The Denver Years: Karl delivers some golden Nuggets
George Karl's coaching odometer finally flipped to 1,000.
Witih Denver's 123-116 win Friday night in Toronto, Karl became the seventh coach in NBA history to win 1,000 regular-season games, joining Don Nelson, Lenny Wilkens, Pat Riley, Jerry Sloan, Phil Jackson and Larry Brown in that exclusive club.
This final installment recounts wins 709 (his first game with the Nuggets), 800 and 900. The milestones have occurred within a six-year span that includes three straight 50-win seasons, three Northwest Division titles and a trip to the 2009 Western Conference finals :
No. 709: A win opens the Denver Era
Date: Jan. 28, 2005
Site:Bradley Center, Milwaukee
What happened: After dabbling in broadcasting as an analyst with ESPN, Karl returned to the NBA when the Nuggets hired him to take over a 17-25 team. His first game fittingly was in Milwaukee, and Denver rallied from a 12-point fourth-quarter deficit to beat the Bucks.
“I remember being down double digits and we came back,” Karl said. “I remember Nene making two real aggressive running plays.”
Epilogue: Buoyed by Karl’s leadership, the Nuggets went 32-8 to finish the regular season under their new coach and drew the San Antonio Spurs in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs. Denver pulled off the upset on the road in Game 1 before San Antonio won the final four games of the series to begin its march to the NBA title.
Date: Dec. 28, 2006
Site: Pepsi Center, Denver
What happened: Nine days after acquiring Allen Iverson in one of the biggest trades in franchise history, the Nuggets cruised to a 112-98 victory over the Seattle SuperSonics. Iverson scored 44 points and added 10 assists in just his third game in a Denver uniform. After the game, the Nuggets presented Karl with the game ball and a No. 800 jersey.
“To be part of something like that is something to cherish,” Iverson said. “It was an honor to help him get that win.”
Epilogue: Despite playing 17 games without forward Carmelo Anthony, the Nuggets managed to finish fifth in the Western Conference but drew another tough matchup with the Spurs. In a mirror of two seasons earlier, the Nuggets won the first game on the road only to see San Antonio win the final four games. The Spurs went on to win its third championship in five years.
No. 900: Celebrating north of the border
Date: Dec. 31, 2008
Site: Air Canada Centre, Toronto
What happened: Karl walked into the locker room to a standing ovation after the Nuggets closed 2008 with a 114-107 win over the Toronto Raptors. “New Year’s Eve. Yeah. I remember that one,” Karl said. “We played a little zone that night and got lucky.”
No one lucks their way to 900 career wins. Then-Denver assistant Tim Grgurich confidently predicted a bigger milestone to come.
“A thousand is like winning the home-run crown, the battling title and the RBI title," Grgurich said. "It’s the triple crown. He’ll get there.”
Epilogue: Led by Carmelo Anthony and Denver native Chauncey Billups, the Nuggets tied a franchise record with 54 wins and earned home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs for the first time since 1988. Denver downed New Orleans and Dallas in five games apiece before losing a tough six-game series to the eventual NBA-champion Los Angeles Lakers in the West finals.
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