It's a very funny thing, memories. With the distance of time it seems that moments become more romanticized and made to be something they weren't. Yet, the heat haze of misty remembrance is clarified this day-and-age with the advent of YouTube. A perfect time capsule for those that choose to remember how glorious things used to be ... right with the click of a button.
So passes the Denver Nuggets' 2008-09 season. A season in which the Nuggets very nearly, would have, could have, but probably not should have advanced to the Western Conference Finals. A magical blip on the Nuggets radar that gave an entire city hope (as well as millions of mohawk wigs which are probably collecting dust in the Pepsi Center storage unit) and had everyone on edge the entire month of April until mid-way through May of 2009.
Of course, one could argue the brilliant trade pulled off by Mark Warkentein (Chauncey Billups and Antonio McDyess for Allen Iverson) after the third game of the season not only catapulted the Nuggets to their WCF run ... but also saved George Karl's job. You see, the most embattled Karl has ever been was after the trainwreck of the 2008 playoffs. You remember that one don't you? An 8th seeded Nuggets team was swept by the Lakers. A Game 3 blowout by the Lakers in Denver climaxed with star forward Carmelo Anthony screaming at Karl, "Don't just sit there! Do something!"
The backdrop of the entire 2008-09 season was played against this tension. As a faithful commenter on both Nate Timmons' Pick Axe and Roll and Andrew Feinstein's deliberately antagonistically named FireGeorgeKarl.com I saw the pessimism and the lack of faith in the entire team. Particularly after Marcus Camby was traded to the Los Angeles Clippers for a giant trade exception and a pile of hair. Things were not looking good.
Then, after the Billups trade, things changed. Dramatically. Billups' (already a local hero) professionalism and leadership was the potent elixir Karl needed to communicate to players and ... yes ... become a better coach. Suddenly the offense was clicking. Carmelo Anthony's scoring average went down from 25.7 points per game the previous season to 22.8 ppg and yet he seemed more rounded and complete than ever as a player in Denver. New additions Dahntay Jones and Chris Andersen provided defensive spark and energy. Particularly Birdman, who briefly became a Denver legend because of his hair and his spectacular blocks. Jones was the local pest, and famously drove Chris Paul nuts in the Nuggets first round series against the New Orleans Hornets.
When it came to the playoffs there was a buzz around town that was amazing to see. For the first time since 1994 when the Nuggets made their miraculous run to the second round of the playoffs, the city of Denver was buzzing with Nuggets fever. We forget how easily the Nuggets tore through the Hornets in that first round series, and additionally how well they played as a team. Denver wound up winning the series 4-1 (including a massive beat-down in Game 4). The second round was a bit tougher, but was the same result. 4-1 Nuggets. The games were closer, but if anything - the Nuggets managed to play better.
When it came to the Western Conference Finals, people forget that the Nuggets were ahead or tied in much of Game 1 and (even more than the inbounds pass from Anthony Carter while being guarded by Larmar Odom) essentially gave the game away with sloppy offense and careless turnovers. In Game 2 however the Nuggets rebounded nicely and managed to steal a game in LA. The Next two games in Denver featured the Nuggets again throwing away a game late to the Lakers after leading by 8-point entering the fourth quarter, and then once again rebounding nicely by winning Game 4 in blowout fashion. The next two games weren't as competitive (although the Nuggets and Lakers were tied entering the fourth quarter of Game 5) and the Nuggets essentially gave away Game 6, almost like they knew they were defeated.
While the ending wasn't what Nuggets fans would have wanted, the buzz around town was electric. There's a chance that maybe this years team can capture some of that magic as well. There's a very nice national buzz around this team, and regardless of where you think the Nuggets will finish this season they will definitely be fun to watch. Danilo Gallinari, Andre Iguodala, Ty Lawson, Kenneth Faried and the rest of the team seem to know they have a good thing. I, for one, am anxious to see it again.
Regardless of the tainted memories of the 2009 Western Conference playoff run (due to the Melo trade in 2011 and Karl's victorious battle with Cancer in 2010) we can hopefully look back on that year and remember only the good. I re-watched many of those games from '09 and I have to say that it got me excited. Really excited for this upcoming season.
Do the Nuggets have another run in them like that? Maybe. In the meantime here is a link to Game 2 against the New Orleans Hornets. This game featured Chris Andersen's most memorable play as a Nugget. A put-back slam dunk of a Billups missed three-point shot. The crowd went wild man. They went wild.
They will again ...
What are your memories of the Nuggets run to the Western Conference Finals in 2009?
Twitter: @jmorton78 https://twitter.com/#!/jmorton78