OAKLAND, California — Earlier this season, Andrew Bogut wondered what Stephen Curry must have thought about him after all the talk about the two forming a potent inside-out combination for the Golden State Warriors.
“He was probably thinking, ‘What did we trade for?'” Bogut said.
After all the doubts, those questions might finally be answered.
Golden State’s still-hobbled big man has broken out in a big way in the playoffs, showing just how much of a mark he can make when fit. He had season-highs and career-playoff bests of 21 rebounds and 14 points in Golden State’s 92-88 win over Denver in the Game 6 clincher on Thursday. He also tied a season-high with four blocks and added three assists.
The rejuvenated center could be even more crucial to the Warriors’ chances of pulling off another upset in the second round against Tim Duncan and the second-seeded San Antonio Spurs starting Monday night.
“To win it all, you’ve got to have somebody in the middle that can give you great minutes,” Warriors coach Mark Jackson said Friday. “Andrew Bogut is a big-time defender and a big-time rebounder. It’s something this organization has craved for a mighty long time.”
For most of the last year, Golden State received nothing at all from its highly touted franchise center.
The Warriors acquired Bogut in a trade-deadline deal last season that sent fan favorite Monta Ellis to Milwaukee. The Bucks had tired of Bogut’s constant injuries after drafting him No. 1 overall in 2005. Bogut already had fractured his left ankle and missed the remainder of the season.
Even Warriors owner Joe Lacob was mercilessly booed during a jersey retirement ceremony soon after the deal. The 7-footer from Australia did little to quiet critics by missing 50 of 82 games in the regular season, most due to the soreness in his ankle that still lingers after microfracture surgery in April of last year.
Bogut seemed to spend more time riding a bike or shooting free throws during practice than taking part in scrimmages. He often stayed back for physical therapy and shuffled between doctor’s visits when the Warriors were on the road in November and December. Even when he did play, he looked lethargic and needed to soak his feet in a bucket of ice or sit in a whirlpool long after games.
“I’ve had an absolute nightmare of six to nine months,” Bogut said. “There was no light at the end of the tunnel. It was pitch black for months. I questioned a lot of things personally. Mentally, I was in a pretty bad place for a couple of months. Guys on the road, I’m stuck at home. My day consisted of rehab in the morning, go home, ice. I don’t go out. Go home and ice. Haven’t had a beer or drink or alcoholic beverage. I’ve given up a lot. To just go home and getting my ankle right, it’s taken a lot out of me in that sense.”
Curry can easily relate.
The Warriors point guard, whose scintillating shooting performances in the playoffs have overshadowed Bogut’s big contributions, has had two surgeries on his right ankle and struggled to stay on the court the previous two seasons. Curry said he would offer advice to Bogut in the training room and tried to help him through the mental aspect of the rehab process.
“He said it was tough. He had days where he doubted a little bit. He had days where he was depressed because he’s working so hard all year to get back, but something in his body wasn’t clicking to allow him to play consistently,” Curry said. “It helped that we were winning throughout the process. The mood in the locker room was better. He could still have a presence in our locker room, but just being patient in the process. We need him now more than ever.”
Bogut once again could be a difference-maker.
The Spurs and Warriors each won twice on their home floor in the regular season. Bogut only played in one of those games — a 104-93 loss on March 20 in San Antonio, where Golden State has lost a remarkable 29 straight games going back to the spring of 1997.
Similarly, Bogut never played in any of the four regular-season games against Denver. His movement and paint presence seemed to surprise the Nuggets throughout the first-round series.
“I don’t know if he’d lost his confidence, but the playoffs have a way of lifting people,” Nuggets coach George Karl said. “People that get on that stage, once they feel they can contribute on that stage, they get more confident. He’s regaining, maybe, his polish of three years ago.”
Bogut also has brought a sense of swagger to the Warriors, a franchise long known more for scoring than defense.
He dared Denver center JaVale McGee to punch him in the chin in Game 3. He dunked over McGee in Game 4. And after a hard screen on Curry, Bogut threw a forearm to the neck of Kenneth Faried in Game 5 of the series that drew a flagrant foul.
But nothing has been bigger than his last performance, dominating on both ends in the clinching game at home that delighted a raucous announced sellout crowd of 19,596, many of whom booed Lacob for bringing Bogut to the Bay Area a year ago.
“That one does feel particularly good,” Lacob said.
As the gold confetti flew above the court, Bogut quietly walked over to Jackson. The two hugged and Bogut whispered in Jackson’s ear: “It’s about time.”
“In the biggest game of his career, he had his finest moment,” Jackson said. “It’s great to see when people go through all the adversity, all the trials, all the tribulations and then experience success. He deserves it, and it was a statement game for him and this franchise.”