The Nuggets better show up with bandannas on their faces on Wednesday night, because if they don't steal Game 2 they're in serious jeopardy of starting their summer vacations early.
Most of those - me included - who predicted that our Nuggets would defeat the Thunder in six games had their predictions dependent on the Nuggets stealing either Game 1 or 2 at Oklahoma City. Because while in theory the Nuggets could rebound from an 0-2 deficit and still win in six, the Nuggets would be competing against more than just Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and the Thunder's powerful home court advantage. They'd be competing against history.
According to WhoWins.com, NBA teams leading best-of-seven playoff series one game to none win the series 78.7% of the time. When leading 2-0? Try 94% of the time. I think we'd all like to avoid the Nuggets having a 6% chance of winning this series after the conclusion of Wednesday night's affair.
In order to avoid such a daunting scenario, the Nuggets need to do a few things better than they did in Game 1.
First, as suggested by Kenyon Martin, perhaps the Nuggets should consider covering Durant with someone taller than 6'1". I've applauded Wilson Chandler's defensive versatility since his arrival in Denver and am not sure why he's not guarding Durant with more frequency during this series, especially with Arron Afflalo out. If Durant blows by Chandler, we can sick K-Mart on him for hard fouls (i.e. "message fouls" as correctly pointed out by Jeff in his game preview) and that might discourage KD from driving to the paint throughout the game. And in fact, George Karl has already said that Chandler will see more time against Durant in Game 2.
Second, (and you can call me master of the obvious now) the Nuggets have to hit their goddamn free throws. I hope the Nuggets coaches gathered 500 high school kids in Oklahoma City, invited them to Tuesday's Nuggets practice at a local gym, gave them all thunder sticks, pumped loud crowd noise and annoying music throughout the gym and made the Nugget players shoot 2,000-something free throws amid those distractions. We can criticize Karl's end-of-game strategy (and will in a second) all we want, but made free throws would have won the Nuggets this game, their last home game against the Thunder and that gut-wrenching loss at Portland in late February, too. Danilo Gallinari and Nene in particular need to improve their free throw shooting...and do so NOW.
Third, George Karl has to coach the final two minutes as well as the first 46 minutes. How he couldn't call a timeout after Kendrick Perkins' should-have-been-offensive-interference call remains perplexing (Karl himself has admitted that was a mistake). How he didn't run a set play with 20 seconds left to get Danilo Gallinari or Raymond Felton open, or get an easy two if neither were open, is puzzling. And how he could allow Nene and K-Mart to be in a position to shoot jump shots at any point in the last two minutes of a game is nothing short of mind boggling. If you want Nene and/or K-Mart on the floor in a tight game I say fine, but they should be anchored under the basket for a rebound and nowhere near the perimeter for the guards to dump passes on them with the shot clock winding down. And what's even more annoying about all this is that I've long defended Karl's out-of-timeout play calling as being among the best in professional basketball. So where the hell was it at game's end on Sunday night?
It's unfortunate that a well-coached, well-played, hard-fought game can come down to a few critical errors (by the refs included, certainly) at game's end, but that's the playoffs. And rather than being on the wrong side of yet another close contest thanks to suspect officiating, shoddy free throw shooting, questionable play-calling and poor execution, the Nuggets need to man up and steal a close playoff game for once by doing the little things right down the stretch.
Let's get those bandannas out!
On to the links...
Andrew Feinstein with The Ticket's Vic and Gary
I appeared on FM102.3 The Ticket with Vic and Gary and talked about the adjustments the Nuggets need to make in Game 2.
What Happens When George Karl Goes Down 0-1 | Thunder Rumblings
The Oklahoman's Darnell Mayberry looks at George Karl's long coaching career and points out that the legendary coach is 2-13 in playoff series when his team is down 0-1. Very encouraging.
Anthony falls short of stardom with loss - NBA - Yahoo! Sports
Adrian Wojnaworski turns his ire from LeBron James to Carmelo Anthony by pointing out his 42-point performance can't hide his poor late-game decisions in the Knicks' latest defeat.
Nuggets know they need to be better at crunchtime in playoffs - The Denver Post
At least Karl and the Nuggets are acknowledging their shortcomings in crunch time. The question now is: what will they do about it?
Josh Kroenke building a legacy on his own - The Denver Post
This one slipped through the cracks this week, but Benjamin Hochman's profile on new Nuggets owner Josh Kroenke is a must-read for Nuggets fans curious about who their new owner is.
Kenyon Martin thinks the Nuggets need a new plan on KD | Daily Thunder.com
Daily Thunder's Royce Young serves up their take on K-Mart's strategy.
Nuggets' Afflalo will miss Game 2 because of sore hamstring - The Denver Post
No AAA for the second game in a row makes guarding Durant and Westbrook even more difficult.
Kiszla: NBA must avoid favoritism toward stars - The Denver Post
Mark Kiszla bemoans the current state of the NBA.
NBA playoffs 2011: Referee Danny Crawford assigned to Game 2 of Dallas Mavericks-Portland Trail Blazers series - ESPN Dallas
As far as Dallas conspiracy theories go, referee Danny Crawford working Mavericks playoff games ranks right up there with who shot J.R. Ewing.