SAN FRANCISCO – This has ceased to be a respectable NBA playoff series. It’s a clown show, with the Nuggets wearing big red noses and tripping over their floppy, oversized shoes. It might be outrageously funny if not so depressingly sad.
Golden State, a first-class organization with a championship culture, has done more than punk the Nuggets twice in a row, including a 126-106 shellacking in Game 2. The Warriors are clowning Denver, exposing a team too mentally soft to hang together , much less win, when the going gets tough.
“They’re out there laughing, dancing around. It’s just embarrassing,” Nuggets guard Monte Morris said Monday, when the boxscore of a lopsided loss to the Warriors read like an obituary for another lost season of center Nikola Jokic’s MVP prime.
From Golden State guard Gary Payton II disrespectfully slapping Joker on the butt during a timeout, to mopey Aaron Gordon being exposed to teammates as a multimillion-dollar fraud, to Will Barton and DeMarcus Cousins fussing on the bench as Draymond Green exhorted the crowd to run the overmatched visitors out of the building, the Warriors made Denver look like Bozos banging each other on the head with rubber mallets.
“We’ve got to iron things out … find a way to stay together, no matter what’s going on, good or bad,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “Find a way to stay the course, stay together, because that’s the only chance we have to be competitive in this series. If we’re fragmented, if we’re breaking off into groups or individuals, we have zero chance of winning a game in this series.”
It’s bad enough the Nuggets have fallen behind 2-0 in a best-of-seven playoff series without a fight, unless you count the bikering on the Denver bench. Midway through the third period, with Golden State ahead 72-62, Cousins and Barton started a family feud worthy of a visit from Dr. Phil during a timeout.
“If you feel like you’re getting under their skin, you press a little more,” said Green, who pounced on the chance to turn up the heat on the Nuggets’ simmering frustration.
What in the world could cause an impromptu exchange between two grown men to become as juvenile as a food fight in the middle school cafeteria?
“Just some goofy (bleep) I can’t even entertain,” Barton said.
Goofy does not begin to describe this stnch. And the worst might be yet to come. Real embarrassment could await the Nuggets in Game 3, when they return home and discover thousands of Golden State fans have invaded Ball Arena to cheer for their demise.
I don’t have to tell vice president of basketball operations Tim Connelly what he already knows. A splintered crowd, with a disconcerting number of Warriors jerseys at the stands, could greet the fractured Nuggets for tipoff on Thursday night. The fear is that as much as 25% of the paying customers for what’s supposed to be a Denver home date could be chanting “MVP!” when Warriors guard Steph Curry steps to the free-throw line.
According to data on the secondary ticket market compiled by TickPick, the average price for a seat to watch Jordan Poole make the Nuggets look like fools during Game 2 in San Francisco was $186, while the current average resale price for admission to Game 3 is $69 in Denver. Think Dub Nation will be tempted to hop on planes, trains or automobiles to taunt Joker by waving brooms?
A diminished or nonexistent home-court advantage with the Nuggets threatening to get swept out of the playoffs, the same humiliating way they were brushed aside by Phoenix a year ago, would be a shame.
“Being swept again is not a good look for nobody,” Morris said.
But sacrificing your home-court advantage is also what happens when a franchise disrespects its fan base by rasslin’ in the mud with Comcast for three years instead of finding a way to deliver Jokic to local television viewers who can’t jump on the Nuggets bandwagon , when they’re unable to catch so much as a glimpse of the MVP’s magic.
While his talents are a many-splendored thing, the hair-trigger temper of Jokic makes him easy prey during the playoffs. The Warriors have gotten under his skin the same way the Suns burned Joker last season. From the moment Payton spanked his fanny during a break in the action, Jokic was predisposed to lose his cool with the technical fouls that ultimately got him ejected five minutes into the fourth quarter.
“Is what it is,” said Jokic, who scored 26 points before being banished from the floor. “I’m not supposed to do that.”
If he has the nerve, what Malone needs to do is bench Gordon in favor of JaMychal Green or Zeke Nnaji. I don’t know how Denver can dump his massive contract extension, but Gordon is too wishy-washy to be a starter on a championship contender.
In the absence of injured Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr., what we’ve discovered is the Nuggets have too many role players who can’t handle adversity.
“Real men don’t fold,” Morris said.
So should we blame bad injury luck, flush this series and patiently wait until next year?
Heck, no. This goofy stnch has got to stop. Time alone won’t heal what ails them.
The Nuggets need to grow some backbone.