The past decade of Nuggets basketball has featured some of the best and worst times for the Nuggets franchise and its fans as Andrew illustrated in his piece A Decade Retrospective. Let us now focus in on some of the best specific individual and team performances from that span.
Born in 1982, my Nuggets memories begin right around the time Dikembe Mutombo was drafted to the team out of Georgetown University in 1991. Perhaps my favorite memory from the period was when my dad took me down to the Air Force Academy for an intra-squad scrimmage during training camp. I took my Upper Deck 1991-92 Mutombo rookie card with me in hopes of getting it signed, just in case I would happen to run into Mt. Mutombo.
After the scrimmage the players were kind enough to stick around and greet the fans and sign autographs. I remember seeing Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf (Chris Jackson at the time) and couldn't believe the scoring machine was standing literally just a few feet away from me, but then I saw the big guy. Mutombo, all 7'2'' of him, was walking right at me, so I stood my ground and stuck my hand out to greet him. The memory has faded just a bit, but I do remember his hand as I shook it ... his fingers literally were touching my elbow! I couldn't believe how big he was and how nice he was as he signed his rookie card for me. I stared at the black Sharpie signature the entire drive home and couldn't wait to get to the card shop to buy a hard case for my new prize. I'll remember that moment whenever I look at that card ... the time my pops took me to see my favorite newfound team.
After that encounter I was hooked. I started playing basketball around that same time and couldn't get enough Nuggets basketball. By the time the legendary 1993-94 season rolled around I knew just about all anyone could know about a team, and then it happened. The Nuggets made it to the playoffs and were set to face the best team in the Western Conference ...'s Seattle Supersonics.
In 1994 my basketball team (Parker-Blue) added a new player named Jason. He was a tall guy (for an elementary school kid) that our team desperately needed for the power forward position and he had a smooth left handed stroke ... he'd be our Brian Williams, as it turned out he was from Seattle and was a huge Sonics fan. So, when the Nuggets squared off against Karl's team I heard plenty of confident trash talk. I'll never forget watching Game 5 at my buddy Austin's house along with Jason. As Mutombo pulled down the final rebound and crashed to the floor in pure happiness after the buzzer, Austin and I ran out of his basement and sprinted around the house screaming our heads off. Jason came out after us, at a much slower pace, and we let him have it ... we had turned on the garden hose and when he came out of the house and around the corner we soaked the kid. As the saying goes, kids can be cruel.
After that magical season things spiraled downward for the Nuggets and the franchise wouldn't get back on track until the 2000's. I watched a lot of bad throughout the late 1990's and early 2000's so getting to put together a list of "Greatest Individual or Team Performances of the Past Decade" was a rewarding experience. Without further ado, let's get to it.
You might be asking yourself how a guy that Andrew nominated as a candidate for the 2008 Denver Stiffs Hall of Fame could make this list and I'll gladly tell you. McCloud's 22 assist night ranks second all time in Nuggets history, behind Fat Lever's and Larry Brown's (yes, that Larry Brown) 23 assist efforts and just eight shy of the NBA record established by Scott Skiles on December 30, 1990. McCloud's time in Denver could best be described as forgettable, but his performance that night in Chicago nearly broke a record that has stood since February 20, 1972 when Larry Brown handed out 23 assists against Pittsburgh in an ABA game.
In what would become a bit of a trend for the Nuggets throughout the decade, a great individual performance was overshadowed with a loss. Iverson dumped 51 points on the Lakers with 49 of them coming in the game's first three quarters, but Denver ultimately lost to L.A. 111-107. A.I. was limited to just four shots in the final period as the Lakers did all they could to shut "The Answer" down.
The undersized Iverson's 51 points were the most scored by a Nugget since another undersized guard scored 51 points on December 7, 1995 in Utah ... his name: Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf. Iverson finished the night shooting 66% (18-27) from the field, got to the foul line 18 times and made 15 of them and also tallied 8 assists.
The former 2004 NBA All-Star Three-Point Champion rode an extremely hot hand against the Warriors and scored 26 of Denver's 39 first quarter points or 66% of them. Lenard said of his performace, "I've been hot before -- in the sun."
I remember watching Lenard make shot after shot in Oakland and thinking how insane it was and that he just wasn't going to miss. The only three-pointer he missed on the night came at the end of the first when Lenard pulled up for a straight on three and didn't connect to close out the period. Although it was the most points given up to an individual in a quarter by the Warriors ... David Thompson's 32 point quarter was still safe in Denver's record book (more on that later.) The Nuggets went on to win the game 117-109 and Lenard finished the game shooting 14-21 (5-6 from deep, 5-5 from the foul line) and set a new career high with 38 points.
7.) April 3, 2007: Marcus Camby posts 21 points and 20 rebounds as the Nuggets beat the Los Angeles Lakers 111-105.
This game marked the sixth time that Camby would put his name in the 20/20 club in his career. The Nuggets went into the game with an overall record of just 36-36 and needed a win at Staples Center to keep playoff hopes alive. The Nuggets were without head coach George Karl, who was with his son who was undergoing cancer treatment and the team would be coached by assistant Adrian Dantley who said after the win, "The guys did a good job. They responded to me and they didn't give me any problems. We needed the game."
