The Nuggets and their fans looked at the scoreboard and saw a nine point lead with just over four minutes to play in Game Five. Just four minutes from returning to The Can for a Game Six and perhaps the most rabid crowd since Dikembe and crew hosted the Jazz in the same Game Six 17 years back. Another chance to go into the history books as the first team to erase a 3-0 deficit.
Quicker than a Icee poured at an OKC strip mall, the Nuggets saw the lead, the series, and the air come out of their fans. Truthfully, many Nugs fans knew that even with the nine point edge, that the team was dangerously close to losing. The trifecta of bad refs, bad offense, and one Kevin Durant made sure of that. And when you mix the three, it was all but guaranteed the Powder Blue would be seen with the Hefty bags cleaning out their lockers (it is always amusing that these millionaires with lucrative contracts with companies that make duffel bags resort to cleaning their lockers with trash bags.)
Nene and K-Mart refused to go to the basket hard and Serge Ibaka made sure their weak attempts weren't going to spoil the OKC party. Raymond Felton had critical TOs late, and Ty Lawson missed two crucial FTs that would've put the team up five with just over two to play.
It wouldn't be the NBA without the bad reffing and the worst of the lot was K-Mart's "foul" on Durant as he drove along the left wing with under a minute left. Calling a foul like that in an elimination game with that little time left? Laughable. Nearly as comical was Durant's "and one" foul called on Wilson Chandler. Unless the foul was for breathing, that call was rubbish.
Finally, the "star" sysytem was in full effect with Durant. A marvelous player, perhaps the Western Conference's best, the conspiracy troop (NBA birthers?) will say David Stern needs Durant in a possible second round Oklahoma City-Memphis (TV execs drooling over that one) matchup. Durant, unlike Denver's last superstar gets the calls. He also plays damn good basketball, and the Nuggets had no answer for him in the fourth quarter...
...Forgetting about the impending NBA labor strife, the Nuggets look to be questionable going forward. K-Mart and JR Smith will be elsewhere. Raymond Felton looks to be a commodity to trade. Wilson Chandler is a question mark. That leaves a "core" of Gallo, Ty Lawson, and Nene, with Aron Affalo on the periphery of the "core." Does that group get the team into the upper reaches of the Western Conference? The Lakers, Mavericks, and Spurs may be trending down, but the Nuggets still can't beat any of them on paper. The Thunder look to have a stranglehold on the division for the forseeable future, the Griz are moving up, and te Blazers are deep. Young stars with the Clippers and Wolves have those teams on the cusp.
Just as we were saying a year ago (after another first round exit) the Nuggets have their off-season work cut out for them. Overall, 2010-11 was a interesting season to say the least, perhaps one of the most interesting in modern Nuggets history. The optimism that flowed throughout the team just two yers ago has been supplanted with a sudden hesitation. Good news? One game better than that d-bag in NYC. Suck on that Melo.
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