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Season ends as late comeback by Nuggets falls short

By Aaron J. Lopez, Nuggets.com

Posted May 3, 2013 05:40

OAKLAND, Calif. – Handed the toughest early season schedule imaginable, the Denver Nuggets banded together and persevered.

After losing their best outside shooter to a knee injury in the first week of April, they went on to set a team NBA record with 57 victories and secured the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference.

Conceding defeat wasn’t part of Denver’s makeup.

Down 18 points and standing 9 minutes from elimination, the Nuggets had one more opportunity to surrender in the face of adversity.

Instead, they nearly pulled off the biggest comeback in their playoff history.

The Nuggets forced five turnovers in a 76-second span and had two potential game-tying possessions before falling to the Golden State Warriors 92-88 in Game 6 of their first-round series Thursday night at Oracle Arena.

Jarrett Jack sealed Denver’s fate with two free throws with 7.3 seconds to play as Golden State survived to win an exhausting and entertaining series 4-2.

“We had a good fight and showed some guts down the stretch,” Nuggets swingman Andre Iguodala said. “I hope we learned a lot from this series. We learned that you can’t wait to get your back up against the wall before you start having that desperate activity.”

“We kind of sped them up and made them turn the ball over a bit. We could’ve shot some 3s and played (lazy) defense, but we kept fighting. It shows the character we have and showed what we can possibly do in the future.”

Iguodala finished with 24 points, nine rebounds and six assists. His third 3-pointer of the fourth quarter brought Denver within three with 1:02 remaining, and the Nuggets trailed 90-88 when Kenneth Faried hit a free throw 29 seconds later.

Not needing to foul, Denver continued to turn up the defensive pressure and got the ball back when Iguodala stole a pass by Klay Thompson in the open court.

Iguodala found Wilson Chandler, who drove the right side of the lane and missed a contested floater. The Nuggets nearly secured the rebound but the Warriors gained possession when the officials ruled that the ball went out of bounds just before Corey Brewer saved it along the baseline.

“I thought I caught it before it went out of bounds,” Brewer said. “It’s our fault. We put ourselves in the hole. You have to keep the fate of the game in your hands. We can’t let a call decide the game. We have to win it ourselves.”

While the game got away when the Warriors outscored Denver 40-20 over the first 15 minutes of the second half, the series ultimately turned when Golden State stole home-court advantage by winning Game 2 at Pepsi Center.

Buoyed by a boisterous crowd, the Warriors won all three of their home games and avoided the daunting task of returning to Denver for Game 7.

“We didn't lose the series tonight,” Nuggets coach George Karl said. “This is a proud loss. We lost the series in Games 1 and 2. We didn't play well enough to sustain some confidence. In Game 1, we won a close game. Game 2, everything that we worked for 57 wins to get the third seed, we gave back by having a flat game. And that's on me.”

Karl tipped his hat to the Warriors but also praised his own team for making a furious comeback that had the Golden State fans groaning and fidgeting until the final frenetic end.

“I'm disappointed in the result, but can't be more proud of my basketball team,” Karl said. “We had numerous moments to give in on the game and we never did. One more layup, one more free throw goes in and it could have been a miraculous comeback.”

A trouble spot all season, free throws hurt the Nuggets again in Game 6. They went 5-for-10 from the line in the fourth quarter and 13-for-21 for the game. Golden State, meanwhile, converted 24 of 25 free throws.

“It feels pretty terrible. I thought we were going to go much farther,” Chandler said. “To have a good season like that and lose in the first round, it’s tough.”

It will take a while for Chandler and the Nuggets to get over the painful end to an impressive year. Once they do, they will realize that they proved to be pretty tough themselves.

Right to the very end.

