His identify is Pop. Hey, Nuggets: Who’s your daddy?

We hadn’t seen a playoff sport on this dusty previous cowtown since 2013. So possibly we’re not used to the heartbreak of Denver’s 101-96 loss to San Antonio.In the course of the waning seconds of the fourth quarter, when Jamal Murray blew a shot on the win by clanking a wide-open,18-foot jumper he may usually swish when you blindfolded the purpose guard and spun him round thrice, it felt like some type of darkish magic was messing with the Nuggets’ heads.

The evil wizard at work? It was the identical previous satan who zapped the euphoria from the filled-to-the-brim crowd of 19,520 and stole all of the air from the Pepsi Middle.

His identify is Gregg Popovich. He’s the best NBA coach who ever lived for greater than 1,000 causes, and all of them made it more durable for the Nuggets to sleep Saturday evening.

“Clearly this was not the specified end result,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone mentioned, “giving them home-court benefit proper again after Recreation 1.”.

However right here’s the merciless factor in regards to the NBA postseason: A workforce can work 82 lengthy video games to ascertain itself because the No. 2 seed within the Western Convention, and all that tough labor can vanish inside 4 quick quarters of playoff basketball. Would this be a foul time to say the Nuggets haven’t gained in San Antonio since 2012, a span of 13 unfortunate highway video games?

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The technique Pop employed in opposition to a Denver workforce inexperienced within the methods of postseason thoughts video games was brutally easy.

“Head of the snake,” is how San Antonio ahead DeMar DeRozan defined his workforce’s focus.

The way in which the Spurs determine it, in the event that they relentlessly assault Nuggets star Nikola Jokic head-on with double-team stress, carrying the large middle out bodily for the pains of the fourth quarter and forcing him to depend on the jumpers of teammates not commonly known as sharp-shooters from the perimeter, the physique of the snake will wither and Denver will endure a fast however painful postseason dying.

Whereas lacking 22 of 28 photographs from past the three-point line will likely be cited as a number one reason for this defeat, the Nuggets truly misplaced this sport between the ears. I used to be reminded of the most important concern Chauncey Billups, MVP of the 2004 NBA Finals, expressed to me about this younger Denver workforce heading into the postseason.

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“The Nuggets haven’t had their coronary heart damaged,” Billups mentioned.

Effectively, there’s no heartbreak like your first playoff defeat on a blown alternative within the ultimate 10 seconds of the fourth quarter.

On the eve of this best-of-seven sequence, someone requested me what number of factors per sport Popovich, proprietor of 5 championship rings, could be price to the Spurs per sport.

I felt it was the fallacious query.

Popovich is certainly a basketball wizard. He’s the Lord Voldemort of the hardwood.

And his darkish magic works in stealing a sport, or perhaps a sequence, from a workforce with extra expertise.

As irascible as a bear who missed a nap, Pop shrank the hearts of journalists throughout his pre-game press convention, which lasted all of 58 seconds and 17 curt phrases from the legendary coach. He took timeouts in Recreation 1 with the specific objective of manipulating the views of referees Ken Mauer and Tom Washington.

By comparability, when Denver coach Michael Malone strolled right into a room jam-packed with reporters previous to Recreation 1, he gazed into the intense lights and mentioned: “I don’t like this. I’m out of my consolation zone.”

Malone was kidding (or no less than Denver followers higher hope so).

However, in defeat, because the clock approached midnight, after Jokic took a seat on the press-room dais and defined how the Nuggets wasted their huge probability to ascertain management on this sequence, he seemed into the microphone on the desk and giggled: “My voice (sounds) actually humorous.”

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Pop has been right here so many instances, he sneers on the shiny lights of the playoffs with contempt. The Nuggets, who didn’t lead Recreation 1 after just below three minutes within the first quarter, performed like unintended vacationers.

“Pay attention,” Malone mentioned on the eve of the playoffs, “that’s a Mike Tyson knockout when you’re evaluating Gregg Popovich and Michael Malone. The man’s arguably the very best coach in NBA historical past.”

When’s the final time you heard anyone within the NBA confer with himself within the third individual as a plea for mercy? Malone should focus on teaching up his workforce, relatively than matching wits with Pop, as a result of that’s a battle he can’t win.

With 10 factors, 14 rebounds and 14 assists, Jokic recorded a triple-double in his playoff debut. He was requested what the accomplishment meant to him.

“To be sincere,” Jokic grumped, “Nothing.”

The one statistic that counts is the rating of this playoff sequence:

Pop 1, Nuggets 0.

 

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