The cheers started to rain down to the Pepsi Center floor as Torrey Craig almost pulled a mini-Willis Reed last night in the third quarter.

For the very very few of you basketball fans unfamiliar with Reed’s story, the New York Knicks captain willed himself onto the floor through a pretty significant leg injury for Game 7 of the 1970 NBA Finals against the Los Angeles Lakers. Players from both squads attribute Reed’s courageous last-minute decision to play through the pain as a key inspiration in a decisive Knicks win.

When Craig came back from a lengthy locker room layover for your Denver Nuggets last night, he did so after getting his nose broken after catching an arm to the face from a Portland Trail Blazers player while going after a rebound, falling to the floor in a heap. Craig lost enough blood in the moment the cleanup crew had to spend a little time on the floor after his departure.

Craig’s coming back to the floor in the third quarter was inspiring, and indicative of the sort of spirit and play that has been a hallmark of this Denver Nuggets postseason. Down a game twice in their series against the San Antonio Spurs after being outplayed for most of the first three games, Denver found a way to pick themselves back up and turn their fortunes around against a veteran Spurs squad. Down by as many as 15 (a few times) against Portland last night, the Nuggets repeatedly fought their way back into the game, putting a bit of fear into the Trail Blazers before finally running out of time to complete a comeback.

In Game 1 of this second round series, the Nuggets decisively took the fight to the Trail Blazers, beating them to the 50/50 balls, and keeping them from their favorite spots. While Denver kept after those plans in Game 2, it was a decidedly more focused Portland squad that took the floor, punching back at the Nuggets both literally and figuratively, a difference in desire that was noted by the national TV analysts and Denver coach Michael Malone in the broadcast.

To their credit, and as they have done all season, this plucky Nuggets squad did not lay down and get steamrolled, they pushed back. Even if the effort was late, they did not simply hand the momentum over to Portland to finish out the game. With shots not falling, injuries abounding, and more then their share of miscues, Denver still gave every ounce of fight they had until the game was out of their grasp. To have been that close after a truly brutal shooting night (21% from beyond the arc) was a surprising sight to behold.

Should the Nuggets shooting continue to run hot and cold, odds are good they will find themselves on the outside looking in during this playoff run, whether in this round or the next, as every team they could see from here on out are amazingly capable scorers. Denver has also suffered from other inconsistencies throughout the second half of the regular season and playoffs, sometimes flickering more than a Fourth of July bug zapper. No huge shock there, being the eighth-youngest playoff team in history. Consistency comes through repetition, and two-thirds of the Nuggets regulars now have all of nine playoff games under their belts. There are so many things the nascent Nuggets have to balance during moments they are experiencing for the first time in front of a few million people.

But no matter what their fortunes or consistencies for the rest of what Nuggets Nation hopes will be a lengthy playoff run (11 more wins, please!), one thing is for certain. This close-knit Denver Nuggets squad will not be going down without a fight.

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