Who knew that coming down to sea level could cause a basketball franchise to lose a game, its diplomacy, and a grip on a playoff series.
But that’s just what happened to the Denver Nuggets.
We all saw what they did. But do they understand what they’ve started?
The Nuggets poked eyes in Game 6. They taunted, albeit from the safety of their bench. The Denver radio broadcast team of Scott Hastings and Jason Kosmicki joined in on the mile-high, fake tough-guy act and suggested someone ought to kick injured center Jusuf Nurkic in the shin.
Then the broadcasters doubled down on air and said, “when it comes to Zach Collins, he’s got a punchable face.”
Well, the Blazers must be done, then. Scared stiff of being roughed up in Game 7, they’ll fold. They’ll drift off into the summer in the face of all that violence. Or at least that’s what Denver must think.
But we all know better, don’t we?
I spoke to former NBA guard Dennis Scott at Moda Center on Thursday night. He said he thought the polite, respectful nature of the Nuggets in the early part of the series lulled Damian Lillard and the Blazers to sleep.
“Nobody was rockin’ the baby, nobody was pointing at their wristwatch,” Scott said, “they were picking up Dame at half-court, respecting him, telling him, ‘We know you can shoot it from out here.’”
It was sound strategy, really. We all saw what the Blazers did in the face of all that trash talk in the first round. But the Nuggets lost their poise in the last few days and let loose in a way that tells me they just don’t respect the Blazers.
At the end of Game 5 in Denver, Michael Porter Jr. flipped off the Blazers from the Nuggets’ bench in the closing minutes of their blowout win. That act was met with retribution from Portland’s Evan Turner at the end of Game 6, who saluted back with his own finger on Thursday.
What did Denver think?
That Portland would roll over after the 26-point beatdown at Pepsi Center? That Seth Curry wouldn’t be fuming after Will Barton poked him in his eyes? That Zach Collins would forget how he was raised and not fight back?
That Lillard isn’t watching it all?
“He waited for a few people to get in between us, and when a few people were in between us, he put his finger in my eye,” Curry said. “I can’t allow dudes to put their fingers in my eye. That’s real sassy. They got some sassy dudes over there.
Barton demonstrated how little he respects the Blazers, didn’t he? And Porter thought waving his middle finger signaled the end of the Blazers’ season. And the team broadcasters who joked and giggled on Thursday night in the closing minutes about kicking Nurkic’s broken leg or punching Collin’s pretty-boy face, they don’t think Portland will fight back.
Oklahoma City tried that Jersey Shore act in the first round of the playoffs. It blew up in the Thunder’s faces. Steven Adams head-butted and roughed up Enes Kanter. Russell Westbrook barked at Lillard after made baskets and Paul George and Dennis Schroder trolled the Blazers.
Those guys are on a beach now, watching.
“That’s how my parents brought me up” Collins said of fighting back. “Just always have a chip on your shoulder when you go out there and play.”
The Warriors are vulnerable. The Rockets might be, too. There’s an opportunity for the winner of this Portland-Denver series, are the Blazers really going to let the Nuggets flip them off, poke them in the eye, and snatch it from them?
I think we all know better.