Nuggets will try to beat the odds of overcoming 0-2 deficit
OKLAHOMA CITY – The mathematical odds are not in their favor.
The sentiment of public opinion is probably not much better.
Since when did the Denver Nuggets – the team that roared to an 18-7 post-All-Star finish – ever let that stop them?
Down 0-2 in their first-round playoff series against the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Nuggets will return to the comforts of home as they try to disprove the critics who have lingered since the beginning of training camp last fall.
“The series is not over. It’s the first to four wins,” Nuggets captain Kenyon Martin said defiantly. “They got two. That’s all it is. They got two wins.”
After taking advantage of a missed call in the closely contested series opener, the Thunder took the suspense out of Game 2, racing to a 26-point lead in the second quarter and cruising to a 106-89 victory Wednesday night at Oklahoma City Arena.
The best-of-seven series shifts to the Pepsi Center for Game 3 on Saturday. History shows that teams taking a 2-0 lead go on to win 94 percent of the time.
“They have the advantage,” Nuggets center Nene said. “The pressure’s on us. We need to bust our (butt), play hard, play physical, punch first and we’ll see what we can do.”
The Thunder certainly threw plenty of haymakers in Game 2.
Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook combined for a modest 44 points after scoring 72 in Game 1, but they had plenty of support. James Harden scored 18 points off the bench, while Serge Ibaka had 12 points, 12 rebounds and two blocked shots.
“Westbrook is very good, Kevin Durant is very good, but we can’t let other players get excited and give confidence to them,” Nene said.
Reserve forward Nick Collison added 10 points and eight rebounds as Oklahoma City dominated the glass 54-31. The Thunder had 17 offensive rebounds – nine by Collison and Kendrick Perkins – that led to 24 second-chance points.
“We gave them too many possessions,” Denver coach George Karl said. “They were energized, they were more physical, they were quicker (and) probably smarter.
“From about the first few minutes of the second quarter, I thought we played them pretty hard. The hole was just too big. When it looked like we could get it under 10, a three-ball would go in or an offensive rebound would break our heart.”
Three nights after hitting their first eight shots and building a 13-point lead in the series opener, the Nuggets started 0-for-6 and trailed by 19 late in the first quarter.
They settled for too many jump shots, committed seven turnovers and finished 5-for-17 from the field in the first 12 minutes. Oklahoma City, meanwhile, crashed the boards and converted 9-of-9 free-throw attempts, including two after technical fouls on Martin and Karl.
“I didn’t know the exact numbers. I just knew it was bad,” Karl said. “I thought the beginning of the game offensively shook our confidence so badly with the turnovers and missed shots.”
Denver trailed 43-17 less than four minutes into the second quarter but showed some fight by cutting the deficit to 15 by halftime and to 10 with 8:33 left in the game.
“We had no choice. Fight back or get beat by 50,” Martin said. “It’s common sense, human nature. They did what they had to do. We would’ve loved to get one here, but we didn’t. They took care of home, so now it’s our turn.”
The home teams went 13-3 in the first two games of the NBA playoffs, including 8-0 in Game 2. The Nuggets have a good chance to join that trend after going 33-8 at the Pepsi Center during the regular season.
“For us, it’s a challenge,” Karl said. “The challenge is our pride to get our home court juiced up and ready to go.
“Two days is enough time to regroup and re-energize and get our confidence back into a better place. Our home crowd’s been great. It’s going to be fun being in front of them and let them pick us up like the crowd here picked up the Thunder.”
Nuggets fans will get their chance to match the decibel level of the sold-out crowds at Oklahoma City Arena.
Energy players such as Collison, Ibaka and Harden certainly fed off the crowd, and Nuggets reserves Chris Andersen and J.R. Smith will be looking for a similar boost.
Smith went 1-for-6 from the field in Game 2, while Andersen did not attempt a shot or grab a rebound in six minutes. Neither played in the second half.
“We have to cure what ails us, but the home court can help us and I think it will help us,” Karl said. “We’ll have good energy and a refreshing type of presentation. Bird and J.R., they’ve just got regroup and be ready to go on Saturday.”
Starting shooting guard Arron Afflalo said he will be ready for Game 3 after sitting out the final game of the regular season and first two playoff games while recovering from a strained left hamstring.
His presence will add to the depth that Denver employed so effectively after the All-Star break. It also could provide the spark the Nuggets are seeking to get back into the series.
“Game 3 obviously is very important,” forward Al Harrington said. “We’ve got to see what we’re made of … I like our chances in Denver, so that’s what I’m going to hang my hat on.”