Nuggets moving forward after tough Game 1 loss to OKC
OKLAHOMA CITY – Vindicated but still not victorious.
That’s how the Nuggets felt Monday when the NBA issued a statement acknowledging that the officiating crew missed a goaltending call with a minute to go in Oklahoma City's 107-103 win over Denver in Game 1 of their first-round Western Conference playoff series.
“I think it’s a sign of respect,” Nuggets coach George Karl said. “I’m happy they’re acknowledging the situation, but it doesn’t do anything, other than we can go out and win Wednesday night. Our respect has to come from wins and losses. It doesn’t come from the league office.”
The Nuggets led 101-100 and were in the midst of an 11-2 run when Oklahoma City point guard Russell Westbrook took a short jumper that bounced around the rim. Thunder center Kendrick Perkins got his fingers caught in the net while going for the offensive rebound but was still able to convert the tip-in as the ball hung over the cylinder.
Denver’s players and coaches immediately protested the non-call, to no avail.
“Kendrick Perkins was improperly credited with a basket that should have been ruled offensive basket interference with 1:05 remaining in last night’s game,” the NBA said in its official statement.
“Although a player is permitted to touch the net while the ball is in the cylinder above the rim, Perkins also touched the ball while it was still in the cylinder, which is a violation and constitutes goaltending.”
Instead of having a one-point lead and the ball, the Nuggets trailed by a point and had to contend with a pumped-up Thunder team and a sold-out crowd that had been whipped into a frenzy by the go-ahead basket.
Denver struggled in its subsequent half-court set and called timeout with eight seconds left on the shot clock. Nuggets forward Kenyon Martin then missed a long jumper before the clock expired and Denver went without a field goal the rest of the way.
“When they got the goaltend, they had missed (three) shots in a row (and 7-of-8),” Karl said. “They were having trouble scoring offensively. In a strange way, the goaltend kind of frustrated us and got us in a funk. It’s a powerful play. After looking at the film, I think I made a mistake by not calling timeout (immediately) and letting our mental state settle down. I thought it had a mental play because our team was frustrated.”
Karl pointed out that one play wasn't necessarily the difference between winning and losing, and he reminded his players that the series is just getting started.
Martin, a team captain and veteran of 85 career playoff games and 18 playoff series, endorsed the message wholeheartedly.
“The game didn’t come down to that goaltending,” he said. “We can’t put too much thought into it. If you start thinking ‘what-if’, then you’re in trouble. You can’t think that way. It’s a huge play in the game, don’t get me wrong, but you can’t get caught thinking ‘what-if’. You’ve still got to get stops and execute plays.”
A few other things could be added to the list, as well.
The Nuggets need to do a better job of converting free throws after going 21-for-33 in Game 1. They also plan to make subtle adjustments against Westbrook and Kevin Durant, who combined for 72 points on 25-of-45 shooting, including 6-of-10 from three-point range.
“I think it’s subtle adjustments and not obnoxious, out-of-character suggestions,” Karl said. “We could’ve won the game. I don’t think it’s going to be anything crazy.”
The Nuggets will continue to crowd Durant on the perimeter and make him put the ball on the floor, and they will probably try to push Westbrook out a little higher on the pick-and-roll and force him take longer shots when he shoots over the screen.
“Can you stop anybody in this league? No. You can contain them,” Martin said. “They made tough shots. They’re two great players. We know that, so we’ve got to make it as tough as possible on them.”
Martin, Danilo Gallinari and Wilson Chandler did their best to make things difficult for Durant, while Raymond Felton got the bulk of the time against Westbrook. Hard-nosed defender Arron Afflalo remains out with a strained hamstring and said there is “zero” percent chance he will play in Game 2 on Wednesday.
“I’ve made a mistake one time. I’ve made a mistake two times. I’ve made a mistake three times,” Afflalo said of previous setbacks. “It’s not even being cautious. It’s just not healed.”
The sting of Sunday night’s defeat also lingered for Afflalo and the Nuggets, but they are ready to move forward.
They hope that victory will soon be paired with vindication.