STAR OF THE GAME

Andre Iguodala

Points 24 7-18 FG, 5-8 3FG
Rebounds 9, 2 OFF 7 DEF
Assists 6
Steals 1
Blocks 0
GAME LEADERS
Points Andre Iguodala 24
Rebounds Andrew Bogut 21
Assists Stephen Curry 8
Steals Wilson Chandler 3
Blocks Andrew Bogut 4
QUOTE OF THE NIGHT

Nuggets forward Kenneth Faried on Denver's fourth-quarter flurry after trailing by 18 points.

"We played our hearts out. We weren’t going to give up. We weren’t going to quit. Guys just kept fighting."

KEY MOMENT

Nuggets can't quite save loose ball along baseline in closing seconds

The Nuggets had a chance to tie the game with under 20 seconds to play, but Wilson Chandler missed a tough runner in the lane and the officials ruled that the ball went out of bounds before Corey Brewer saved it along the baseline with 11.4 seconds left. Jarrett Jack then hit two free throws for the game's final points.
VIDEO RECAP

Postgame Quotes

Nuggets coach George Karl

Opening statement:
"I'd like to congratulate (Warriors coach) Mark (Jackson) and wish him luck. A good series for both teams that are young and have a bright future in the Western Conference. I'm disappointed in the result, but can't be more proud of my basketball team. We had numerous moments to give in on the game and we never did. One more layup, one more free throw goes in, could have been a miraculous comeback.

On the Warriors outscoring Denver 33-20 in the third quarter
“You know, they got the 3-ball in the game. Curry, I'd like to check his stats for the third quarter; my recollection is every third quarter seems he gets loose on us. Game 3 he got loose. Game 4 he got loose, too. Got loose on the 3-ball. When you miss shot after shot after shot, pretty good shots, I thought most of the time it creates a frustration, it creates an edge that we had to fight through. But the 3-ball got loose and we couldn't make a shot to build any confidence or rhythm. I really don't remember exactly what happened. I know they had at least three, maybe four 3s in that quarter.”

On his thoughts in the final minutes of the fourth quarter:
“We were just going after their handle. We put Wilson (Chandler ) as the chaser. Every opportunity we got to a ball in the corner, we went after the double team, created a lot of turnovers, got our hands on the ball. You know, almost got an opportunity to win the game. But I think Wilson was probably the guy that creates tremendous defensive pressure for us. We had some situations throughout the series.” maybe we should have done them more, maybe we shouldn't have.
We didn't lose the series tonight. This is a proud loss. We lost the series in Game 1 and 2. We didn't play well enough to sustain some confidence. In Game 1, we won a close game. Game 2, everything that we worked for 57 wins to get the third seed, we gave back by having a flat game. And that's on me.
We have young players. I don't know what I could have done better. We didn't play well in Game 1. We played worse in Game 2. Then we came here and fought pretty hard, lost the game with an incredible shooting night by Steph. That's going to happen in a series. A great player is probably going to win a game, especially on their home court. Couldn't finish it off tonight.

On how much the Nuggets missed injured forward Danilo Gallinari:
“Every NBA team has kind of a protocol of responsibilities and rules. Gallo, during a stretch of the season, he was probably our best player. But in this series I think we missed him defensively. We found our defensive pulse tonight. But we had too many (tough) matchups in the first two or three games. I didn't really have an answer for them. I think Gallo is a 6'10", 6'11" guy that can defend ones, twos, threes and fours (and help) our switching and double teaming. We might have been able to be more aggressive. If he's not our best shooter, he's one of our top two shooters. We never shot the three ball very well all series.”

Nuggets forward Kenneth Faried

On big fourth quarter comeback:
“We played our hearst out. We weren’t going to give up. We weren’t going to quit. Guys just kept fighting. When you have guys fighting and fighting, things start feeling like they’re going your way. We just came up short.”

On coach George Karl:
“He coached his heart out. He tried his best to get us to keep going. Guys kept playing hard. We just fell short.”

On not having Danilo Gallinari for the playoffs:
“We do miss him but we can't be worried about hat. We had to go out there and do what we had to do. It is tough because he’s our leading scorer, but we just have to live with it and get better this summer.”

