I heard someone or some sports commentator say recently (I can’t remember who it was), “you really don’t know your team until you see them compete in the playoffs.”
After last week’s sixth game loss that bounced the Denver Nuggets out of the playoffs, this quote was validated in more ways than one.
First, after seeing both the Golden State Warriors and the Nuggets play during the regular season, it seemed to me Denver went into the playoffs the better team. It just didn’t seem like Golden State would be the team to beat the Nuggets.
To Golden State’s credit, they were able to catch fire and drill threes seemingly at will. We all hoped they would die by the three, and instead they lived by the three. Defensively, Golden State was able to do what most teams during the regular season couldn’t do, and that’s keep Denver from scoring inside the paint. They took the Denver Nuggets out of their game.
Golden State seemed like a soft team in the regular season. In the first round of the playoffs, they took Denver to school and proved they are damn good. Man, do I hate them.
For us Denver fans, we thought we knew our team. That was, until, we met the Golden State Warriors. We thought Denver was a team that would run, run, and then outrun any opponent by scoring a majority of our baskets in the paint. It worked to garner a total of 57 wins in the regular season.
During the regular season, it was the Denver Nuggets that wore teams out. A fast-paced offense, combined with the Mile High City altitude, would work in our favor. What we learned, in such a harsh way, is that Denver’s game plan didn’t work for the playoffs. We lacked adjustment options. Injuries were a factor. Missing all-too important buckets were a factor. The playoffs proved that Denver is still a young team and not quite ready to take that next step toward the NBA Finals. It was a reality that is hard for all of us to swallow.
“It was heavy, still heavy,” Nuggets coach George Karl told The Denver Post. “I don't think any of us expected it to end this way.” I'm highly disappointed it did. The fact of where this team came, 57 wins, I think is a big step forward. But no one likes to hear that in the middle of the playoffs… “We made a big step this year, but it wasn't validated by a playoff win.”
Of course, because the Nuggets’ first round playoff loss was such a disappointment, the finger pointing, as expected, has started. I remember hearing one announcer say during that last game that Denver fans are going to be so mad, if they lose this playoff series, Karl almost certainly won’t have a job coaching for the Nuggets next year.
Did coach Karl get outcoached in that series? Perhaps. Could he have adjusted Denver’s game plan during the series? Probably. Was it a disappointing loss? Yes. Does it suck not making it to the Finals every year? Yes.
Does Karl have an extremely young team with no superstars? Absolutely. Anyone who says George Karl should pack his bags and leave is crazy. Yes, he may be stubborn in his ways but that is the way Karl is and that is the way he coaches. One of the sports columnists at the Denver Post basically said if the Nuggets ownership doesn’t have the guts to fire Karl, George Karl himself should know better and step down.
Personally, I think that’s ludicrous. George Karl is even hungrier now to win a championship with this team. We fans would absolutely love it, of course, but I know Karl wants it more. He’s put in his time. He’s a brilliant coach. He deserves a championship. And he’s close to achieving it with a team that has no superstars and plays with pure energy.
Frankly, we should all be grateful he still wants to coach and has the energy to coach after beating cancer. As far as I am concerned, we Denver fans should be lucky enough to have Karl come back next year to coach this team.
If I were to put this playoff series in a nutshell, Denver got the absolute worst matchup for a first-round playoff. Kenneth Faried’s injury slowed him down in the first few games of the series and Denver really missed the shooting capabilities of Danilo Gallinari. He was a scoring option Karl didn’t have in his pocket when the Warriors decided to protect the paint.
It was a disappointing loss, and the amount of tequila I drank that night was not enough to ease my pain. But when I look at this last season of Nuggets basketball, it was one that brought me more enjoyment than any other Nuggets season I can remember in my 33 years of living and breathing. Never in my life have I constantly checked the schedule to see if there was a Nuggets game on, day in and day out. Before, I generally watched the playoffs only. Now, I want a Nuggets game on every night of the week. I think George Karl has a lot to do with that, and despite the playoff loss, the Nuggets ownership should keep that in mind.
The Nuggets need to take this year’s 57-win success and continue it. Denver needs to keep hold of its core players while finding just one more outside shooter. One of these years, Denver is going to win the Finals. I just know it.