This one wasn't the coach's finest moment. The Nuggets seemed like they couldn't do anything right on their way to a 106-89 loss in Game 2 of the Western Conference first round.
Something about this game didn't feel right from the beginning. I'd say that Nuggets Nation was let down by our coach who didn't call appropriate timeouts and had a horrible time making in-game adjustments. I'd say we were let down by our starting lineup which was pedestrian at best. I'd say it was a great performance by people other than Kevin Durant (who had a rather blah game) ... James Harden, Serge Ibaka, and Kendrick Perkins all had good games. I don't want to take anything away from the Thunder. They made superior adjustments for this game. Officials can't be blamed. Durant wasn't living at the line as much as he did the first game. This loss was a coaching loss.
Every playoff series for the Nuggets you get the "George Karl loss" (who can forget Karl's sad press conference after the Game 1 loss to the Lakers in 2009). The one game in the series where Karl seems completely incapable of making proper calls, lineups, timeouts ... whatever. We all know that the Thunder arent 20 points better than the Nuggets. Hell, I'm sure even the cocky Thunder players know they aren't this much better. Something was off and it was Karl. It started when he didn't call an early timeout to stem the early tide. Then, he proceeded to break out the "midget lineup" too soon and the Nuggets found themselves down (by as many as 26) by 15 at halftime.
The Nuggets made some feeble runs in the second half, but accomplished almost nothing with them. Even though Al Harrington was the only Nugget (outside of Ty Lawson) playing well, his defense was so poor the Thunder were getting easy shot after easy shot after easy shot. Big Al put up little to no resistance and couldn't box-out to save his life. Meanwhile both Chris Andersen and J.R. Smith didn't get off the bench in the second half. Inexcusable. There's a reason that they call J.R "the one man comeback". He played poorly in the first, but you NEED his offense out there when you are struggling. You also need Birdman's energy and rebounding. I was watching the screen thinking that when the Nuggets cut it to ten - this is the perfect time to put JR and Bird in. Nothing.
I want to once again reiterate that I take nothing from the Thunder. They played the superior game in every way. It was inexcusable for the Nuggets to allow almost 20 second chance points and be out-rebounded by as much as they were. This showed that the Thunder were simply more prepared to play. The Nuggets actually played very good defense on Durant (Danilo Gallinari held Durant to 10 points while he was guarding him, and I believe that Gallo was on him roughly 60% of the time. Impressive.) and Russell Westbrook was contained for the most part. Yet routinely shooters were left open for shots, and rotations were poor.
All around bad game.
What got to me the most was there were no "message fouls" the whole game by the Nuggets. The only one who got roughed up was Wilson Chandler by Perkins. That's it. This was one of Karl's biggest blunders in this game. While the Nuggets were playing okay defense on Durant they let people go free in the lane. You have two seven foot centers on the bench. MESSAGE FOULS! That had to have come directly from Karl and it was – in a word – dumb. No excuse to leave fouls on the floor and not at least get a shot in. In 2009 Karl would have sent Kenyon Martin out to throw a guy into the first row, now we are lucky to have people put up their hands to block a potential shot. You could see K-Mart getting more and more annoyed with Karl as the game progressed ... then he played Kenyon almost the ENTIRE second half. I was half expecting K-Mart's knees to explode.
Frustrated? You bet your ass. Yet, we must look at things differently. I wouldn't be shocked at all to see the Nuggets win the next two games in Denver. OKC is a young team and despite the presence of Perkins, they haven't seen the Pepsi Center rockin' for playoff basketball. Hell, even last year in the playoffs they didn't experience that. Remember, they played the Lakers who have a home crowd that is rather blasé about getting "in" to things. I'm curious to see how the Thunder react under these circumstances. This young Thunder team has yet to experience that atmosphere and I'm extremely curious to see how they react to it.
There's very little positive to take away from this game. It's almost like that Indiana game from early in the season, you know, the one where the Pacers hit 21 shots in a row. Those kinds of games, and this one, you need to file away under "oh well" and forget about them. Forget about them QUICK. In the playoffs you can't let this stuff linger on. One would hope that Karl would look back on this and say "my bad". That's an unrealistic hope, but it may happen.
The Thunder and their fans have every right to feel a bit smug about tonight's win. They whooped up on the Nuggets. I hope they keep that feeling going in to Saturday's game against the Nuggets. I hope they remember the feeling they have right now. Put it in a picture frame and hang it on their walls. It's a great feeling.
I wonder if they will feel the same way after games three and four in Denver?
Nuggets of Wisdom
I'm going to speak directly to Nuggets fans here. I've had enough of the back and forth with Thunder fans. This is for you Stiffs, die-hards and casual Nuggets fans. Calling all bandwagoners, fair weather fans, general basketball watchers and NBA fans. Enough is enough. The Nuggets need YOU the next two games to come out and show the Thunder what real road basketball is like. You know, raucous, deafening, intimidating, fierce, exciting, electric and fun. Remember 2009? Remember when every team hated to come to Pepsi Center in the playoffs? Remember Rick Carlisle calling timeouts every three minutes because he was afraid of the Nuggets crowd getting in to it?
How about we take that and multiply it by 20. Remember the look of self-satisfaction that Durant and Westbrook have on their faces. Remember how much you loath Perkins and think James Harden's beard is weird. Remember that this team talked some serious trash about the Nuggets after they won here two weeks ago. Remember that all the media in the country will be stroking the Thunder big time for the next two days. Keep that with you. Relish in it. Let it out on Saturday in a deafening roar that can be heard all the way in Norman, Oklahoma. Remember that this team NEEDS YOU. Get the whining out about Karl and the team in this thread ... then be DONE with it. This is the playoffs. Get up or get out.
Let's show these mofos from the dust bowl how we do it in D-Town.