Nuggets swingman Andre Iguodala

On comeback falling short:
“We had a good fight. We showed some guts down the stretch. You just have to give them a lot of credit. I hope we learned a lot from this series. We learned that you can’t wait to get your back up against the wall before you start having that desperate activity. The young guys learned a lot. You just have to give Golden State a lot of credit.”

On teammate JaVale McGee
“JaVale has a bright future ahead of him. His whole situation is in his hands. He has to continue to stay focused, study the game, study some of the greats and see how they impacted the game, not just defensively but offensively. His offensive awareness can become a lot better, the pace and flow. The sky’s the limit for him. He has a bright future.”

On assessing the season as a whole:
“Our regular season was really good. No one team gave us any problems. We gave teams problems. We had a tough situation with Gallo going down. He was a huge part of our team. Wilson was out at the beginning of the year. It took a while for him to get his rhythm. The future says that this team has some pretty solid players.”

Warriors coach Mark Jackson

On remarks about the series being physical:
“I don't regret anything I said. If you play back the tape, what I did say is they're an excellent team. I did say they're a No. 3 seed for a reason. I did say they have some incredibly talented players, great depth. I said they have a future Hall of Fame coach who I have tremendous respect for. So when you tell the story, tell the whole story. At the end of the day I talked about it being a physical series. It was physical tonight. That's just the way it is. That's the way it's going to be. We're playing for all the marbles. But still have great respect for that team. It was an awesome series and we're very fortunate to come out of it.”

On playing forward David Lee for 87 seconds in the first quarter:
“I guess the New York City in me, the Willis Reed impact as a kid, really played a role. Not only did I put him in, but I ran a play for him for a shot, just about where Willis hit his shot. But I wanted to make sure I didn't put him in against (Kenneth) Faried. I had no concerns about David because I watched him work out yesterday. The main thing I wanted to see was how his body responded this morning. Obviously part of it was for inspiration. It got the crowd going.”

On surviving a Denver comeback to advance to the second round:
“I got emotional and I'm still emotional because just how incredible of a blessing this is. And I think that God has a sense of humor because he wanted to show folks at the end as we threw the ball all over the place, and it's only a miracle that we advanced. With Steph, when we were down in that first half, I pulled him aside and I said, 'There's going to be a point in this game where you're going to take over because you're the best player on the floor. What will happen is everybody else will follow.' Sure enough, that's exactly what took place.”

Warriors guard Stephen Curry

On Denver's fourth-quarter comeback:
“Each possession, It can't get any worse than this. Then it does. They were trapping all over the court, pressuring. A different look than they played the whole game. Their sense of urgency was heightened in that situation for them obviously, with a win-or-go-home situation. We gave them every opportunity to get back in the game. We just got to keep our composure in that situation. A lot of miscommunication. A lot of playing on your heels. But we got to learn from it. I'm pretty sure that scenario hopefully won't happen again as we move forward. ”

On finding a rhythm in the third quarter:
“I'm trying to be patient. The way Denver was defending me, they're trying to run me off the 3-point line a lot, blitzing, a lot of pick'n rolls, trying to get the ball out of my hands. You try to be aggressive. don't want to force any possessions. Third quarter I tried to find my rhythm. (Andrew) Bogut set some good screens on the high pick'n roll, off the dribble, knocked down my first 3. Then things started to click from there.”

On whether the two teams were talking much on the court:
“It wasn't as feisty as the last game. Just talking about basketball, playing basketball, just worrying about on the court. No time for the extracurricular stuff. Just happy to get the win.”

Warriors center Andrew Bogut

On satisfaction of playing his best game of the series:
“It's very satisfying. It's an emotional game for me. You know, the season for me has been a nightmare individually and personally. But I've had a lot of success. As you come into a playoff series that nobody picked us to win. First, no one picked us to be in the playoffs, we had that chip on our shoulder, we got through the first round, and no one picked us to win this series and we did. We have a young, emotional group that really thrives off each other. Couldn't be happier. I'm just glad I started to play better basketball. I'll just keep working at it.”

