For starters, I have to say that this was the most electric atmosphere I have ever been a part of in my young event attending history. The picture you see at the top of this post is the Pepsi Center during the starting five’s introduction. What was great about the energy flowing through the Pepsi Center was that it instantly ignited the Nuggets to an early lead at the conclusion of the first quarter, 27-20. Carmelo started off hot with eleven points and Nene added eight as the Nuggets were in command.
The second period began, and while the Spurs did find some rhythm, the Nuggets still one-upped their quarterly output, 23-22, and extended their lead to eight at the break. I was thinking up to this point that the Nuggets were sound in their execution, the Spurs were being limited to one shot, and things were looking optimistic as Carmelo was hitting his outside jumper. The only real problem that I saw in the Nuggets’ game plan was that Steve Blake was struggling to keep Tony Parker in front of him and out of the paint.
If Stevie B were to be the Nuggets only problem I think Denver would have been able to pull out the victory, but as the third quarter began, Denver’s defensive agenda seemingly went out the window as the Spurs scored 20 of their 25 points on either shots from inside eight feet or from beyond the three-point line. Defensive rotations were late, the interior defense was soft, and why in the world George Karl would try and defend Manu Ginobili with Eduardo Najera is a decision that baffles me still as I am writing this article. Eduardo obviously doesn’t have the foot speed to cover to slippery Ginobili on the perimeter, and despite having size on the Flopper, Manu repeatedly sliced up the Nuggets interior line of defense as he dimed teammates for numerous lay-ups. I personally would have dusted off Yakhouba Diawara for a few minutes and told the rookie that I needed him for one reason, and one reason only, and that would have been defending Ginobili, but I digress.
The Nuggets were still clinging to a six-point advantage going into the money period and my gut was telling me that as long as we could defend the three-point arch Denver would be able to trade baskets with the Spurs and tie the series at two apiece. Unfortunately, the Nuggets were about to put up one of their famous twelve minute disappearing acts.
In the fourth, the Nuggets were badly outplayed, and I hate to say this, but also just as badly out-coached by Popovich and his crew. The once ten-point advantage the Nuggets had built would be slowly chipped away by the likely San Antonio suspects hitting from long range and poorly timed turnovers by the Nuggets. Denver also missed six three-point attempts, at least half of which were taken with the lead still intact, and committed far too many fouls which put the Spurs on the line where they made 8-11.
The exact moment where I felt the game was lost for the Nuggets wasn’t when Robert Horry hit yet another clutch three-pointer from the corner, but rather when Steve Blake penetrated down to the baseline and picked-up his dribble, (a cardinal sin for any point guard to do when his team is depending on him to keep the ball out of danger), and threw an ill-advised pass that was swiped by the Flopper leading to a fast break and Bruce Bowen gliding in for the go-ahead dunk. The slam took all the life out of the Pepsi Center and was truly the straw that broke the camels back before “Big Shot” Bob nailed the coffin shut. San Antonio had done what they have been doing for the last ten years and made the big plays in the big moments and snatched game three, 96-89.
The disappearing act that I mentioned before meant Denver only managed to score 16 points in the deciding quarter of play to the Spurs’ 29, (which was also their top offensive quarter of the game), and I hate to say it, but the untimely offensive breakdown probably seals the Nuggets fate as the Spurs now hold a commanding 3-1 series lead with two of the possible next three games in San Antonio.
Marcus Camby recorded his 15th postseason double-double of his career with ten points, 17 rebounds, and four blocked shots, Carmelo Anthony led all scorers with 29 points, six rebounds, and three assists, and Allen Iverson continued his shooting woes on 9-25 from the field good for 22 points; all of which were in vain because the Nuggets once again didn’t get it done when the opportunity was there.
As a side note, and not merely to add insult to the injury, the Nuggets bench was once again outscored 32-8 by the five deep Coach Popovich called upon. Talk about stepping up! Now it looks like the Nuggets will be stepping out of the first round again and what is most embarrassing is how it could be in one-hit wonder style again for the fourth time in as many years.