The Denver Nuggets finished 53-29 this year. It was a frustrating season at times, featuring embarrassing losses to teams such as the Wizards, Kings (twice), Timberwolves, Clippers, Pistons, Sixers, and Knicks. But the season was not only difficult for the on-court issues. Off the court, the Nuggets were forced to deal with the absence of long-time head coach George Karl as well as several major injuries. Carmelo Anthony, Chauncey Billups, Kenyon Martin, and Ty Lawson all missed extended periods of time while Chris Andersen struggled through knee problems all year long.
But although 2009-10 presented many obstacles to the team, it was also a year for rejoicing among Nuggets fans. In addition to their third consecutive 50-game season (franchise record!), the Nuggets finished with the 4th seed, securing home court in the first round for the second year in a row. We also were fortunate enough to witness great individual accomplishments, such as a career year for Chauncey, a superb season both offensively and defensively for K-Mart, and the return to form of Carmelo, whose superb 28.2 points per game was third highest in the NBA.
And of course the games. 82 of them every year. Only a few stand out, or else stick in your memory long after the season closes. These 10 were the ones I felt were either the most meaningful or the most fun to watch.
Let's get this started...
12/23/09 -- ATL @ DEN -- Den 124-104
In this blowout victory at the Pepsi Center (one of many this season), JR made it a night to remember by hitting a ridiculous 10 3's. Also ridiculous were his 17 3-pt attempts, but hey, I'll take 7 missed 3's any night JR is putting up 41 points. Unfortunately, after this career game, JR went on to spiral downward until the bizarre is-he-suspended-is-he-not incident in January. Other notables were Melo's well-rounded game (24/6/7) and Ty Lawson's excellent game as a fill-in for the injured Billups (16/6/5).
1/2/10 -- DEN @ UTA -- Den 105-95
Here's a game that virtually no one expected the Nuggets to pull out. Faced with the crippling losses of both Carmelo and Chauncey, the boys in blue went into Utah hoping for a miracle to avoid being 0-1 in the new decade. The miracle came with a bit of hard work, as Ty Lawson (23/2/9 with 3 steals) and Nene (22/5/3 with 6 steals) each posted terrific numbers. The defense that night was inspired...all in all a great way for the Nuggets to kick off what would be a very exciting January.
2/1/10 -- SAC @ DEN -- Den 112-109 OT
You've probably forgotten this game. I know I had until I started researching. In this overtime win over the Kings (yes it was their only defeat of Sacramento this season), JR once again turned in an excellent performance, mainly on the defensive end. A thrilling game that
perhaps really shouldn't have been so close, but then again the Nuggets were like that this season.
4/8/10 -- LAL @ DEN -- Den 98-96
Ah, here's a game you will definitely remember (it was last week). Coming off an emotional comeback the night before in OKC, the Nugs seemed destined to lose this one to the Lakers...until we found out that Kobe would be "resting." While Denver ran up some big leads in the first half, the third quarter is where they unraveled, giving the Lakers a chance to make things interesting. After falling behind by the middle of the fourth, Carmelo and Nene nearly single-handedly brought the Nuggets back from the brink. Then, in the final play of the night, Melo capped off a great night (31/4/4 with 3 blocks) by blocking Derek Fisher's attempted 3-point gamewinner. As exciting as the game was, I couldn't put in my top 10 for one reason alone: no Kobe.
12/5/09 -- DEN @ SAS -- Den 106-99
Upon consideration, I chose this road win in San Antonio over the other one because this one was tough, gritty, and also took place back when we all thought the Flops would be a contender. Led by Melo's 34, the Nugge-okay the real reason I chose this game was because of this:
hahaha silly manu. via cdn2.sbnation.com
11/10/09 -- DEN @ CHI -- Den 90-89
I actually completely forgot about this game until I came across it looking for ideas for this post. If you recall, this was the game in which Chauncey hit his first free throw, purposely missed the second, and...well...after that something crazy happened. Joakim Noah pulled down the rebound with .06 seconds left to play and somehow called a timeout in .03 seconds. Then Brad Miller hit a potentially game-winning jumper on the other end of the floor...thankfully, the call was overturned when the refs ruled that the ball was still in Miller's fingertips by the end of regulation. Other interesting notes about this game: JR (then known as Earl--crazy, right?) made his first appearance of the season, while Afflalo earned his first start of the season.
