by Ben Allman
3 seconds can feel like a lifetime in a basketball game. On May 7th, 1989, a young man by the name of Michael Jordan hit a midrange jump shot with time expiring in the 5th game of the Eastern Conference First Round Playoffs to beat the Cleveland Cavaliers and knock them out of the playoffs.
In the 1992 NCAA Elite Eight, or regional final round for you purists, it only took Christian Laettner 2.1 seconds to catch a 3 quarters of the court inbound pass and sink a shot with time expiring to crush Rick Pitino’s Kentucky Wildcats and propel the Duke Blue Devils into the Final Four.
So it only makes sense that the highlight and probably most improbable single moment for the 2015-2016 Denver Nuggets came with less than 3 seconds left on the clock. I was there to bare witness on January 14th, 2016 at the Pepsi Center. Stephen Curry and his Golden State Warriors were in town, having only lost two games previous to that point. Denver had absolutely no business being in the game, but in an 82 game NBA season, everybody is going to have an off night.
(Photo by thegrandslamdunk.com)
An off night for the Warriors this season, and in this particular game, is a bit of an oxymoron. GSW trailed the Nuggets the entire first half, took their first lead of the game with 8:14 left in the 3rd quarter, but lost control of it 4 minutes later and headed into the 4th quarter down by 10 points. With that being said, they still scored 110 points and had a chance to win the game… with 3 seconds left on the clock…
As a Nuggets fan, I was quite happy to watch all of this unfold in front of me. Don’t get me wrong, watching the Warriors play basketball this season has been a delight, but as someone who is still asking the question of, “what if,” with former Nuggets star turned New York Knickerbocker Carmelo Anthony as well as the question of, “when Curry shoots a shot, why do all the middle aged men watching have odd, primal reactions?” No, this night made all of those questions take a back seat for feelings of nostalgia.
I say nostalgia because this isn’t the first time that a team who was on a record pace to win more games then any other team in NBA history has come to Denver and lost to the Nuggets. Unless you are a die hard Denver or Chicago Bulls fan, you probably don’t remember back in the 1995-1996 season, the season that the aforementioned Michael Jordan and his Chicago Bulls won 72 games, but one of their 10 losses came on a Sunday night in February at the old McNichols Sports Arena.
(Photo courtesy of David Zalubowski, The Associated Press via denverpost.com)
The parallels in these two games, 20 years apart, aren’t as creepy as say the parallels of the Lincoln/Kennedy assassinations, but they are worth noting. In the Bulls loss, their best player (Michael Jordan) scored 39 points in 42 minutes, shot 45% from the field as well as 57% from behind the 3-point line, going 4 for 7. Fast forward to 2016, Curry dropped (or splashed depending on who you talk to) 38 points in 40 minutes, shooting 52% from the field and 42% from 3. Both games had huge quarters by the Nugget opponents. The Bulls had a 39 point 3rd quarter, the Warriors had a 37 point 4th quarter. The Nuggets leading scorer against the Warriors, Danilo Gallinari had 28 points. Against the Bulls, the athlete formerly known as Chris Jackson, Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf dropped 32.
Similar games, similar historic seasons, similar moral victory for the Nuggets. Gallinari stood at the free throw line with 3 seconds left. He missed his second free throw and the rebound was grabbed by the Warriors Klay Thompson. After a Golden State timeout, with 2 seconds remaining, and the score at 112-110 Nuggets, the feeling in the arena was electric. Not a soul was in their seat, as was the case for the majority of the game. The man in the row in front of me, who had been hanging on Curry’s every move, seemingly reverting to a caveman with grunts and sounds with every bucket, could not bring himself to watch.
It had all come down to this. 2 seconds. A lifetime for Laettner and his ’92 Blue Devils. A lifetime for Jordan and his ’89 Bulls. Not every basketball story ends the way those two did and seeing as how this was an NBA regular season game, the importance of it was very minimal. The inbound pass did not go to Curry, but rather the Warriors second best player, Klay Thompson. He had a good look from 24-feet out, got the shot off clean. 2… 1… clank. Game over. Nuggets win.
(Photo by thegrandslamdunk.com)
It should be noted that in this game, the Warriors did not play one of their big three players in Draymond Green. Any wise man would tell you that if he had played, the game would probably have been different. In a season of rebuilding for the Nuggets; however, it was the true highlight for them. That evening was One of Nine loses for Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors this season.
It was a great night of basketball in Denver, a phrase that doesn’t get uttered to often around here. It was a great night to look back on and remember; remember the greatness of Jordan, bare-witness to the greatness of Curry, and enjoy a Denver Nugget victory over a historically dominate team.