Camby would pull down 5 boards in the first, 2 in the second, 7 in the third and 6 in the fourth quarter to go along with 6 blocked shots and an 8-14 shooting performance from the field. Camby grabbed nearly half of his team's rebounds (20 of 42) and basically refused to let the Nuggets lose by transforming himself into a monster on the glass. And as a little bonus ... the Nuggets spoiled Kobe Bryant's night in which he became the youngest player to reach 19,000 career points.
On February 27, 2008 the Nuggets beat the Sonics 138-96 and set their third highest margin of victory mark over an opponent in the 42 point win. Just a couple of weeks later when Denver faced the Sonics again at Pepsi Center nobody could have seen what was coming. The Nuggets laid a 168-116 smack-down on the Sonics and set the Denver franchise record for margin of victory over an opponent in the regular season with the 52 point shellacking. The 168 points was also a new record for the most points scored in regulation for the franchise.
(I'm sure some of you recall Denver's 186-184 loss to the back on December 13, 1983 that set the NBA record for most points combined in a game, but that loss took three overtimes to get to 184 points with leading the way for Denver with 51 points. It was nice to see the Nuggets on the winning side of a lopsided score.)
Eight Nuggets scored in double figures with Melo notching 26 points, Iverson 24 points and K-Mart 23 points against the Sonics. Camby posted a triple-double with 13 points, 15 rebounds and 10 assists and said afterwards in an ESPN game recap, "I've never been a part of a game like this where we won by so many points and scored so many points. This is definitely a game I'm going to keep in my archives." And so should we.
5.) December 10, 2008: Carmelo ties an NBA record by scoring 33 points in one quarter against the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Entering the third quarter, of the Dec. 10th game, the Nuggets were losing to the T-Wolves 56-44 and looking for a spark. Carmelo Anthony was more like a bundle of dynamite scoring in a variety of ways to tie George Gervin's NBA record of 33 points in one quarter. Melo also broke the Nuggets franchise record of points scored in a quarter by breaking David Thompson's 32 point effort against Detroit back on April 9, 1978. The funny thing ... Gervin and Thompson each set their marks on the same day, the last day of the regular season (April 9, 1978), in a battle to determine the NBA's scoring champion that year.
From the Denver Post after Anthony tied the mark Doug Moe had this to say, "Tonight's performance brought back memories because Gervin was on fire, they couldn't stop him, and Melo was totally on fire." Moe happened to be in attendance for Gervin's performance as he was coaching the Spurs and George Karl was on Moe's staff, but according to the Post Karl was on the road scouting during Gervin's game.
Sometimes Melo can be a quiet scorer and you'll often look at the scoreboard to realize he's approaching 30 or 40 points, but it against the T-Wolves it was Melo's show in the third quarter and he was front and center. "I've never been a part of a quarter like that before. I just felt that good. I can't explain it. My 3-ball was going, driving to the basket, getting fouled. Just the complete game tonight," Melo said in the ESPN game recap.
Not even veteran Chauncey Billups could hold back on Melo's performance calling it "the best I've ever seen in a 12-minute span."
In the quarter Melo shot 12-15, 4-5 from deep, 5-6 at the foul line for his 33 points. The "Hot-Hand" theory in action. The best part ... YouTube. You can watch Melo's scoring splurge here.
When the Nuggets drafted Carmelo Anthony out of Syracuse University before the 2003-04 season fans at long last had a reason to be excited for the upcoming NBA calender year. Before the season began the media was tripping over themselves to hand LeBron James the Rookie of the Year award, but it would be Carmelo Anthony leading his team to the playoffs with a record of 43-39 after going 17-65 the season before. Yes, a healthy Marcus Camby and free agents Andre Miller, Jon Barry, Earl Boykins and Voshon Lenard helped remake the Nuggets, but Melo was a star in the making.
Coming down to season's end Denver was battling division rivals Utah and Portland for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference and with just three games left a battle with the Portland Trail Blazers loomed large. Both Denver and Portland were 41-38 coming into the April 10th showdown at Pepsi Center. My sister's catering company had purchased a suite for the game and I was going to be in attendance for the biggest Nuggets game since Game 7 of the Utah Jazz series back in 1994 ... 10 years earlier!
At the half the Blazers held a 48-46 lead and coming into the second half Melo had scored just 7 points. The final two quarters were going to make-or-break Denver's turnaround season and you just knew they needed to win this game to get into the playoffs with just two games remaining for the young team.
The "Jail Blazers" as they were nicknamed at the time were enjoying some fine nights from, and and Portland was keeping Anthony in check ... until the second half.
The Nuggets were able to grab a 69-67 lead heading into the fourth quarter and a "winning time" performance, asJohnson calls it, was needed by somebody in white and powder blue. With the game on the line down the stretch Melo showed the Denver faithful what kind of player he was going to become by scoring 7 of the team's final 9 points in regulation to force overtime.
