During George Karl's tenure with the Nuggets we were constantly fed lines about how important home-court advantage was during the playoffs. We'd see bloated win totals, at home, during the regular season - like the previous three seasons of 38-3, 20-13, and 33-8, but those records would fail to translate when it counted. Truth be told, the Nuggets were unexceptional in the post season at the Pepsi Center under Karl. His teams went just 13-12 in home playoff games from 2005-2013 (excluding a 2-1 home performance at home under Adrian Dantley in the 2010 playoffs).
Those home playoff losses took a toll on the fans and perhaps on the players too. Andre Iguodala, now of the Golden State Warriors, keeps emphasizing how tremendous the fans are in Oakland. "They are really passionate about their sports," said Iguodala during a recent interview. And that feels like a direct shot to the deflated Pepsi Center crowd that was very noticeable before Game 5 versus Golden State.
The vibe in the building before Game 5 was a "here we go again" one with the team down 3-1 in the series. Excuses were made for why fans were late arriving and then lackluster before the opening tip, but everyone knew where the series was heading. It was apparent that fans were not eager to see an exciting 57 win season go down the tubes at home, history was not on the fans' side. Even though Denver won that game, 107-100, the excitement of playoff basketball was ruined.
Under Karl, the team was just 4-10 at home in crucial, series altering, playoff games. In 2005, down 2-1 to the Spurs, the Nuggets lost a big Game 4 at home 126-115 in overtime. In 2006, down 2-1 to the Clippers, in Game 4 they lost 100-86. In 2007, down 2-1 to the Spurs, in Game 4 they lost 96-89. In 2008, down 0-2 to the Lakers, they lost both Games 3 and 4. In 2009, tied 1-1 with the Lakers, they lost Game 3 103-97 and then lost a crucial Game 6 119-92. In 2011, down 0-2 to the Thunder, they lost Game 3 97-94. In 2012, down 2-1 to the Lakers, they lost Game 4 92-88. And in 2013, up 1-0 on the Warriors, they lost Game 2 131-117. That's a depressing list.
The Karl era was a fun one, but ultimately a disappointing one as his teams often went down without much of a fight when it mattered most. In 2008 the team was swept by the Lakers and in '05 (Spurs), '06 (Clippers, yes those Clippers), '07 (Spurs), and '11 (Thunder) the team was defeated 4-1. Yes, the '05 and '07 Spurs teams won the championships in those seasons, as did the '09 Lakers, but there are no moral victories to be had at the professional level. What if the Nuggets would have defeated the Lakers in 2009? Perhaps it'd be Denver with an NBA Finals victory, at least they would have made their first Finals trip.
Before Karl was fired by Josh Kroenke, he made some overtures about changing his coaching style. I don't know if it would have worked or if his message had grown stale to his players, but I know fans, for the most part, were ready for a change. Let's take a quick look back at Kroenke's statement for why he dismissed Karl as coach:
[George and I] tried to figure out the best ways for us both moving forward, my worse case scenario that we kept coming back to was: We are obviously going to start next season without [Danilo] Gallinari and for me, it would be a tough situation to put George in knowing he might want to restructure his contract already. If he's on the final year of his contract and we start off slow that would be an impossible situation to put a coach of that stature in. While it was a tough decision, I felt it was the right one to make at this point in time and for us all to get a fresh start moving forward."
Throw out everything else from the above statement and focus on "fresh start". That's what Kroenke felt his team and Nuggets fans needed. That's what Brian Shaw offers.
Shaw is a whole different kind of coach. Sitting and waiting for the practice doors to open to the media last season, you could routinely hear Karl barking instructions at his players. Being a bystander to Karl's interaction with his players, you got the sense that he was the boss, but that he was also a bit of a dictator. It felt sometimes, with certain players, that there was a barrier between player and coach. Some coaches motivate that way. You have to reach different players in different ways. Did it always work? That's up for debate.
We'll get to see how Shaw interacts with his players next week. There have been photos on Twitter of Shaw on the court playing alongside his players - a more hands on approach than we've seen in Denver from the head man. This certainly has to do with age, but it's different nonetheless. Observing Shaw at Summer League, he has a very approachable aura. I'm expecting his style and interactions to be very different from what we've seen in the past. Will it work? That will be determined in time.
For now, Shaw is saying all the right things. He wants to play the game at a slower pace when needed. He wants to ready the team for a more playoff-like approach to games - presumably meaning more focus on the half court and on the defensive end. And with JaVale McGee and Timofey Mozgov being talked about as the centers, we may also get more traditional lineups throughout the season.
It will be interesting to see if bucking Karl's unconventional approaches will be good or bad. It will also be interesting to see how Shaw actually develops his style. For now all we have are words, but by this time next week - we'll be in full NBA swing.
We have a fresh start with Shaw.
I made this chart last season in February (article here) to see how things shake out in the NBA playoffs. Here is how things unfolded in the Karl Era:
|Nugs Record||Opponent||Opp. Record||How opp. Finished||Who beat opp.|
|2005-06||44-38||Clippers||47-35||Lost semis||54-28 Suns|
|2007-08||50-32||Lakers||57-25||Lost Finals||66-16 Celtics|
|2008-09||54-28||Hornets||49-33||Lost first to Nugs||--|
|08-09||Mavericks||50-32||Lost semis to Nugs||--|
|2009-10||53-29||Jazz||53-29||Lost semis||57-25 Clippers|
|2010-11||50-32||Thunder||55-27||Lost WCF||57-25 Mavs|
|2011-12||38-28||Lakers||41-25||Lost semis||47-19 Thunder|
|2012-13||57-25||Warriors||47-35||Lost semis||58-24 Spurs|
From the above, in every single playoff series, the team with the better record won - except for the 2013 Nuggets, who lost to the 47 win Warriors. Upsets are that rare in the NBA.
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