Did George Karl's body get suddenly taken over by the spirit of Paul Westhead?
Somehow, someway our Denver Nuggets allowed an opponent to score 131 points ... in Denver ... in a @#$%& playoff game ... in 2013!!
Exploiting the Nuggets two biggest weaknesses - free throw shooting and defending the three - the Golden State Warriors trounced our Nuggets squad, with the resulting loss feeding into the skeptics who for months claimed that the Nuggets style of basketball wouldn't translate into post-season success. And while I hate to overreact to one game, there are certainly plenty of reasons over these first two games to become skeptical ourselves of the Nuggets ability to win a playoff series this year.
Simply put, the Nuggets were lucky to win Game 1 and the same flaws exposed in that game were shown in the brightest of lights in Game 2: inability to make free throws, lack of consistent rotations, struggles defending the opponent's three-point shots, stagnant offense when the game slows down, and so on.
In my Game 2 preview, I highlighted three areas that the Nuggets needed to tackle to secure a victory: flip the rebounding advantage around, don't rely on Andre Miller and contain Stephen Curry. In two of those three areas (the rebounding and the Curry containment plan), the Nuggets failed miserably in Game 2. Playing without their BEST rebounder in All-Star power forward David Lee, the Warriors managed to out-rebound the Nuggets by 10. And through three quarters before turning his oft-injured ankle, Curry absolutely torched the Nuggets. When Karl recently said that "Curry is the best shooter I've ever seen", he wasn't kidding.
Unfortunately for Karl and the Nuggets, it wasn't only Curry who was red hot on Tuesday night. Klay Thompson, Jarrett Jack and Harrison Barnes all scored north of 20 points. I'll have to do some digging, but when was the last four players on the same team scored at least 20 points in a playoff game? It's practically unheard of. And, yes, while the Warriors were admittedly hot - perhaps abnormally so - the Nuggets ( )efense allowed them to be. Falling for screens, failing to switch and paying little attention to the trajectory of missed shots, the Nuggets played defense like a collection of chickens with their heads cut off. Hence the Warriors 131-point outburst.
Unable to put a lineup together to produce one of the offensive "waves" that the 2012-13 Nuggets had become known for - especially at home - Karl went with a small lineup for much of the second half and found his diminutive cast of players unable to grab a damn rebound or defend the paint. Should Karl have given JaVale McGee (a possible game-changer, but you never know) more playing time? Should Karl have been more patient with Kosta Koufos (who was largely worthless tonight)? Those decisions will be debated here endlessly until Friday night's Game 3 tips off.
But it wasn't just Karl's lineup decisions that cost the Nuggets Game 2. Wilson Chandler - normally a stalwart at the small forward position - all but disappeared throughout the game. Andre Iguodala played terrific in the first quarter, but he too disappeared from quarters two through four. And in the few minutes bestowed upon McGee and Koufos, the big man duo was largely ineffective, combining for just five rebounds total and not blocking a single shot.
With the Nuggets sitting in the three-spot, winning 10 more games than the Warriors in the regular season and with the Warriors playing sans Lee (and Curry getting hurt in the second half), this has to go down as one of the more disappointing Nuggets playoff games in franchise history. But it's only Game 2 and it's not like the Nuggets are down 0-2. What we do know is this: for two games, the Nuggets have been out-coached, out-hustled and outright out-played by a supposedly inferior opponent. The Nuggets now have three days to remember why they're supposed to be the better team if they're to steal Game 3 or 4 at Oakland in front of an amp'd up Warriors fan base. A difficult, but not insurmountable, task.
The view from the not-so-cheap-seats ...
... shockingly, the one big man Karl got some production out of was Anthony Randolph, who made five of his six field goal attempts and finished with 14 points.
... Barnes couldn't shoot straight all season, and yet he had his career high of 24 points in Game 2. With Curry being so hot through the first three quarters, I think the Nuggets took their eye off his teammates in the latter half of the third quarter and the entire fourth quarter.
... Andre Miller remains a crafty, durable veteran. Whatever slight chance the Nuggets had to win Game 2 was thanks largely to Miller.
... my seatmate had the best quote I've heard all season long when he noted that "Corey Brewer is the black Bill Hanzlik." And a la Hanzlik. Brewer pest'd his way into another decent game despite the loss.
... Faried, recovering from an ankle sprain, just didn't look right. He probably needs another game to get back to his true self on the floor.
... oddly, after turning his ankle Curry was escorted to the locker room but never went in. He turned around, came back onto the floor, and sunk another three-pointer. Did I mention that Curry is awesome?
... when the highlight of the game is Rocky the mascot making his behind-the-back, half court three-point shot, you know you're in trouble.
... yet again, the Nuggets struggled from the free throw line, making just 28 of their 37 attempts. If I'm Mark Jackson, I'd keep telling my guys to foul, foul and foul some more in Game 3.
... even Draymond Green (who?) and Festus Ezeli (who?!) played solidly for Golden State.
... a number of fair weather Nuggets fans left for the exits halfway through the fourth quarter. Disappointing.
... Jimmy Goldstein was in the house, sitting courtside with Warriors owner Peter Guber. If you don't know who Jimmy Goldstein is, you should.
Non-Stiff of the Game
-Stephen Curry: Not only did Curry torch the Nuggets, but the mere threat of his presence enabled his teammates to go off on Denver practically undefended. Somewhere, Dell Curry is smiling from ear to ear.
Stiff of the Game
-Wilson Chandler: Unfocused throughout the game, Chandler was never able to impact this game offensively and it killed Denver. In addition to shooting 4-15 from the field, Chandler's +/- was -20. I trust Chandler will play much better in Game 3 and be more aggressive to boot.
Because the 2012-13 Denver Nuggets won so many "we have no business winning this game" games (including Game 1 of this playoff series), I fear that the coaching staff, the players and we as fans have become somewhat arrogant by thinking that they will always find a way to win no matter what. Game 2 proved to be a rude awakening that perhaps was needed.
Game 2 of this Nuggets/Warriors series actually reminded me of Karl's 1995-96 Seattle Supersonics team that lost to the lowly Sacramento Kings - in Seattle - in Game 2 of their 1996 first round series. Coming off two straight early playoff exits, Sonics fans everywhere bemoaned "here we go again!" But Karl was able to regroup his Sonics team, win the next two games at Sacramento, win the series and march to the NBA Finals.
Point being, sometimes a Game 2 loss can prove to be a catalyst for a long playoff run. But if the Nuggets are to have such a run, they better figure out a way to contain Curry and the Warriors ... immediately.