The greatest regular season in Denver Nuggets history deserved a better ending.
No one expected a return to the postseason irrelevance of Karl’s previous Nuggets teams, who frequently battled near impossible odds against heavily favored contenders on the road. This team was different. They were the favorites, having built a 57-win three-seed around a young core just one year removed from taking the Lakers to 7 games.
So what happened?
Capitalizing on the many mistakes made by the Warriors down the stretch, the Nuggets put themselves in a position to win this game near the end. They closed the deficit to just two points with 32 seconds remaining after having trailed by as many as 18 earlier in the fourth quarter. But with poor offensive execution in those final seconds, punctuated with symbolic flair by a missed Andre Miller 3-pointer on their final possession, they ultimately fell short of a comeback, and fell to their ninth first round playoff exit in ten seasons, eight (or seven) under the tenure of George Karl.
There is a lot that could be said about this one game. But it was essentially a microcosm and extension of the entire series. The Nuggets were (more…)
As George Karl was forced to make adjustments to counteract Stephen Curry and the Warriors new small ball lineup in the series, two main thoughts started to pop up. First let Curry get his points and limit his teammates and second play a big lineup, like Denver has done all season long with two traditional bigs instead of Wilson Chandler at the power forward spot.
Unfortunately for the Nuggets, despite a victory in Game 5, doing those things may not be possible together. One of the important parts of the Nuggets playing with two bigs is Kenneth Faried playing Harrison Barnes on the defensive end. But Faried has struggled a bit in that role as his unfamiliarity of defensive rotations has allowed Barnes to get a lot of open shot attempts, some he has knocked down and some he hasn’t. The following are four examples of the problems Faried has had, three makes and a miss, from Game 5 when Barnes had 23 points.
Denver got up big early and held on late to win the first of three straight elimination games, thanks to a dominant effort by Andre Iguodala who scored 25 points and added 12 rebounds, 7 assists, 2 steals and a block. Denver also got good games from Wilson Chandler and Ty Lawson among others.
Over the last three games the Denver Nuggets have morphed into a team unrecognizable to those who followed them in the regular season. The team that won a franchise record 57 games — and tacked on a 15-game winning streak in the process — has disappeared before our eyes. Though it’s easy to become memorized by the demigod known as Stephen Curry, it’s worth noting that less than two weeks ago Denver was the team whom fans and annalists alike were salivating over — not Golden State.
Those are going to be the words that Nuggets fans hear a lot between now and Game 5, between the end of the season and the draft.
After a thrilling loss like that, you need a day just to absorb everything. A 2-1 series hole looms over all the good in game three, where I thought the Nuggets did a better job reacting to small ball than they did in game two. Ty Lawson is turning a pretty good series into a great one but the Golden State Warriors and the emergence of Steph Curry are the definitive stories of this first round matchup. The Warriors weren’t pleased with their game 3 performance and are still in position to take a commanding 3-1 series lead on Sunday, which would effectively make the Nuggets a long shot to get out of the first round… again.
For all the good the Nuggets did in game 3, they still can’t defend the Golden State Warriors, whose offense sure came back down to earth – all the way from 74.3% eFG in game 2 to 57.5% in game 3. That just won’t get it done in the playoffs. Obviously there’s a lot to worry about but as bad as the Nuggets’ issues have been, they still have a chance to essentially hit the reset button on the series with a win tonight.
While we wait to see if the Nuggets can seize that opportunity in a pivotal game four, which is obviously huge, here are some bullet point thoughts on what worked and what didn’t in game three.
|Kenneth Faried, SF 30 MIN | 6-7 FG | 3-3 FT | 7 REB | 0 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 15 PTS | +2
Faried’s numbers are better than he actually played. But considering this was only his second game, and first start, since coming back from an injury, it could have been worse. Faried just can’t keep up with the defensive schemes the Nuggets need to run in order to stifle the Warriors on offense. He played valiantly, had some nice dunks and a few strong rebounds, but he’ll need to play out of his mind on defense in order to win more games this series.
|Ty Lawson, PG 38 MIN | 11-22 FG | 12-12 FT | 3 REB | 10 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 4 TO | 35 PTS | -2
Lawson had his best game ever in the postseason. His 35 points were a career playoff high and only two short of tying his regular season high. He had about three or four unbelievable plays this game — the type that make you drop your jaw in amazement. That said, he missed some crucial shots down the stretch and turned the ball over when the Nuggets had a chance to win the game. Had he made just one more shot late in the game he likely would have gone down in Nuggets postseason lore.
|Wilson Chandler, SG 37 MIN | 4-8 FG | 1-2 FT | 9 REB | 2 AST | 2 STL | 1 BLK | 2 TO | 11 PTS | -6
Chandler did his best playing center. It’s only the second time in his career he’s started at center and neither performances were ones to remember. He gave solid effort on defense for most of the night and hit some big shots, but he hasn’t been the type of scoring machine he was after Gallo went down in the regular season. If the Nuggets want to win this thing, he’s gonna need to step up offensively — which would likely be much easier if he were playing his natural position.
|Andre Iguodala, SG 42 MIN | 6-15 FG | 0-1 FT | 5 REB | 5 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 14 PTS | +5
Iguodala had a typical Iguodala game: He started off incredibly hot, then pretty much disappeared offensively for the rest of the night. His defense was excellent through the first half, but once the third quarter rolled around his performance slipped along with every one of his teammates’ sans Ty Lawson. He also made a crucial turnover when the Nuggets had a chance to win the game late.
