For the first time in a long time I was not okay.
I was crushed.
That one stung like it hasn’t stung since Game 6 of the 2012 NBA playoffs against the Warriors.
I’m hooked – all-in once again on Nuggets basketball.
When Denver fell to Houston 125-124 on Monday night it felt like a giant punch to the stomach. The Nuggets let a game they shouldn’t have get away. It could be the outcome of the season. And not in good way.
The team was so painful in the final 30 seconds it felt like a good excuse to chuck the remote across the room. But that’s not a bad thing in the least.
Denver’s execution down the stretch was downright brutal. But to see the fan base so fired up after a regular-season loss, in a sick and twisted way, was an incredible feeling.
The Nuggets are neck and neck with the Trail Blazers for the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference, and they let one slip away.
It absolutely sucks, but we must review the painful details.
Up 125-124, Jameer Nelson had the ball after a defensive rebound with 30 seconds left.
Nelson dribbled up the court, pounding the rock like former Broncos’ head coach John Fox used to pound his gum, as we all waited for something to happen.
With just a few ticks left on the shot clock, Nelson and rising star Nikola Jokic did exactly what the coaches wanted them to do – attempt to set a pick and roll and get Denver’s best player (The Joker) the ball.
The problem? Nelson had taken too much time and as Houston’s defenders collapsed on the young Serbian the shot clock ran too low. Nelson had to launch a 21-footer that never had a chance.
The worst part? It didn’t even hit the rim. Nelson’s shot went 18 feet (19 on a good day) and fell right into the hands of a possible league MVP in James Harden.
Fear the beard. What happened next was just silly.
In an incredible four seconds, Harden was able to zig and zag his way down the floor. Juancho Hernangomez and Jokic were simply too slow to catch him. Gary Harris, while trying to rebound the air ball, let Harden get in front of him and he was gone. Nelson got absolutely popped by Nene – but do you really expect the refs to blow the whistle in that situation? No shot.
And then came the worst.
The beard made the easy two and with just 2.4 seconds left the Nuggets were unfathomably down a point. It would have almost been better to see a buzzer beater.
Michael Malone’s bunch came out of a full timeout able to advance the basketball, with a real chance to win the game inside Houston’s territory – and then we all saw it.
Jokic was inbounding the ball?!
Denver attempted a failed lob play to Mason Plumlee, never even getting a shot off. The buzzer sounded and the Rockets’ faithful went absolutely insane.
Look, after the game Malone’s logic was sound – Jokic is the team’s best passer and therefore he could throw the lob to Plumlee for the easy dunk to give Denver a 126-125 win at the buzzer or with just a sliver of time on the clock.
With a hat tip to Denver Stiffs’ Adam Mares, that explanation would have made more sense if there had been 0.8 seconds or so on the clock; 2.4 in the NBA in the frontcourt is an eternity.
The ball should have gone to Jokic at the elbow with Jamal Murray at the three-point line as a backup plan. If Jokic takes a dribble and misses a hook or short jumper at the buzzer, you live with that. If Murray dribbles and creates his own shot and then bricks it – you live with that too. Getting the kid some experience in that situation is never a bad thing.
Instead, a poor pass by Jokic led to no shot attempt, and the Nuggets’ path to the playoffs is a dicey as ever.
There it is: 700 words on 30 seconds. I couldn’t have done that any of the last four years.
That’s why Nuggets basketball is back. That’s why we all care so much.
And that’s why for the first time in a long time we were not okay.