MILWAUKEE, WI - I might as well let the cat out of the bag. I've spent the past few days here in the midwest with none other than Nuggets head coach George Karl and his lawyer and longtime friend Bret Adams. Those of you who are new to the blog may not appreciate why this is significant whereas longtime readers will certainly understand why. This get-together has been in works since I met Karl and Adams during the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas, and after conducting a Monday interview with Coach Karl (which I'm still piecing together from my pile of notes), Karl and Adams were kind enough to invite me to last night's game and tonight's game in Milwaukee (preview coming shortly after I visit with my 97 year old grandmother who's a lifelong Bucks fan).
I've been to hundreds of Nuggets games, both home and road, but it's a completely different experience when you're sitting in the stands with the head coach's significant other and their friends, his lawyer (who once threatened to sue me and now we get along well) and the head of Karl's charitable foundation. As the Nuggets began to pull away in the fourth quarter, I was utterly convinced that the game was ours but the pesky Bulls - to their credit - just wouldn't go away. Of course, when the opposing team has Bernie Bickerstaff on its bench, you can never be that concerned.
When Chauncey Billups got to the free throw with 0.6 seconds remaining on the clock and made the first free throw, those of us in the "Karl contingency" in the stands immediately debated what to do next. Karl's significant other and Adams said you have to purposely miss the second free throw, figuring that the clock will run out as the players scramble to gather the rebound. I went the other way. I said you have to make both to preserve a two-point lead or you risk the opposing team having enough time to back door their way into a win with a crazy two-point shot (when you've bet on as many NBA games in Las Vegas as I have, you've seen enough of these scenarios to be legitimately concerned). Being up two with 0.6 to go, you figure worst case scenario is overtime, not a loss, unless the opposition makes a miracle three-pointer.
Anyway, the debate gathered fire among us as Chauncey purposely missed the second free throw and - voila! - the Bulls were able to secure the rebound AND call a timeout with just 0.3 seconds remaining. The back door loss was upon us. (Since I just took a shot at Bernie, credit goes to the Bulls coaching staff for hammering into their players to call that timeout immediately...it probably helped that hometown time keeper started the clock a tad late on the free throw miss, too.)
Unconcerned by the Bulls ability to possibly make such a miraculous shot, the "Karl contingency" was fairly calm. And we all know what happened next. Brad Miller made the shot of his life (horribly defended by the way, not sure why Karl didn't put a man on Miller considering Miller made some huge long-range shots in the playoffs last season) and our collective hearts sunk as the United Center erupted. Having gotten to know Karl and those close to him these past few days, you begin to realize how much more is on the line for these people than the casual fan. Imagine being around Karl that night if the Nuggets lose that game? And it doesn't help that Karl is hoping for a contract extension, adding additional pressure to an already pressure-filled job.
So as the referees reviewed the shot over and over and over and over...and over and over and over and over...and the fans got more and more antsy until Joakim Noah started celebrating like "they advanced to the Sweet 16", as Chauncey put it, we were just frozen. Staring. Waiting. Wondering.
And then, finally, 15 or so agonizing minutes later, the call came in. Nuggets win! NUGGETS WIN!!!! Adams and I embraced and both let out a huge sigh of relief. "It's going to be a lot more fun to talk to George tonight," he said and we headed out.
On a side note, Nate and I have noticed some personally negative attacks on Karl and some players in the comments lately. We hate to play school principal here, but please refrain from personal attacks on coaches and players. You can vehemently criticize (and we encourage you to) anything they do on the floor or even off the floor that affect on-the-floor performance. But personal jabs about people's weight and sexual preference will be deleted and you could even get banned. We sincerely appreciate your enthusiasm for the blog and don't want to discourage you from participating in the conversation, but Nate and I are liable for what is said on this blog, even by you!
Photo courtesy of NBAE/Getty Photos: Gary Dineen