Hurts. So. Good.
We all break into our careers somehow... The clip above is how Kevin Bacon did it with acting, a thorough spanking in the classic flick Animal House. Not surprisingly, Mr. Bacon does not hold the fond recollection of the film so many of us have.
But like it or not, Kevin was getting the Bacon smacked out of him, and was enjoying it enough to ask for more. (or was at least asked to say so, in hoping to be a part of the team, er, fraternity)
When Michael Malone was introduced to the Nuggets faithful, he couldn't have been clearer about his expectations for the team. The team would still have a fun and somewhat freewheeling offense, but had to play defense in the bargain. The team could still run, but had to do it in both directions. You can have your dessert, but you have to eat that broccoli first. And everyone has to buy in.
Given the near-mutiny we witnessed last season under another gotta-play-my-way coach, (though no one seemed clear on what Brian Shaw's way was, to be honest) Malone's purportedly demanding style had as good a chance of failure as success, especially with a team that looked to be on the ropes from a number of spankings of their own. What a difference a coach who openly communicates with his players, about the good and bad, can make.
Even so, how did we get to a 20-point paddling of the Houston Rockets last night, when the Rockets last game was in the Western Conference Finals? It looks like your Nuggets may have come to enjoy the pain.
CRACK! Enjoying the pain of playing (primarily) solid team defense. No easy task, especially for a team as deficient in that aspect as Denver was just last season. Mistakes were made last night, and plenty of them, but Denver never stopped trying on the defensive end, forcing several Houston misses on shots that looked like "gimmes" until the Nuggets contested to the end. Gary Harris made James Harden's night a challenge, and whoever spent time on Ty Lawson (usually Emmanuel Mudiay) was usually out in front of him.
WHACK! Enjoying the pain of taking what the opposition's defense gives them, making the extra pass instead of forcing their hand. Again, not everything was perfect, but the Nuggets primarily took what was given to them, and rookie point guard Emmanuel Mudiay made very solid choices as to when to shoot and when to pass, nearly tallying a double-double with 17 points and nine assists. Mudiay did have a double-double if you count his 11 turnovers... Still miles to go, Nuggets Nation.
SMACK! Enjoying the pain of constant communication. If you get a chance to review the Rockets game, notice the chatter between all five Nuggets on the floor, no matter who is playing. It's not easy to keep talking, especially against a team as active and talented as the Rockets, (and who admittedly struggled, both with the Nuggets pressure and their own rusty play) but Denver never stopped talking, and never got in each other's faces over mistakes, simply talked them through and kept playing. The chemistry that the team has been talking about over the preseason was evident in every minute of the game. Danilo Gallinari and Kenneth Faried were so vocal on the floor as to probably be hoarse, the off-court chatter between Jameer Nelson and Mudiay was constant, and both were simply microcosms of the Nuggets noisy nature last night.
THWACK! Enjoying the pain of trying again. If you'd not caught it in those last few paragraphs, there was certainly a lot of room for improvement. A lot of turnovers, bad defensive turns, occasional loss of focus, and even the odd mental lapse was seen last night. But Denver kept pressing, against the Rockets, and with each other, to keep their heads and efforts at full throttle throughout the game. Denver kept getting back up when they would stumble, a habit rarely seen in the past two seasons. Nowhere is the shared effort and responsibility more evident than in the final box score, in which there were:
- Six double-digit scorers, and only one of them exceeding 20 points, in Gallinari. Four of those double-digit scorers were starters, and the other starter, Gary Harris, had the best plus/minus of the evening, a +23.
- No other double-digit stat. Well, save Mudiay's 11 turnovers. An interesting stat, that. Mudiay had nine assists, and Faried nine rebounds, but each of the major stats: assists, rebounds, blocks, and steals were shared across the team, with most players tallying something in nearly every category. Impressive stuff.
It's always good to see a team willing to keep trying, at least out of the gates, when they know they still have a lot of rough edges to work off. Ralph Waldo Emerson has a great quote about failure:
"Our greatest glory is not in never failing, but in rising up every time we fail."
The Nuggets saw a lot of success last night in trying again. And then trying again. Thank you, sir. May I have another?