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2008 Nuggets Playoffs Revisited

May 22nd, 2008 by aswitzer

The Lakers finished up their first round sweep of the Denver Nuggets three weeks ago on April 28th. After attending every Nuggets home playoff game for the past 5 seasons, this playoff series was the most frustrating of them all.

There Can Be Only One - Camby and Bryant

Let’s recap the previous 4 years first.

In 2004, then rookie Carmelo Anthony helped lead the Nuggets to their playoff series since 1995 – facing the Minnesota Timberwolves as the 8th seed. The Nuggets lost the first two games on the road, then won game #3 in convincing fashion at the Pepsi Center. The series was over two games later after two losses – both close games. The T-Wolve went on to lose in the Western Conference Finals.

In 2005, the Nuggets were the 7th seed and faced the San Antonio Spurs. The Nuggets shocked the Spurs and won Game #1 on the road behind 31 points from Andre Miller. Game #2 was a blow-out win by the Spurs, and although the next 3 games were close (Game #4 went to OT) they were all Spurs wins, and the series was again over after 5 games. The Spurs went on to win the NBA Championship.

In 2006, the Nuggets won the Midwest and were the #3 seed, facing the #6 seeded LA Clippers. However, because the Clippers had the better record, they had homecourt advantage. The Nuggets won Game #3 at the Pepsi Center, but again lost in 5 total games – most games were not close. The Clippers lost in the next round to the Phoenix Suns in a series that went 7 games.

In 2007, the Nuggets traded for Allen Iverson late in the season. They faced the Spurs again, this time as the #6 seed. The script played out eerily similar to 2005 with the Nuggets winning game #1 in San Antonio, and then losing the next four. Carmelo had a strong playoffs while Iverson played well in game #1 but then disappeared. San Antonio, as they did in 2005, went on to win the NBA Championship.

Finally, we arrive at the recently ended 2008 Nuggets playoff run. Expectations were higher than the previous 4 seasons, even with the Nuggets finishing as the 8th seed, and drawing the LA Lakers in round 1. However, the Nuggets were a strong 8th seed – going 50-32 in the regular season, and Carmelo and Iverson had a full season together. Instead, the Nuggets lost the first 3 games of the series in convincing fashion. For the first time in 5 years, the Nuggets were facing being swept right out of the playoffs. In Game #4 at the Pepsi Center, the Nuggets finally played a competitive game with rising star JR Smith leading the way. However, in the final minutes, the Lakers got the stops they needed and pulled off the 107-101 win.

Frustration boiled over for me both during the 4th quarter, and afterwards. The Lakers had completely handled the Nuggets, who never really looked in the series at all. Comparing the 2008 statistics to the 2007 playoff stats reveals some of the issues. While the overall team shooting % was better in 2008, Carmelo Anthony played much worse while Iverson played slightly better. The defense was the bigger problem, as the Nuggets allowed 48% shooting and nearly 115 points per game by the Lakers while 44% and 94 ppg in the 2007 playoff series. Mainly, the Nuggets got outplayed, and other than Game #4, they never looked like they matched the intensity and focus that the Lakers brought each game. How exactly does that happen to a bunch of players that know each other well – some having played together in 5 straight playoff series? Well, we have a whole summer off to contemplate that one, as we watch the remaining playoff teams showing daily examples of the heart and effort that it takes to win playoff games.

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