriors' defense struggling recently, Kerr started 6-foot-3 Gary Payton II at power forward for a spark on that side of the ball. Just like all season long, Payton didn't disappoint. 

In the first quarter, Payton scored four points, grabbed one rebound, had one steal and was a plus-9. He also appeared to have hurt his left ankle and limped to the locker room. Payton later returned, did band work to his left ankle on the bench and his presence certainly was needed. 

For the night, Payton played 25 minutes and was a team-high plus-13. He scored 12 points to go with four rebounds and six steals. The much-smaller Payton even blocked the 6-foot-11 Jokic and busted out some pushups to the delight of Warriors fans. 

This is the 10th time Payton has started for the Warriors, and he has averaged 11.2 points and 4.6 rebounds per game when in the starting lineup. 

Odd Man Out?

No matter how much Warriors fans might beg for the front office to go find some size on the buyout market, it's time to get over those dreams. It isn't happening, as Kerr made clear before Wednesday night's game, without fully saying it.

The Warriors feel the impending returns of Draymond Green and James Wiseman are way better than anything Golden State can add. So, who might take a seat when the two return? Nemanja Bjelica has to show his worth more and be more consistent. 

There will be games when the Warriors can use Bjelica's height and ability to stretch the floor. It also is clear how teams attack Bjelica when he's on defense, which has hurt the Warriors more than once. Against the Nuggets, he scored four points in 16 minutes, committed three fouls and was a minus-4. 

Kerr has his deepest team in years, bringing back the Warriors' "Strength in Numbers" mantra. That also means some tough decisions after the All-Star break and down the stretch run.

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