|Evan Fournier, SG 13 MIN | 1-2 FG | 0-0 FT | 0 REB | 2 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 2 PTS | -8
Fournier saw minutes early on and played well, but was inexplicable taken out for almost the entire game after that.
|Anthony Randolph, PF 4 MIN | 2-2 FG | 0-1 FT | 1 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 4 PTS | -2
Randolph had one of the worst goaltending violations I’ve ever seen. That was about all I could recount from his brief, four-minute stint.
|Corey Brewer, SF 24 MIN | 6-12 FG | 3-3 FT | 3 REB | 2 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 3 TO | 16 PTS | +11
Brewer was probably the second best player on the team this game. He provided a great spark off the bench that led to the Nuggets grabbing their biggest lead of the game in the second quarter and shot the ball well all night. Late in the game he got a little dramatic with his flopping which led to some bad turnovers, but overall he did a great job of giving the Nuggets a spark off the bench.
|Kosta Koufos, C 11 MIN | 0-0 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 1 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 0 PTS | 0
I’m baffled at what’s come of Koufos lately. He’s had a steady decline the last month but he’s been virtually worthless in the playoffs. I hate saying that because he’s been so solid all year, but at this point I can’t see anything positive he’s bringing to the roster. He refuses to score, he’s slow on defense and doesn’t play with a chip on his shoulder anymore. At one point in the year Koufos was the toughest guy on the team. Now he looks as if he just wants to run and hide somewhere safe.
|JaVale McGee, C 14 MIN | 2-5 FG | 0-2 FT | 1 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 4 PTS | -1
McGee was mostly a train wreck. Not full-on train wreck, but close. His defense is just unbelievably bad this series. He’s a guy who needs to stay in the paint and contest shots, yet the Warriors are forcing him to come out of his comfort zone and into the perimeter which is confusing the hell out of him. Like Koufos, he’s slow to react to everything thrown his way. Once the Warriors get him off balance, it takes just a few extra passes to penetrate and get an easy bucket at the rim, or an open shot from downtown. Thankfully his offense is still functioning… somewhat.
|Andre Miller, PG 27 MIN | 2-13 FG | 2-3 FT | 4 REB | 4 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 3 TO | 7 PTS | -9
I don’t even want to talk about it. I don’t even want to. This guy is driving me nuts. He’s making me lose my mind when I watch this team. His defense is nothing short of embarrassing. It’s insulting to anyone who’s ever tried to prevent someone doing something in the history of the world. His defensive effort is nonexistent; it’s grotesque at the same time. I just, for the life of me, will never understand what it is George Karl sees in him. I promise, as bad as J.R. Smith was at times, I don’t think I ever remember him underhandedly sabotaging the Nuggets like this. Now, obviously Andre Miller isn’t purposely trying to lose this series for the Nuggets, but if he were he wouldn’t be playing a whole lot differently!!!
Usually his offense bails him out, but his game it only exacerbated his issues. His selfish, “Hero Ball” mentality cost the Nuggets at least eight possessions, which could have been used to actually try something intelligent when it came to scoring the basketball. If he sits out the rest of the series I’ll have no problem with it. In fact, that’s probably the Nuggets’ best shot of winning, as his perimeter defense seems to be the genesis of the Nuggets most costly problem against Golden State.
I really want to give Karl an F. I’ll just say that. But he did manage to keep this game close and he did suite up and he did show up and draw up plays and form sentences that made syntactic sense — so because of that I can’t give him an F. But judging his coaching alone, I think an F might be warranted.
He started Chandler at center, which just makes no logical sense whatsoever. He also had wacky lineups all game long, none of which seemed to have any positive effect after the first half concluded. Mark Jackson continued to win timeouts. The “plays” the Nuggets did run didn’t work at all — especially Lawson’s isolation at the end of the game. And overall the Warriors played much better, more focused defense than the Nuggets did, which likely won them the game.
But Karl’s biggest mistake was his insistence to ride Miller until he dragged the Nuggets down to the lowest depths of humiliation that could possibly be felt by someone who refuses to take any sort of defensive pride whatsoever in their game. (Note: Hyperbole likely present in previous sentence.) How fitting it was that Jackson, a first-time playoff coach decided to stick with his young rookies like Barnes and Green, whereas Karl went down gunz-a-blazin’ with Dre Miller and both took the entire team with them. At this point Karl is getting out-coached while his lineups and obsession with going smaller than his opponent just seem like futile, nervous farces that a coach of his experience should not be making.
There’s been some recent chatter about getting Anthony Randolph more involved in this first round series with Golden State, and for good reason. The agile 7-footer is actually Denver’s fifth-leading scorer in this series with 16 points in just 16 total minutes.
Randolph came on strong towards the end of the season, where he was a great source of paint points and rebounds when Faried went down. His defense, however, is inconsistent at best and Randolph is prone to forcing up bad shots and falling apart on the offensive end. Because JaVale McGee suffers from a lot of the same stuff and neither one of them can pass, it’s tough to bring both off the bench and George Karl has avoided even messing with it for most of the season.
With Golden State switching to guerilla tactics after the David Lee injury, this series is now small ball all the time and Randolph may have found himself a niche role against the Warriors zone defense, which they’ve favored for important stretches of the first two games.
Here are just a few examples of how Randolph has demonstrated his ability to successfully attack the zone.
There are two ways to look at the Nuggets’ current 1-1 series tie to the Golden State Warriors. The cheery narrative gives a convenient regular-season excuse for Denver’s familiar playoff woes – it’s only one game, blowouts happen, and losing home-court advantage while squeeking out a 1-1 split really isn’t that bad.
It’s too bad this isn’t the regular season anymore.