This past Thursday was May, 29, which means it has officially been five whole years since the Denver Nuggets were annihilated on its home floor ending its best season in franchise history.
Aside from the personally heartbreaking Nov. 3, 2008 trade that sent Allen Iverson to the Detroit Pistons and effectively ended his career, the ’08-’09 Nuggets were exhilarating to watch. Boasting a 54- 28 record the Nuggets had a winning record in every month of the regular season except a 1-1 mark in Oct.
Fresh off his summer stint as part of the 2008 United States “redeem team” gold medal Olympic basketball squad, six-year swingman Carmelo Anthony came back to Colorado with a renewed focus. Giving great effort on the defensive side off the ball and sacrificing his offense, Melo looked to have matured from the tutelage of champion players Kobe Bryant, Tayshaun Prince and Dwyane Wade that summer.
Of course, it did not hurt that although it gave up one of the most prolific scorers in Iverson just three games into the season, it gained leadership, championship pedigree and winning experience from Colorado native Chauncey Billups. Billups who had been to the previous six consecutive Eastern Conference Finals brought the attitude, the Nuggets needed after failing to reach the second round of the playoffs five consecutive years.
After securing, the second seed in the Western conference despite, having the same record as the San Antonio Spurs and Portland Trailblazers the Nuggets looked to take advantage of the home court it worked all season for, with a 33-8 home record. In the first round, the Nuggets faced the New Orléans Hornets and Chris Paul. After winning the first two games at the Pepsi Center by a combined 44 points, behind 67 points from Billups, the Nuggets dropped game three in N’awlins (New Orléans). Obviously pissed it could not complete the sweep the Nuggs devoured the Hornets 121-63. Back in the Pepsi Center Denver completed the gentlemen’s sweep 107-86 and advanced to the second round for the first time since 1994.
The Nuggets second round opponent, the Dallas Mavericks upset the third seed Spurs in its first round series. As it had done all season, Denver took care of business at home, recording two double digits victories over the Mavs to begin the series. Unlike the game winner, he missed vs. the Hornets, Melo knocked down the game winner in-game three against Dallas and the Nuggets were one win away from reaching the Western Conference Finals. After another two-point loss, Denver finished the series off in five games again.
The undaunted task of the hungry Los Angeles Lakers, the defending West champions who won 65 regular season games after being embarrassed by the Boston Celtics in the NBA finals was next for the mile high club. With 29 seconds left in a 101-99 game, the Lakers Trevor Ariza stole an in bounds pass from Anthony Carter directed towards Billups.
Just as the other losses, it encountered during the postseason, the Nuggets lost by two 105-103. Bouncing back, Denver stole home court advantage with a 106-103 victory in the Staples Center in-game two. If you believe in déjà vu, then game three presented a recurring image. Depressingly, Ariza stole another in bounds with the Nuggets trailing 97-95 and 37 seconds on the fourth quarter clock. The Lakers regained home court with a 103-97 victory.
Answering after a loss just as it had done all postseason long Denver won game four lopsided, 120-101, Billups and J.R. Smith each scored 24 points. The Lakers won game five by nine 103-94 and closed out the series with a decisive 119-92 victory.
The Denver Nuggets went 10-6 in the postseason in 2009, 6-2 at home. After five straight empty trips in the playoffs, it brought in a veteran winner and was just two wins (and two late fourth quarter turnovers) away from the NBA Finals. Carmelo looked to have matured on the defensive end of the floor and the Nuggets were destined for a bright future.
After the Nuggets got off to a hot start the following season and coach George Karl earned the nod to coach the Western Conference All-Stars, the Nuggets fizzled down the stretch. Karl was diagnosed with cancer and Denver was unable to reach that gear of greatness under interim head coach Adrian Dantley.
Five years later, due to circumstance beyond anyone’s control I still think, what if?