Tonight the Denver Nuggets defeated the Golden State Warriors to reach the 50-win plateau for the fourth consecutive season. Along the way nine Nuggets reached double figures in scoring — one short of the team record 10 — and professional pine-rider (or should I say, “former” profesional pine-rider) Kosta Koufos had perhaps the best game of his young career scoring 18 points and nine rebounds in only 19 minutes of action. What can I say Nuggets fans? Tonight was a historical evening in so many ways that all one can really do is sit back and smile. That’s what I did at least, as the clock ticked down to the final buzzer and George casually loosened his tie the way he always does before meandering off the court giving a wave of respect to the opposing coach. I didn’t really know what to think to be honest. As a fan, you learn to enjoy those magical moments that captivate your heart as a result of success, but what do you do when those moments become a regularity as they seemingly are with the Nuggets? You’d think at some point you might get used to the feeling, but conceivably the years (decades?) of ineptitude this franchise once suffered from have rendered us appreciative of even the most simple accomplishments to date. Every year at this time we’re now finding our faces decorated with a Cheshire Cat-like grin as we glance at the bold “50-something” wins mark in the NBA standings, and still it’s just as delightful now as it was then. Though the three consecutive 50-win seasons under Stan Kroenke and Mark Warnkentien’s watch will always be cherished and reminisced about, it was this year that — to me at least — was the most impressive of the current streak, and in light of this there are a few people we need to thank.
A tip-of-the-hat must first go to Josh Kroenke and Masai Ujiri for the outstanding work they did this year with the Carmelo Anthony trade extravaganza. They were the ones who enabled the Nuggets to accomplish this special feat yet again by working every possible scenario to the death and in turn getting far more than we probably should have for Anthony. These guys both came into one of the most precarious situations a rookie general manager and first-year owner ever could stumble upon and concocted the most delicious, thirst-quenching glass of lemonade imaginable given a grotesque batch of lemons. Please Nuggets fans, if you ever get the opportunity to meet these two fine gentleman make sure you express your gratitude for the tremendous amount of expertise and patients they displayed during this entire process. We truly are in great hands with Ujiri and “Lil’ Kroenke” for years to come, and because of that the franchise’s future looks promising as ever.
Next, a tip-of-the-hat goes to George Karl. Though never the most sprightly George Karl fan, I’ve managed to sprout a growing appreciation for not only the job he has done on the basketball court, but simply the man himself. Karl has transformed this team into something I never thought possible: an unselfish, team-oriented, well-executing, hard-nosed defensive squad that never gives up. Obviously the departure of Carmelo Anthony helped do wonders for the team in the areas mentioned above, but there’s no doubt Karl is the mastermind behind the operation. I’ve never seen team basketball played as such a high level before. The passing and unselfishness alone are sublime, but when you add that to the tenaciousness on defense, it’s just plain beautiful. Though he may not win, Karl definitely deserves to be in the running for Coach of the Year.
Finally, I would have originally given Carmelo Anthony a tip-of-the-hat for allowing us to get something for him in return for his services, but he in fact beat me to this display of acknowledgment by already removing his entire hat off to himself earlier in the year. (OK, I was kidding; I never planed a tip-of-the-hat to Melo in the first place. That was the facetious side of me coming out.)
And now on to the game!..
To start the night off the Nuggets were introduced alongside some of the most tenured season ticket holders in franchise history. It was really cool to see, and gave you the impression tonight was going to be a good one. Shortly after this memorable introduction Nene then made two-straight free throws, and at that point the “good omen” seemed to be inevitable. The quarter went back and fourth with each team making short runs, but in the end the Warriors led 32-31. Of note was Birman’s exuberant performance in which he looked as lively as we’ve ever seen here in Denver. Bird was making incredibly athletic put-backs, blocks and rebounds throughout, which made his rest appear justified and needed as ever.
The second quarter saw JR Smith attempt a number of bad shots — not to mention an array of basketball plays — only to see him fail time after time. But nothing he did was out of control enough for Karl to yank him and because of that JR appeared to settle down, compose himself and then starting playing like the “Good JR” we all know and love. At the end of the quarter things were tied up 54-54.
When the third quarter began we saw Nene relegated to the bench for the rest of the game because of a strained groin, and only minutes later Afflalo followed for hamstring issues. At this point things looked bleak. Even facing the Golden State Warriors is not something you want to do with as many injuries as we had; they’re an NBA team at the end of the day and with Curry lighting it up like he was, I admittedly grew anxious. But again, like we’ve seen all year long since the “Big Trade” the Nuggets displayed a vast amount of vitality as they clawed their way through a difficult struggle and came out the other side better because of it. JR sparked a huge run with his 5-6 shooting — including 4-5 from downtown, equating to 17 points total — and proved yet again that if you only let him work through his rough patches, he’ll make sure you don’t regret it.
By the time the fourth quarter rolled around the Nuggets had gained momentum and begun to pull away. It was at this time Kosta Koufos gave George Karl the most convincing case he’s put forth yet to receive more playing time, as he tied his career high in points with 19, and hauled down nine boards in the process. Koufos surprised a lot of people tonight, me being one of them. I always thought this was a guy who could contribute if given minutes, but tonight he proved he could do much more than that. Koufos displayed a fairly well-rounded game that revolved around being aggressive on offense, and simply doing his job on defense. When given the ball down low Koufos showed off a number of swift post moves that resulted in baskets and often times was able to create enough space to lead to easy layups or dunks. Bottom line: The man is a legit 7-footer who’s young, athletic and has now proven he can play when called upon in tight situations. Though he may have a hard time finding minutes in the future with such a crowded front court, there’s no doubt that Karl now has another one to add to the long line of players who can contribute solid minutes at any given time.
(Other excellent performers on the night included Chris Andersen, Kenyon Martin and Raymond Felton. Please click here to check out the full stat lines of all the Denver Nuggets.)
Next up is Utah on Wednesday for the final game of the season. It will be on the road, and with so many injuries you have to believe Karl will be resting many key guys. Hopefully Koufos can get some shine and prove his old team made a mistake by trading him away.
– On the topic of Koufos, Marlowe stated during the game that when he was traded he got in his car and immediately drove 1,500 miles to Denver so that he could be active and start practicing as soon as possible. I’ve never heard of this before, but you’ve got to love the dedication this guy is showing to improve his game. Maybe one day he could be a legit, starting center in the NBA? You never know.
– During the game Boulder native, Louis Amundson, was on course for making 16-21 free throws and bringing his overall average up to 38 percent on the season. Yes, I just said “38 percent.” I don’t know who would win in a free-throw shooting contest between him, Brendan Haywood and Shaquille O’Neal, but I’m pretty sure I’d pay to see it just to see who would shoot an air-ball first.
– Did I mention how awesome it is to be a Nuggets fan these days? Well, in case I didn’t: It’s awesome being a Nuggets fan these days.
Pace Factor: 104.3
Offensive Efficiency: 128.5
Defensive Efficiency: 106.4