After five straight losses in April alone the Denver Nuggets finally managed to win a game against the Oklahoma City Thunder. In a nutshell it was desperation and pride pushing Denver to overcome their struggles long enough to avoid an embarrassing first round sweep. Down three games to one it was certainly not a series-changing win but nevertheless it was a statement that this team has worked too hard to end their season at home on such a sour note.
It was the finest defensive performance in a series that has been defined by Oklahoma City’s domination on that end of the floor. For a few brief moments it was also a glimpse at the depth and balance that made Denver the NBA’s top scoring team in the regular season. Nevertheless as we’ve seen five times in a row it simply was not enough.
In the Denver Nuggets’ attempt to turn conventional wisdom on its head, score one for conventional wisdom. After posting exceptional offensive efficiency numbers early in the game, weathering a furious charge in the second and third quarters, and batting tooth and nail in the fourth Denver found themselves leading the Thunder 101-100 with three minutes left. They would not make another basket the rest of the night.
The Oklahoma City Thunder strike first and seize the series momentum in a hard fought battle on their home floor. As is the case with any tough loss there is no shortage of frustration over a game that at times Denver seemed to control. While both teams struggled to get into a comfortable flow tonight’s game was an exciting reminder that this is playoff basketball at it’s finest. It may not have been pretty, but after tonight any doubts about the intense physical nature of the series can be put to rest.
Unfortunately many of the concerns we had before the series came to fruition. Free-throw shooting and injury woes continue to be the fatal flaws this team cannot overcome without improvement. Overall my initial reaction is there is still so much that is equally encouraging. Unfortunately winning is all that matters and the Thunder greatly improve their chances of moving on having gained a head start. The onus is now on Denver to adjust with an already thin margin of error that just got a whole lot thinner.
A few more thoughts before we tip off game one of the Nuggets/Thunder battle royal.
The Denver Nuggets and Oklahoma City Thunder are both teams who benefited significantly from midseason trades. Each squad tore through the league over the final few weeks of the season and as a result we have had plenty of evidence for what these teams can do. To make things even more interesting we have two games worth of film to study, with both teams hosting the other late in the season.
The question is how germane were the results of those two games to the playoff series we are about to experience? Denver played both games against the Thunder without their third big, Chris “Birdman” Andersen and starting shooting guard Arron Afflalo. Obviously Denver is a better team with those two than without them. Health is certainly going to be a very important theme in this series and we will address those concerns a bit further down the page.
Despite the Nuggets missing some significant pieces I believe both games gave us some fairly significant insights into what to expect from the upcoming best of seven conflagration.
Denver Nuggets fans have endured months of trade rumors, post-trade declarations of irrelevance and more recently, some exciting and inspiring basketball. It was all prelude to this. The Denver Nuggets will match up with division rival Oklahoma City in the first round of the 2011 NBA Playoffs.
The two teams faced off twice last week that saw some heated moments between big men Nene and Kendrick Perkins and some bad blood brewing with Kenyon Martin and Serge Ibaka. Raymond Felton has gone on record of saying he wanted to clash with the Thunder because they talk a lot of trash and he wants some payback.
Whether the series lasts four games or seven, it is going to be physical and intense. Of course, this is the playoffs and it should not be any other way.
After Oklahoma City’s impressive victory over the Lakers on Sunday night, the crowded playoff picture in the West just got even more interesting. The Nuggets have a two game lead for the fifth seed and assuming they hold on against Portland’s tiebreaker it is now conceivable they could face the Lakers in addition to Dallas and Oklahoma City in the first round of the playoffs.