Does a Bosnian Beast eat crow? The Nuggets served up a heaping helping to Portland center Jusuf Nurkic, beating their biggest nemesis 88-82 Monday in a victory essential to keep a playoff dream alive.
What could this sleepy basketball burg use almost as much as a postseason berth to stoke renewed passion in the Nuggets? How about an enemy that we can all get behind to boo every time he steps on the court in the Pepsi Center?
So, if it’s OK with you, can we work up a little hate, the kind of healthy sporting dislike our fair city reserves for the Raiders, and direct it at Nurkic?
Try as he might to ruin the party, 20 points and 19 rebounds by Nurkic weren’t enough to stop the Nuggets, who recovered from an 11-point deficit in the second half to get the laugh last. Denver has won six in a row, and now goes to Minnesota on Wednesday for the final game of the regular season, seeking to secure its first playoff bid since 2013.
“It’s going to be like a wild-card playoff game in baseball,” said Tim Connelly, the team’s president of basketball operations.
Let’s hope it turns out better than that Rockies’ trip to Arizona in October.
Perhaps you have forgotten, but Nurkic walked out on the Nuggets a year ago, quitting on teammates and forcing the team to trade him. Then, after Nurkic scored 33 points in a late-season game that ripped the heart out of Denver’s playoff dreams, he stabbed us with this snark: “I wish those guys a happy summer.”
But as Nurkic pushed and shoved and bullied the Nuggets to the brink of playoff elimination Monday night, fans in the arena seemed almost afraid to boo the big center fondly known as the Bosnian Beast everywhere except the 303 area code. Nurkic holds a grudge and takes playing Denver personally.
“He should,” Nuggets center Nikola Jokic said. “That’s his personality.”
You know what Denver’s problem is? Too much sunshine. All that vitamin D from our bluebird skies makes people here way too nice.
Oh, sometimes a little road rage rears its ugly head, especially where Sixth Avenue gets tangled with Interstate 25, where some demented architect decided it would be cute to plop a concrete snakes’ nest in the middle of rush hour.
The Nuggets came out of nowhere to climb back in the playoff race, by winning five in a row when the team had nothing left to lose. Prior to tipoff against the Blazers, I asked coach Michael Malone if he worried now that a postseason berth was within his players’ grasp that they might get sweaty palms.
“I hope our guys understand the reason we have been able to play the way we play and win games is because we are playing free, we are playing loose. We are not playing like a team that is tight and nervous and feeling the pressure,” Malone insisted. “And sometimes when you are playing as many young guys as we are, sometimes young guys are too dumb to understand what’s at stake.”
Then the Nuggets went out and played like a 7-year-old kid that forgets all the notes in his first piano recital. Watching the first half was an exercise in pure anxiety. Jokic and Paul Millsap shot way too many clunkers, while Nurkic toyed with Denver in the lane at both ends of the court, as the Blazers took a 49-42 lead at intermission.
Millsap, the $30 million man, stunk from start to finish, missing eight of 10 field-goal attempts, contributing a mere six points in a must-win situation. Jokic, however, came up big and took it to Nurkic when Denver absolutely needed to rally.
Rising above the tension and refusing to choke, Jokic recorded a triple double: 15 points, 20 points and 11 assists.
But his biggest score was taming the Bosnian Beast.
“Nothing personal,” Jokic said.
See? Everyone is Denver is way too nice.