Nuggets look to avoid sweep, postpone OKC celebration
With the Chicago Bulls needing one more victory to capture their fourth NBA title in six years, plans were in motion for the celebration.
The Seattle SuperSonics and their fiery head coach took it personally.
“They had a rehearsal on our court on handing out the trophy,” Nuggets coach George Karl recalled Sunday. “It was pretty evident. They had a stage they were going to bring on the court. They had people with scripts on who was going to do what and who was going to be where.”
Karl’s Sonics postponed the victory party by winning Games 3 and 4 in Seattle before falling to Michael Jordan and the Bulls in Game 6 of the 1996 NBA Finals back in Chicago.
While no one is accusing the Oklahoma City Thunder of making hotel reservations for the next round of the NBA playoffs, the Nuggets are intent on preventing the Thunder from celebrating a four-game series sweep Monday night at the Pepsi Center.
“For me, that’s an eyesore for your career, somebody celebrating on your court,” Denver shooting guard J.R. Smith said. “I hope everyone else feels the same way.”
Nuggets captain Kenyon Martin certainly does. Martin watched the Los Angeles Lakers celebrate the NBA title in the Meadowlands after sweeping the New Jersey Nets in 2002. The Lakers also knocked Martin and the Nuggets out of the playoffs with victories at the Pepsi Center in 2008 and 2009.
“I’ve been part of that on a bigger stage with a team celebrating on your home court,” Martin said. “It’s not a good feeling by any stretch of the imagination. So we need a win, bottom line. There’s no other way to put it.”
The Nuggets are in the unenviable position of trailing the series 3-0 despite two games that were up for grabs in crunch time. Denver led in the final 90 seconds of Game 1 and was up three early in fourth quarter of Game 3.
“Whether you lose by one point or 30, you lost,” Nuggets guard Arron Afflalo said. “They beat us three times. That’s it. It’s not like they’re convincingly just outmanning us. They’re beating us down the stretch of games where it can go either way. For us, it’s just about taking advantage of that.”
Statistics are not on Denver’s side. Only four times in major professional sports has a team erased a 3-0 deficit and come back to win the series.
The Boston Red Sox rallied to win four straight games against the New York Yankees in the 2004 American League Championship Series, while three NHL teams have accomplished the feat – most recently the Philadelphia Flyers last spring.
Asked if his team had the makeup to make NBA history, Karl said: “I don’t know if it does, but I’m pretty sure it’ll have the effort to try. I’d bet on that one. The first step is effort.”
Effort hasn’t been an issue for the Nuggets as much as consistent execution. They are shooting .424 from the field, .687 from the free-throw line and .309 from three-point range. In addition, Denver is averaging 17.7 assists and 11.7 turnovers.
Karl attributes the pedestrian numbers to a combination of things.
“Young guys on Broadway stage for the first time,” he said. “I think it’s a little bit X’s and O’s. It’s also Oklahoma City (doing) a good job against some of our strengths. We like the rim, and they have four defenders that like to protect the rim – and do it pretty well.”
In an attempt to find holes in the Thunder defense, the Nuggets spent part of Easter Sunday watching film. After playing Oklahoma City five times in 19 days, there’s not a lot of mystery left in the process.
Game 4 figures to come down to pride, determination and late-game execution.
“Two of these losses have taken a piece of your heart a little bit,” Karl said. “We’ve just got to win a game and maybe take a piece of their heart. And then roll the dice. Then desperation and intensity and confidence, those things change a little bit. I think my team’s ready to fight and ready to battle.”
The Nuggets certainly aren’t ready to watch the Thunder eke out another close game and celebrate on their home court.
“There’s no more moral victories, there’s no more going back to the drawing board,” Afflalo said. “There’s only one way: Show that you were able to be victorious and make them think about it for two days. That’s the only way we’re going to put doubt in their mind – at the end of Game 4, we won. That’s it.”