A valiant effort. A disappointing result.
First off. A big thank you to all of those who came down to Jakes Food & Spirits for Stiffs Night Out. It was packed and Nate, Andy and I are so very thankful we have the best readers in the world. Thank you for making this evening great despite the result of the game.
That really is it, isn't it? Two Ty Lawson missed free throws marred an otherwise great evening. The Thunder, for some reason shot 42 free throws to Denver's 21. A suspiciously large gap. Kevin Durant (who finished with 41 points and several clutch baskets and iffy foul calls at the end) shot 12 himself. While I'm not going to blame officiating it is a bit odd that a Nuggets team that consistently penetrated the lane and drew contact (one particular time with Danilo Gallinari on Kendrick Perkins which still boggles my mind) somehow ended up with 21 less free throws. And that is going to be an off-season head scratcher.
Karl's rotation at the end was curious. Leaving Gallo out for the entire fourth quarter and leaving Wilson Chandler in was interesting. Keeping Raymond Felton in so long and then curiously subbing Ray in at the end was curious. This loss can't be pinned on George Karl - yet his odd rotations still leave something to be desired. Why Gallo wasn't in on Durant during those last possessions was also curious.
The inability to hold a 9 point lead with three minutes to go is going to haunt the Nuggets all off season. I'm not going to sugar coat that. It's on the entire team that they let that happen. The Nuggets had this game in the palm of their hands and let it slip away. Allowing James Harden a wide open spot up three to tie was perplexing. There are so many things to point at that it would take all night. One thing is for sure, the Nuggets inability to close out two of the games in this series is why they are going home. In fact, it happened all series. The Nuggets couldn't separate themselves enough to make a difference and the Thunder kept reeling the Nuggets back in. That's on the Nuggets and quite frankly it's a bit shameful. No excuses.
That being said, this series was close the whole way through. We can safely say that Game 2 (17 point blowout) was an aberration. While the Thunder may have won the series, they do know that they aren't much better than the Nuggets, in fact, the difference seems to be free throw shooting. Is that a mental thing? Is that because the Nuggets young players choked under pressure? Who knows. Looking back, four of the five games were a spread of five points or less. That is where these teams are. The question before all Nuggets fans is how do we close the narrow gap? That is a question for the off-season.
In the meantime I'd like to thank every reader of Denver Stiffs for a wildly dramatic season. It's been quite the ride. What do you think about this team going forward? Are you excited? Are you worried? Are there new players that you'd like to acquire (if there is a season)? Are there players in the draft you have your eye on? These are all the questions we will have for this team. Specifically Masai Ujiri and Josh Kroenke. Since they made the trade to New York sending Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups over, we have been told the Nuggets did not want to go the rebuilding approach. If that is the case, how do we improve this team? Or do we count on these existing players improving along the way.
All I know is while tonight's loss was disappointing I am more curious now about where the Nuggets are going, rather than where they are now.
Give yourselves time to grieve. Throw pillows at the TV screen and complain about rotations and poor free throw shooting. Who knows what will happen now.