TOP TEN GAMES OF 2009-10
10. 1/5/10 -- GSW @ DEN -- Den 123-122
With the stealth of a ninja, JR Smith (center) works his way into a gamewinning hip-bump-interception. via www2.pictures.zimbio.com
I used to think Monta Ellis got a bad rap. Yeah he might have crashed his moped (or something to that effect) and he might be a locker room cancer, but you can't deny he's talented. However, after seeing this game, I figured out why Ellis still has a ways to go before becoming a true star in this league. Because of things like fouling on a desperation 3 at the end of the game. In any case, JR would hit his FT's (how often does that happen?!?) and the Nuggets would win a thriller. Individual standouts included Kenyon Martin (27/13) and Ty Lawson (21/1/8). Keep in mind that this wasn't as easy of a win as it may seem: the Nuggets were missing a good chunk of their roster (including Melo and Chauncey) and ended up playing just 8 guys all night--and two of them were Tacos and AC.
Also, how sick is Stephen Curry? He went 10-13 in this game, including 6-6 from beyond the arc, and picked up 5 boards and 6 assists? WOW
9. 11/27/10 -- NYK @ DEN -- Den 128-125
For pure entertainment purposes, this was one of my favorite games of the season. I know it got hard to watch at times and very nearly ended up on the "unexcusable" losses list, but there's something special about what Melo did that night. Oh yeah, he scored 50 (17-28 FG, 15-16 FT). Along with the 41 by NYK's Al Harrington and the 32 dropped by Chauncey Billups, this entire game was just a pure offensive clinic. As well as a model of how not to play good defense.
Thankfully, the Nuggets would learn from this defensively horrendous showing. Yep. Two days later, they lost by 6 at home to the Minnesota Timberwolves.
8. 1/8/10 -- CLE @ DEN -- Den 99-97
Even I could win Coach of the Year Award if I had Lebron James. HELL EVEN ADRIAN DANTLEY COULD. via www2.pictures.zimbio.com
This game was one of the biggest wins of the season, as the Melo-less Nuggets were able to eke out a tough win at home. Once again Kenyon Martin had a huge game (19/12/4 with 2 steals and 1 block) as the Nuggets utilized a balanced plan of attack and surprisingly solid defense to keep Lebron at bay (35/6/7 with 8 turnovers).
The reason for the relatively low ranking is because the Cavs were coming into Denver on the second of a back-to-back, which does detract from how otherwise impressive this win was.
7. 3/26/10 -- DEN @ TOR -- Den 97-96
While the context of this game overshadows it somewhat (the only win in a horrible late-season road trip), the essence remains: Melo. Gamewinner.
Other notables include Nene (20/9/6 with 3 steals) and Anthony Carter (0/3/5 with 2 steals, a +9, and just one turnover -- a classic AC game, if AC were any good at all).
6. 2/9/10 -- DAL @ DEN -- Den 127-91
You know what they say about male lions...they're soft and don't do any of the dirty work. In retrospect this picture does not do a good job of making Dirk look bad. via api.ning.com
The "Pepsi Center Massacre" was just that: a massacre. The Mavs fell out of the game immediately and at points were trailing by 40+. Led by 7 players in double figures, the Nuggets took command and evened up the season series in stunning fashion. Of course, some here on the site have conjectured that this blowout was what triggered the Mavs' trade for Brendan Haywood and Caron Butler, so take it for what you will. However you see it, watching Dirk Nowitzki shoot 5-17 is always fun. Other notables include Josh Howard, who somehow ended up with a plus/minus of -36. Too bad he got traded.
5. 11/13/09 -- LAL @ DEN -- Den 105-79
That should be against the law son!
This says it all. A little guy (Ty Lawson) bringing down a much bigger guy (DJ Mbenga) in dominating fashion. This was the signature play of the year for the rookie, a foreshadowing of the problems LA would have with the Nuggets all season long. Even with the return of Gasollama, the Lakers would finish the remaining games against Denver just 1-2.
An all-around terrific performance was anchored by Melo, who posted some ridiculous numbers in just 29 minutes of action (25/4/2 with 3 steals and a +/- of +33). On the defensive end, AAA showed prowess by limiting Kobe Bryant to 7 for 17 and also making him run off the court crying in the third quarter.
By the way ADRIAN DANTLEY WATCH THAT VIDEO PLEASE MANY TIMES
4. 4/7/09 -- DEN @ OKC -- Den 98-94
Carmelo AnthonyQuitter Collapses and Play Goes On (via outsidethenba)
What an amazing game. It really did have everything. Early on the Nuggets kept it relatively close - in fact, they even held a sizeable lead at times. But in the third quarter they collapsed. Literally. The deficit grew and grew as the Nuggets could not get stops.
