The Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors are headed back to the finals for the third straight time, meanwhile the Denver Nuggets are freshly back from heading to the NBA Draft Lottery for the 4th straight time. The Nuggets continued rebuild towards relevance will head into its 4th season with expectations of a postseason return. The success of George Karl and the Nuggets in the 2000s and early 2010s seems also like a distant memory now. Though Denver did not often have success once they reached the postseason and many years ended with them coming up well short of expectations, there were still some bright spots along the way. Here’s a look back at the five best moments in the playoffs from the George Karl era.
Carmelo Anthony’s game winner against the Dallas Mavericks
The Nuggets were in the middle of their run to the 2009 Western Conference Finals come game three of the conference semis against the Mavericks. The benefactors of homecourt advantage thanks to being the 2 seed, Denver took care of business at home in games one and two, building on the momentum they gained from a quick 4-1 series win over the New Orleans Hornets in the first round. The Nuggets were on the verge of possibly losing that momentum against Dallas as they trailed by two points in the final seconds of game three. When Melo got the inbound, Antoine Wright appeared to attempt to foul but the refs didn’t make the call and Anthony proceeded to bury a game winning three with just one second on the clock. A bit of a controversial play, but one that put the Nuggets in the drivers seat to reaching the WCF.
Game 1 against the San Antonio Spurs in 2007
The Nuggets entered the 2007 playoffs filled with hope despite being a six seed with the unenviable matchup of facing the playoff tested Spurs. Denver had acquired Allen Iverson mid season with the idea that pairing him with Anthony would create a dominating scoring force that could carry the team far in the playoffs, perhaps even to a championship. That thinking appeared to be sound in Iverson and Melo’s first ever playoff game together as they combined for 61 points and led Denver to a stunning game 1 upset on San Antonio’s floor. Alas, it was not meant to be. This victory would turn out to be the only playoff win the pairing of AI and Melo would ever produce.
Game 4 of the 2009 Western Conference Finals
This game still stands as the loudest and craziest the Pepsi Center crowd has ever got for a Denver Nuggets game. Trailing two games to one and needing to bounce back from a disappointing game three loss, Denver got caught up in an early back and forth contest but found a way to continuously build their lead despite an off night from Melo. Mostly J.R. Smith and Chauncey Billups carried the load and by the time the fourth quarter was in full swing the Nuggets were blowing out the vaunted Los Angeles Lakers. The crowd roared with delight with every basket and chants of “Beat LA” rang loud across The Can. Sadly, the Lakers would win the next two games to defeat the Nuggets in six.
The Javale McGee Game
The Nuggets met the Lakers yet again in the 2012 playoffs and found themselves in the difficult position of being down 3-1 headed into game 5. After watching Kosta Koufos and Timofey Mozgov get dominated by Andrew Bynum for two games coach Karl finally relented into giving big minutes to McGee. By the time game 5 rolled around McGee was primed to have his best performance of his career, or at least certainly the most profitable. Javale dunked all over the Lakers for the better part of three quarters and also delivered an emphatic rejection on Pau Gasol as the game drew to a close. In that moment he looked like a premier center in the NBA and would ride the performance to getting paid like one. McGee of course would never mesh with Karl long term and had difficulty playing at altitude due to his asthma making the contract he earned one of the more infamous in Nuggets history.
Nuggets blow out the Hornets by 58 points
There were so many moments in the 2009 playoffs that could have made this list, but the Nuggets historic blowout of the Hornets in game 4 of their first round series stands out as the most iconic moment of George Karl’s tenure with Denver. The Nuggets had gone through five straight first round exits and despite getting an early 2-0 series lead, when the Hornets won game three the Denver fanbase was a bit nervous that the Nuggets might struggle again to escape the first round. Melo and Chauncey would silence any doubt though with an epic 121-63 beat down, tying the all time NBA record for largest margin of victory in a postseason game. The Hornets naturally were demoralized after the thrashing and offered little resistance back in Denver for game 5 as Melo got the “never been out of the first round” monkey off his back. If you find yourself with nothing to do this Memorial day weekend, you can watch this monumental blow out in it’s entirety right here.