Baron Davis scored 19 of his 33 points in the third quarter, carrying Nellie's small-ball lineup to a 97-85 victory over the Dallas Mavericks on Sunday night in Game 1 of their Western Conference series.
"It was really a super win for our team," Nelson said. "It was something that was unexpected, and that makes it that much better."
Well, it wasn't a total stunner, at least not as much as a No. 8 seed beating a No. 1 seed normally is. After all, this was Golden State's sixth straight win over Dallas and the fourth in a row since Nelson ended a decade-long tenure with the Mavs to rejoin the Warriors.
Nellie did his best coaching in recent weeks, squeezing out a 9-1 finish to make the playoffs for the first time in 13 years. His task now is to stretch the streak as long as possible, although he's the first to say it probably won't end with a ticker-tape parade through the Bay Area.
"We don't expect to be world champs at the end of the playoffs," Nelson said. "But every time we play in a high-intensity game like these are going to be, we gain experience. I'm really happy about that."
Davis nearly had a triple-double with 14 rebounds and eight assists. His leadership throughout showed why the Warriors went 16-5 down the stretch after he returned from an injury.
"We knew if we could keep it close we could have a chance," he said. "This win gives us a lot of confidence, but this team has been to the championship and one loss is not going to affect them."
The Mavericks made the NBA finals last year and are expecting to get back again, especially after winning 67 games in the regular season. But all that earned them for the playoffs was home-court advantage, and they've now squandered it. Game 2 is in Dallas on Wednesday night.
"Obviously the pressure is on us all the way," said Mavs star Dirk Nowitzki, who was 4 of 16 for 14 points with 12 rebounds. "Nobody expects them to win. Shooting 35 percent on our home court won't get it done. We've got to get better shots and go from there."
Nelson coached the Warriors the last time they were in the playoffs, but he's more beloved in Dallas for orchestrating the Mavericks' rise from the bottom of the league to the top. He brought in Nowitzki and left behind coach Avery Johnson as his successor.
Perhaps trying to be too much like Nellie, Johnson started a small-ball lineup, even though he'd insisted for days that his centers would be key figures this series.
"I laughed when they said they would play a big center," Nelson said.
The 7-foot Nowitzki was supposed to make it work, but he failed to take advantage of his size against a Golden State starting lineup featuring no one taller than 6-foot-9. He settled for outside shots early and was often frustrated by double- and triple-teams, with Nelson knowing better than anyone how much small, quick guys tend to bother the big German.
Nowitzki wasn't the only one who struggled. Josh Howard was 8 of 21 for 21 points with 13 rebounds. Dallas got only four points off the bench, all from center DeSagana Diop. Jerry Stackhouse was 0-for-6 with five turnovers.
"It was one of those games you just want to forget," Stackhouse said. "We thought we'd handle things better than we did."
Dallas' biggest flaw was being unable to contain Davis.
Devean George and Greg Buckner, acquired last summer specifically to provide strong perimeter defense in the playoffs, did a decent job early. Then nobody could stop Davis in the third, when he went 6 of 8, hitting all three of his 3-point tries. He scored four more points in the quarter than his team did in the second.
"Once I got in a rhythm I just stayed locked in," Davis said. "I can't even remember the last time I had a quarter like that."
The Warriors struggled early, which was to be expected for a bunch of playoff novices. Yet the Mavericks, who'd only lost five home games all season (one to Golden State), struggled from the start, too. They missed their last eight shots in the first quarter and their last 10 in the second quarter.
Dallas' best run came in the third quarter, going from down four to up four -- with Nowitzki on the bench.
Golden State led by four going into the fourth quarter and never gave up the lead. Dallas got within 78-76, but an 11-3 run helped the Warriors pull away.
The Mavericks' difficulties were symbolized by Golden State's Jason Richardson taking down Devin Harris hard from behind without drawing a foul. With Harris on the ground, Matt Barnes made a 3-pointer in front of the Dallas bench for a 92-81 lead with about two minutes left.
Barnes added 10 and Al Harrington had seven points and 10 rebounds.
Harris scored 19 points, Jason Terry had 17 and George scored 10.
- Davis had 11 rebounds by halftime.
- A new playoff wrinkle: Thunderstix with blue-glowing tips, making for a neat effect when the house lights went down before tipoff.
- Befitting the cat-and-mouse game between coaching staffs, both waited as long as possible to submit their lineups.