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Denver Nuggets and George Karl: How They Close Out Playoff Series

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The Thunder are looking to wrap things up tonight against the Nuggets. The Thunder lead the series 3-0 and have looked superior in just about every way, including coaching. Do you find this surprising? After all, George Karl has over 1,000 regular season wins under his belt and a bevy of playoff experiences from which to draw. I think we're watching the collective psyche of the Nuggets fall apart, piece by piece, and I am interested to see how Karl has done in the past when his team is facing a close-out game. Does Karl know how to rally his troops in a way similar to what we saw yesterday with Doug Collins and the 76ers?

Karl was named head coach during the 2005 season, so the 2005 playoffs represent his first as the Denver head coach.

2010: Denver loses to Jazz, 4-2 (first round)

Final Game Score: Jazz 112, Nuggets 104

Key elements:

  • Nuggets allow Jazz to shoot over 52% for the game.
  • Nuggets lose rebounding battle, 45-39.
  • 20 of those rebounds go to the undersized power forward, Carlos Boozer.
  • Nuggets shoot 27-40 from free throw line.
  • Carmelo Anthony shoots 6-22 for 20 points.


2009: Denver loses to Lakers, 4-2 (Conference Finals)

Final Game Score: Lakers 119, Nuggets 92

Key elements:

  • Nuggets allow Lakers to shoot over 57% for game.
  • Nuggets only manage 27 rebounds.
  • Denver manages only 40 1st half points, game is effectively over by the half.
  • Carmelo Anthony shoots 6-17 and scores 25 points.


2008: Denver loses to Lakers, 4-0 (first round)

Final Game Score: Lakers 107, Nuggets 101

Key elements:

  • Writes the AP: "The Denver Nuggets finally gave the Los Angeles Lakers a good fight." In Game Four.
  • Trailing most of the game, the Nuggets actually take a lead late in the 3rd quarter.
  • Carmelo Anthony shoots 8-20 for 21 points.
  • Nuggets had lost the first three games by an average of 16 points.


2007: Denver loses to Spurs, 4-1 (first round)

Final Game Score: Spurs 93, Nuggets 78

Key elements:

  • Nuggets led at the half, then managed to score 11 points in the 3rd and 19 in the 4th.
  • Nuggets shoot 37.7% for the game.
  • Gave up 14 offensive rebounds to the Spurs.
  • Carmelo Anthony shoots 8-20 for 21 points.
  • Nuggets actually won Game One on the road, and then lost four straight.

2006: Denver loses to Los Angeles Clippers, 4-1 (first round)

Final Game Score: Clippers 101, Nuggets 83

Key elements:
  • The argument kind of begins and ends with the fact that the CLIPPERS won the series.
  • Game was effectively over entering the 4th, with the score favoring the Clippers: 73-57.
  • Nuggets allowed Clippers to shoot 50%.
  • Nuggets shoot 37%.
  • Carmelo Anthony shoots 8-24 for 23 points.
  • Team out-rebounded: 48-41. 

2005: Denver loses to Spurs, 4-1 (first round)

Final Game Score: Spurs 99, Nuggets 89

Key elements:
  • Denver never led in the game.
  • Denver outrebounded by 10.
  • Earl Boykins shot 6-16. Under no circumstances should Earl Boykins ever be getting 16 shots in a game, let alone against the Spurs.
  • Just like in 2007, Denver won Game One and then lost four in a row.

General Observations

  • My purpose for running through this exercise is that in my mind, I had always thought that Karl had a tendency to come up small in the playoffs, but most noticeably in close-out games. I have vivid memories of watching his Nuggets teams quit in those final series' games, all the while Karl would just sit on the bench quietly, as if he were watching some natural disaster video.
  • When a team's back is against the wall, I pay particular attention to "hustle stats," those stats such as offensive rebounding and free throws made, which can carry a team that is not playing well. Denver's stats in these categories seemed to range from mediocre to below average.
  • Karl's teams have never forced a Game Seven.
  • Karl's teams have never even forced a Game Five and only once managed to force a Game Six (2010).
  • The only game in which the Nuggets did play hard in the close out is also the same series in which they were swept (2008).
  • His teams always seem to lack the tenacity to try to prolong a series. Once they fall behind in a series, the Nuggets never recover.
  • For all the cry from some corners about how the Nuggets might have actually been better off with 'Melo, the games in each year's series don't seem to support it. He never came up big (I don't think he had a single 30 point game) and unfortunately, neither did anybody else.