LOS ANGELES – The Nuggets made it difficult for the Lakers to beat them. The first-round series went the max, to a seventh game when it didn’t seem possible after Los Angeles jumped out 2-0. The final installment went to the end too, to the final minutes of the final night.
Just as much, though, the Nuggets made it difficult, if not impossible, to leave the season disappointed, even in defeat. They were that impressive in the 4-3 series defeat and the 96-87 loss in Game 7 on Saturday night at Staples Center.
If the Lakers had Denver’s passion, L.A. would be regarded as much more of a title contender than it is today. The Nuggets grew exponentially during the first round in ways that will pay off into next season and beyond.
“Tomorrow or the next day, when the funk gets out of your body, you’re going to be proud of the team,” coach George Karl said. “And I am proud of the team. I’ve never been in a locker room after a season where every guy in front of me I‘m happy with and content with staying with the same crew and going to work next year. But right now you feel like a piece of …”
He shrugged and held up his right hand as if searching for the proper word.
“A valiant effort in the second half,” Karl continued. “We had an opportunity. And the game was so physical. It was so bang, push, shove grab, hold that I think their size won over our speed. We gave great effort.”
The Nuggets lost the first two games and responded to force a Game 7. They fell behind by 16 points in the third quarter and responded again on the road, earning a tie as late as 78-78 with 6:51 remaining before falling for good.
Karl was asked what impressed him most about his team this series.
He contemplated for nine seconds before answering.
“All year long, I enjoyed their, kind of, belief that they could win when no one else was believing in them,” he said. “From the closer and not having a star player, all the things that were written (about the Nuggets needing a prime-time player in the clutch). I just think they are pretty mentally a tough team for a young bunch of guys. They’re enjoyable to be around. They’re enjoyable to coach. And I don’t think there are 30 NBA coaches saying that right now in the NBA. That says I am blessed with a good situation. Their heart is bigger than people think it is.”