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?
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.
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.
As the Nuggets look towards tonight’s Game 2 a big key will again be limiting the damage Stephen Curry does, especially now that David Lee, the team’s second leading scorer this season and thorn in the Nuggets side, is out for the rest of the season. On the Nuggets side of things Kenneth Faried is expected to play in Game 2, though he probably will not be in the starting lineup.
As a look ahead for Game 2, I went back to Game 1 and took a look at all of Steph Curry’s shots to see if what the Nuggets did was replicable or if it was more of a matter of Curry just missing open shots. Below is a short breakdown of each shot.
There was muted celebration in the building following the Denver Nuggets’ franchise record 55th win against the Portland Trailblazers on Sunday, enough to cast a subtle gloom over the history being witnessed by a Pepsi Center crowd of Nuggets faithful.
Considering the circumstances, it’s easy to understand why. Denver lost another starter to injury but ultimately escaped a must-win game, bringing the season-long goal of the third-seed tantalizingly close but still barely out of reach. Like an audience trapped in suspended disbelief at a good movie, Nuggets fans are eagerly awaiting the final twists and turns that set up the climactic moment they’ve all been waiting for.
Until that plays out and we see these Nuggets tested in the sacred arena of the NBA playoffs, any judgments about this team’s place in franchise history seem premature. The true gravity of becoming the Nuggets’ winningest team ever may not be felt until then, but the very fact we’ve arrived here in the midst of a bigger goal is an opportunity to reflect on the process behind what is now a historic achievement.
In the race for the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference, the Denver Nuggets greatly strengthened their position with their big Wednesday night victory over the San Antonio Spurs.
This cleared the most difficult remaining game on their schedule, and reduced their magic number (combination of own wins and opponent losses) with respect to both the Memphis Grizzlies and Los Angeles Clippers to three. With four games remaining, Denver can lose one game and still clinch third even if Memphis and L.A. win out (though since they play each other, at least one of them can’t).
Here is a side-by-side look at the remaining schedules of the three teams competing for that third seed which carries the benefits of both home court advantage in the first round and a matchup with the No. 6 seed: (more…)