Posted by Royce Young
The Narrative: Most would agree, the series is over. Now it's just about how it will wrap up. Teams leading 3-0 in a playoff series are 57-37 all-time. Meaning that most end in sweeps, but a decent amount do go 5. After that, the percentages really dip.
So that's where this series stands. Most didn't see it being in this place when it started, or especially after a hotly-contested Game 1 in Oklahoma City. But the Thunder have displayed almost an air of dominance the last two games, completely stifling the Nuggets' high powered offensive attack. Game 3 was close by the end, but if Kendrick Perkins doesn't make a bonehead pass, OKC wins by a comfortable margin.
It's just obvious that this is a horrendous matchup for the Nuggets. Not only do they struggle guarding the Thunder, but offensively, they can't find an edge. Two of their best scorers in Wilson Chandler and Danilo Gallinari have gone missing in action as OKC's defensive scheme has limited their open looks and chances to drive to the rim.
A series is never over until its over -- the Boston Red Sox taught us that -- but it's a long, long shot for the Nuggets. They're playing for pride tonight. But it's a big moment for the young Thunder. This is their first chance to close a series. That's always a tough game to win. And sometimes that pressure can affect things.
The Hook: Nobody likes to concede a series on their home floor. Nobody likes to get swept. If you don't think there's still a good amount of motivation there for the Nuggets, well, you're wrong. This team already came back with its back to the wall after the Carmelo Anthony deal and proved there's not any quit in them. They're going to come out and fight.
Again, it comes back to if the Thunder can seize the opportunity and close out an opponent in their first crack at it. Winning the decisive game is the toughest one. You're playing a desperate team that's going to pull out every stop to stay alive. And this Thunder group is young and hasn't ever presented itself with this opportunity. The Thunder took control of Game 3 which was the one that swung the series entirely in their favor which was a big step. Closing out is the next, and much more difficult one.
The Adjustment: The Nuggets just have to figure out a way to score against the Thunder. Thus far, it's been a struggle. OKC has bottled up everything the Nuggets prefer to do offensively and held their head under water. There aren't any open jumpers. No open looks from 3. Nothing easy in the paint. Not a lot of opportunity to run.
Somehow Denver has to find chances for easy points. It's been well documented that the Nuggets don't have a closing, go-to scorer to rely upon. Well, they aren't getting one in the next 10 hours, so they've got to figure something out. It's time to get Danilo Gallinari and Wilson Chandler involved in the offense. It's time to figure out a way to score in the second half. That's on George Karl more than anyone else.
The X-Factor: How about an easy, obvious one? Free throw shooting. You could make a case the Nuggets gave away Games 1 and 3 at the free throw line (15 misses in Game 3). There's really no reason to miss out on those opportunities. As difficult as it is to score on the Thunder, giving away open 15-foot looks with no one guarding you is really inexcusable.
The Sticking Point: I don't get the sense the Nuggets are ready to quit. There are a lot of prideful veterans on that team that are more than ready to put up a fight and make it hard on OKC. But at the same time, it just seems that Denver is entirely overmatched. Not only are the Thunder better, but almost every matchup leans their way. It's been proven over and over again the last five meetings between these teams stretching back into the regular season.
Denver can win this one but it'll happen for two reasons: Either the Nuggets play a perfect game and get big contributions from Gallinari, Chandler and J.R. Smith or the Thunder wilt a bit under the pressure of closing out a series. Otherwise, if everything holds form, the Thunder's walking out of Denver with the series.
Series Reset: A first chance to close for OKC
Posted on: April 25, 2011 3:48 pm
Edited on: April 25, 2011 4:10 pm
Tags: 2011 First Round, 2011 NBA Playoff Previews, 2011 NBA Playoffs, 2011 Nuggets-Thunder, 2011 Playoffs, 2011 Thunder-Nuggets, 2011 WC First Round, 2011 WC First-Round, Danilo Gallinari, Denver Nuggets, George Karl, Kendrick Perkins, Kevin Durant, Nene, Oklahoma City Thunder, Raymond Felton, Russell Westbrook, Scott Brooks, Ty Lawson, Wilson Chandler