Thanks to the incredible fourth quarters of Chauncey and Quitter, the Nuggets were able to climb back and quit the game to victory. It was an awesome comeback that very nearly saved five or six Stiffs from jumping off rooftops that night.
3. 10/29/09 -- DEN @ POR -- Den 97-94
Chauncey is even more of a ninja than JR. via media.oregonlive.com
Second game of the season...and unfortunately, the Nuggets played with more intensity on this night than they did on the eighty-second game of the season, although in both cases they were coming off a back to back. But I'm not here to dwell on the negatives.
Ah, it feels nice to remember how we felt back in October. Back then, we would have laughed you off if you had said the Suns, Mavs, and Jazz would take up 3 of the top 5 seeds in the West at season's end. Back then, we would have been touting Melo as a reborn MVP candidate based on his early showings. Back then, we would have said the Nuggets were one of the top four teams in the league, easily. Back then, we thought this could be our year.
Carmelo led the way in Game 2 with 41 points...and an outstanding 18-19 FT. Every one of those free throws would be needed, particularly the last 7, which all occurred in the final five minutes of the game. It was a close match that most penciled down as the Nuggets' first predicted loss. Thankfully, they won and improved to 1-0 on the road. That lasted about four more games.
Other notables: Greg Oden wasn't injured, Joel Przybilla wasn't injured, Brandon Roy wasn't injured, Rudy Fernandez wasn't injured, oh but Nicolas Batum was injured. Did I miss anyone (I feel like I did)?
2. 2/5/10 -- DEN @ LAL -- Den 126-113
I wasn't kidding about the ninja thing. via isportsweb.com
The Lakers can say all they want about there being no Denver-LA rivalry. They say, well, we're the best and you haven't done anything yet. YEAH EXCEPT PUMMEL YOU ON YOUR HOME FLOOR
Led by a truly career night by Mr. Big Shot (39/4/8 with 9-13 3PT shooting), the Nuggets went into Staples Center without Carmelo and absolutely obliterated the Lakers. Basically the entire game can be summed up by the above picture. As you can see, Chauncey is lifting and shooting a 3 right over the feebly outstretched hand of Derek Fisher, who is the Lakers' starting point guard (I kid you not). Chauncey did that a lot in January and February, two of the best months of his career.
Chauncey wasn't the only player having a fantastic game. JR Swish stepped up and scored 16 in the 4th quarter en route to the victory, in which he scored 27 points, pulled down 4 boards, and handed out 4 assists.
There is an argument for this being the absolute high point of the Nuggets' season. After all, this win put them within just 3 games of the Lakers for top spot. From there they uh well you know
1. 2/18/10 -- DEN @ CLE -- Den 118-116 OT
This was the best game of the Nuggets season by far, in my mind. Blows everything else out of the water. I'd feel pretty confident in saying this was the best game in the entire NBA for the 2009-10 season. Homer bias? Ehh, maybe. There is the whole epic-Lebron-Melo duel thing that we did not see replicated at any point anywhere else this year. Remember when the 2003 draft came around, and people were hyping Lebron-Melo as the Magic-Bird of the new millennium? Well this is the kind of thing they were imagining.
The first three quarters were something of a blur, but steadily building was the anticipation for a showdown of superstars. Melo and Lebron covered each other all night long, each with outstanding offensive and defensive plays against the other. I remember Lebron with a step-back 3 over Melo. I remember Melo spinning around Lebron for an easy layup. It was incredible.
Then the final quarter arrived, and the tension in the building was huge. Lebron made some poor mistakes at the end of the game (so did Chauncey) that brought it into overtime. Overtime was just as intense. The two stars traded jumpers, free throws, and whatever else they had in their arsenals all the way up until the final seconds. And then, as they say, the rest is history.
Melo's final stat line: 40/6/7 with 1 steal and 2 blocks
Lebron's final stat line: 43/13/15 with 2 steals and 4 blocks. He did go 1-9 behind the arc...but seriously. That line is just amazing.
Almost as amazing as this:
EDIT: I looked up the team assist totals for each of these 16 games.
27, 23, 27, 23, 13, 20, 22, 30, 20, 23, 28, 28, 15, 24, 25, 25
I don't believe in "magic numbers" that you have to reach to win a game, but this whole 20-something assist trend (coupled with their ridiculously good record when dishing out 20+ assists) really has me convinced.