On importance of closing the series in Game 6:
“We go back to Denver, I hate to say, but we lose momentum. We probably struggle to win that game. We almost let it go at the end. There was a big run for us in the third and fourth quarter that got us over the line. Just a huge win in front of our fans. I've only been here a year, but I know the nightmares they've been through in the last 20 years. They're enjoying this as much as we are.”

POSTGAME NOTES

INDIVIDUAL

• Ty Lawson scored 17 points and added six assists, marking the fourth straight game that he reached those marks.

• Andre Iguodala led all scorers with 24 points to go with nine rebounds and six assists.

• Kenneth Faried recorded 11 points and 11 rebounds en route to his fifth career playoff double-double.

• Andrew Bogut totaled 14 points and 21 rebounds to go with four blocks, his first career playoff double-double, posting season-high/playoff career-highs in points and rebounds becoming the first Warrior to post those figures in the playoffs since Larry Smith totaled 16 points and 23 rebounds on 5/12/87 at the Lakers.

• Stephen Curry finished with 22 points and eight assists, his fourth 20-point game of the series, becoming the first Warrior since Baron Davis (five vs. Dallas in 2007) with at least four 20-point games in a single playoff series… For the series, Curry averaged 24.3 points, 9.3 assists and 4.3 rebounds on .468 shooting, .434 from three-point range.

• Draymond Green finished with 16 points and 10 rebounds off the bench, his first career double-double, becoming the first Warrior rookie to post a double-double in the playoffs since Chris Webber on 5/4/94 vs. Phoenix (16 points and 13 assists) and the first to do it off the bench since Chris Gatling on 4/30/92 at Seattle (14 points and 12 rebounds).

• Harrison Barnes posted his fourth double-digit scoring effort of the playoffs with 11 points to go with five rebounds.

• David Lee came off the bench for the first time since 11/18/08 at Boston after a four-game absence (torn right hip flexor), starting in 361 games since his last reserve appearance…. He finished with one rebound in one minute (1:27).

• Nuggets center Kosta Koufos hit the first 3-pointer of his career at the 4:01 mark of the first quarter, scoring six points off the bench for the game.

TEAM

• The Warriors earned a 4-2 series win over the Nuggets, their first series win since defeating the Dallas Mavericks 4-2 in the First Round of the 2007 NBA Playoffs, their second series win in 22 years… The Warriors will take on the No. 2 seed San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference Semifinals, starting with Game 1 on Monday, May 6 at San Antonio.

• The Warriors improved to 11-6 all-time in Game 6, winning seven of their last eight Game 6s… The Warriors are now 10-1 in home closeout games in the West Coast Era (since 1962-63).

• The Warriors led for only 30 seconds in the first half with the Nuggets leading the remainder of the first half until the Warriors took the advantage at the 9:35 mark of the third quarter when a Stephen Curry three-pointer put them up 47-44 as the Warriors led the rest of the way... Golden State would go on to outscore Denver 33-20 in the third quarter.

• Both teams shot under 41 percent tonight with Golden State outshooting Denver .403-.347 from the field for the contest… It was the first time the Warriors have held an opponent under .350 from the field in the playoffs since 4/10/67 vs. St. Louis (.316).

• Golden State improved to 71-40 all-time at home in the postseason.

• The Warriors finished with five players in double figures (three starters and two off the bench)… The Nuggets finished with four players in double figures (all starters) with the Denver starting five finishing with 72 of their 88 points.

• Golden State turned the ball over 21 times, resulting in 20 points for the Nuggets while forcing only seven Denver miscues resulting in nine points for the Warriors… Golden State turned the ball over 10 times in the fourth quarter, including nine giveaways in the final 7:23 of the fourth that saw the Warriors’ largest lead of the game (80-62) fall to two (90-88) over that span.