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Young Nuggets show poise, room for growth in playoff opener

Chandler, Gallinari look like they belong in postseason debuts


OKLAHOMA CITY – Though he had never appeared in an NBA playoff game, Nuggets forward Danilo Gallinari was hardly overwhelmed when he stepped on the court for Game 1 against the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Yes, the Oklahoma City crowd was loud and imposing, but Gallinari was fairly certain he wouldn’t have to dodge flying objects if the Nuggets left the court with a victory.

“In Europe, you get to some gyms and if you win the game, you’ve got to escape from that place,” the Italian-born Gallinari said after practice Tuesday. “It’s a little bit different over there.

“When you go to Greece (or) some rivals in Italy, when you win, you’re happy, but you’ve got people waiting outside the bus. They throw stuff at the bus. I could tell you a lot of stories.”

Gallinari is one of four Denver players experiencing the playoffs for the first time (Wilson Chandler, Gary Forbes and Timofey Mozgov are the others). He scored 18 points on 6-of-11 shooting in his postseason debut.

“For sure, it’s more intense, but not that much difference (from the regular season),” Gallinari said. “What I felt was just the difference in the intensity. All the rest is the same. The intensity is different because the teams know each other and you have to do things at the top level.”

Gallinari and Chandler drew the difficult assignment of guarding Oklahoma City forward Kevin Durant, who averaged 27.7 points in 2010-11 and won his second consecutive NBA scoring title.

Durant broke loose for 41 points in Game 1, hitting contested three-point shots, driving circus shots and nearly everything in between.

“He was hitting shot after shot with a hand up,” Gallinari said. “We watched the video and we were playing really good defense. It’s not that you can do a lot more about that. But even when you play great, you can always do a little bit better. We have to try to do that.”

Nuggets coach George Karl called Chandler “our best matchup on Durant” and he met with both Chandler and Gallinari about the subtle adjustments that will be made in Game 2.

“I think they’re both very excited and in tune with what has to happen,” Karl said. “We’ll see where we go.”

Wilson, an unassuming player who lets his play do his talking, struggled with his shot a bit in Game 1 but still finished with nine points, eight rebounds and two blocks.

He said the playoff opener was easily the biggest game of his career but he wasn’t nervous.

“Nah, not at all. I just didn’t know what to expect,” Chandler said. “(The crowd is) a little bit louder, but as far as the players and all that, I think it’s the same. I think people just turn it up a little bit for the playoffs.”

Chandler, 23, is one of nine Nuggets younger than 27 and one of six who are 25 or younger. They are growing up together in the playoffs, while also trying to dispel the notion that two or three superstars are not a requirement for advancing in the postseason.

The leader of the movement is Karl.

“I totally and completely think you all are crazy (to think) a go-to player is better than a good team,” Karl told a group of reporters. “I’m sorry. The great go-to players are on good teams. You’ve got to be a good team before you develop a go-to player. You don’t need a go-to player when you’re on a bad team.”

Karl believes players such as Chandler, Gallinari, 22, Arron Afflalo, 25, Raymond Felton, 26, Ty Lawson, 23, and J.R. Smith, 26, have a chance to blossom into “stud” players over the next few years.

In the meantime, the Nuggets aren’t looking for anyone to match Durant point-for-point in the best-of-seven series. That would contradict the balanced approach that helped Denver go 18-7 after the All-Star break.

“I’ll be honest you, I think we’re going to win by six or seven guys getting double figures,” Karl said. “That’s how we’ve won. To think we’re going to change that face just because we’re in the playoffs, I don’t think that’s the formula.

“Nene plays great in the first quarter, Gallo gets it going in the second quarter, Raymond and Ty in the third quarter, and J.R. knocks down three threes in the fourth quarter. That’s been our formula for success.”


Aaron Lopez
Aaron J. Lopez is the primary writer for Nuggets.com, providing behind-the-scenes content, including feature stories and video for the site. Before joining the Nuggets in 2009, he spent 15 years covering Colorado sports for the Rocky Mountain News and the Associated Press, making him one of the longest-tenured sports writers in Denver. Aaron's full bio...