In the game's final minute the Blazers held a 92-90 lead thanks to a Derek Anderson three-pointer and it was now Melo's time to shine. I remember the arena being on edge and everyone basically holding their collective breath as Melo took the ball into the heart of the Blazer defense and converted a very difficult runner in the lane to tie the game at 92-92 with 29.6 seconds left and the Pepsi Center crowd let out a collective roar as the shot fell.
Portland got the ball back and Zach Randolph tried to play the villain by hitting a little fadeaway with 8.2 seconds remaining ... 94-92 Blazers. Melo once again was called upon and you could have heard a pin drop as his jumper from 17-feet left his fingers ... a make and we're going to overtime ... a miss and Denver's season is on the brink of being over. The shot sank and strangers were hugging strangers as a Nuggets community was united by their young star. Overtime wasn't going to be an issue because momentum was on Denver's side and the Nuggets ran away from Portland in the extra period as Melo led the way with 6 points in OT.
This was the first time I remember thinking that Anthony was truly going to become a special player and not just a scoring machine. Star players never shy away when the game is on the line and Melo, just a rookie, was up for the moment scoring 30 points and 23 of them in the second half.
Winning margins like the one that happened in New Orleans in the playoffs in 2009 are not supposed to happen. Playoff teams should not get beat by 58 points. Perhaps the most impressive part about the win was Denver nearly beating the Hornets by as many points as NOLA could score.
Denver held Chris Paul and Company to 17-54 shooting on the night (31.5%) and tied the NBA record for largest playoff winning margin that stood since 1956 when the Minnesota Lakers beat the St. Louis Hawks 133-75.
The game gave Denver a commanding 3-1 playoff series lead and crushed any hope the Hornets would have of being able to win another game in the series. George Karl said in the ESPN recap after the game, "Every coach talks about playing a playoff game, every possession having value, every possession having intensity to it. I thought my team, probably in my career, I've never seen a team probably do that on every possession -- do what they were supposed to do and play the game the right way -- as much as they did tonight."
That comment summed up the game. A complete performance by Denver.
The Nuggets starters outscored the entire Hornets team 74-63, seven Nuggets scored in double figures, 42% of the Hornets total points came from the free throw line (27 of 63) and the Hornets only scored 24 second half points (11 in the third and 13 in the fourth) . You could tell from the outset that Denver intended on winning as they raced out to a big first quarter lead of 36-15. Typically the opponent will make a run, but the Hornets just couldn't muster any kind of anything and it was the ideal basketball game from Denver's standpoint and one that will remain in the history books for a long time.
Melo took his clutch playing level to new heights in the playoffs last season and took the wind out of the Mavericks sails with his clutch three-pointer. Said Melo in the ESPN game recap, "I have hit a lot of big shots in my short career, but never in a situation like this. It was a thin line between 2-1 and 3-0."
Melo scored Denver's final five points and brought the Nuggets back from a four point deficit with just 30 seconds to play in the game. Things were not looking good for the Nuggets in Dallas and perhaps Denver had no business even winning ... if not for Melo's performance.
This game didn't come without controversy as Antoine Wright claimed he was trying to foul Melo as Melo took the ball across the top of the three-point line to the elbow near the Mavericks bench, absorbed some light contact and buried the winner in front of Mavs coach Rick Carlisle. Denver fans can forever argue that Melo has taken much more contact than Wright ever gave him on that final possession and not had a foul called and there are those who say Wright should have wrapped Melo up to prevent any continuation. But the moment belonged to Melo as he hit the biggest shot in his young career to date. (Watch the game winner by clicking here.)
This game for me showed me that Billups was going to do whatever it took to get the Nuggets to the second-round or beyond of the 2009 playoffs. Mr. Big Shot took plenty of shots as he seemed to sense that the playoff-iffy Nuggets (just 4-20 in the playoffs with Carmelo Anthony) needed someone to guide them to victory.
Sitting in the stands (in the Melo's Yellows section) and watching three-pointer after three-pointer fall for Billups was a thing of beauty. Each shot spoke to the team letting them know that Billups had their back. His sense of calmness in a big game let the team relax and begin to play the way we've waited for them to play in the postseason for years. Finally Denver had their leader and Melo could be the star, but not on this night ... Game 1 of the Nuggets 2009 postseason belonged to Denver's son.
The 113-84 victory was Denver's second largest margin of victory in the team's playoff history, but would quickly become the third as Game 4 had yet to be played. Billups' career-best eight three point makes (in nine attempts) fell just one shy of the playoff record of nine ... which has been done just three times by Phoenix Suns).in 2001, also in 2001, and by current Nuggets Vice President of Player Personnel Rex Chapman (on April 25, 1997 versus the Seattle SuperSonics as a member of the
Billups said of his night in an ESPN game recap, "It's just one of those special nights that you have sometimes."
On the night Billups finished 10-15 from the field, 8-9 from deep, 8-8 from the free throw line, 8 assists, 0 turnovers and 36 points.
In his first playoff game for his hometown team Billups inspired a city and helped guide the Nuggets to their best playoff performance since the 1984-85 season and one that this city is not soon to forget.
That's the list. That's the 10 greatest individual or team performances of the past decade for the Denver Nuggets.
Photos Courtesy of AP Photos