Your Denver Nuggets just pulled off what was undoubtedly one of their greatest playoff victories in franchise history. Now let's give credit where credit is due ...
Everyone who follows this Denver Nuggets team closely - including yours truly - had the Nuggets penciled in for a 4-1 series loss to the Los Angeles Lakers. After all, this team - during its admirable nine consecutive playoff appearances - has never, and I repeat never, won an elimination game on the road. As we know all too well, our Nuggets typically dig themselves into a 3-1 series hole only to drop Game 5 on the road.
Head coach George Karl - thanks to big time efforts from JaVale McGee, Andre Miller (where are the 'Dre haters now?) and Arron Afflalo among others - was able to reverse the Nuggets fortunes. And least until Thursday when Game 6 commences at the Pepsi Center.
The Stiffs contingency that gathered at Jake's Food & Spirits on Tuesday night to watch the game spent much of it wringing their hands and pulling their hair out as Karl tinkered and toyed with a lineup to closeout the game.
"Why isn't Faried in for Harrington?!"
"How can Brewer still be on the floor?!"
"Why the @#$%& isn't Lawson out there?!"
And yet somehow, someway, the old school coach found the right combination and the team delivered perhaps his most satisfying victory in eight years as the Nuggets head coach. Granted, Karl's 2008-09 team marched to the conference finals - but they had home court advantage and blew out their competition on the way there. No Karl-coached team has pulled off an upset like what we witnessed Tuesday night.
Karl's victory was delivered largely by McGee. A raw, rangy kid who is having a coming out party of sorts in this series and is making Nuggets' vice president Masai Ujiri look like a wizard for dumping Nene's bad contract on the NBA's Wizards to bring McGee to Denver. McGee was dominant on both ends of the floor throughout the fourth quarter while flustering and frustrating the Lakers' whiny bigs - Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol - into sub-par games. The only downside to McGee's performance is that he's going to cost the Nuggets a bloody fortune to re-sign him this summer.
Stepping up alongside McGee was the savvy veteran Miller. Karl - as we know all too well here at Denver Stiffs - has been riding Miller all season long. Especially in the fourth quarter. Karl trusts and admires Miller, and Miller rewarded Karl's trust Tuesday night with one of his greatest performances ever as a pro: 24 points on 8-11 shooting and 8 assists ... off the bench! Moreover, Miller's shots were timely daggers that the Lakers couldn't recover from.
And finally - finally! - Afflalo showed up in this series and showed us all why Ujiri paid handsomely to bring him back this season. Not only did he put up 19 points and grab 3 steals, but he was a catalyst in getting Kobe Bryant to over-shoot in this game. As my colleague Jeffrey Morton aptly put it during the Game 5 party, "If Kobe goes into hero mode, we have a chance." Indeed we did! (It should be noted, however, that Kobe was almost a hero ... canning three straight three-pointers late in the fourth and thus single-handily bringing the Lakers back within reach of overtime.)
There's much more to discuss about this incredible Game 5, but after drinking a few extra beers with my fellow Stiffs and screaming my lungs out for three hours, it's probably best to sign off for the night. More analysis is to come from us (and you), but at least we can rest well tonight knowing that the Nuggets play again on Thursday.
At long last ... we get to play a Game 6 at home!
Congrats to Karl and his players. They've earned a renewed level of respect and admiration from Nuggets Nation.