Flashback Friday: The moment Denver Nuggets killed the Giants

It’s not all championships, parades and Lakers tears in Nuggets land. No, for most of the Denver Nuggets’ history, they’ve been a good team, not a great team…and in other ways, they’ve been pretty bad. In the 1990s, the Nuggets went from being a bad team with no defense, to a young team with potential, to being very mediocre, and finally to being very bad. For Nuggets fans, there were some definite highs and some definite lows during that decade. The lowest low was 1997-1998, when a team’s best player statistically was…check notes…Anthony Goldwire, who won just 11 games. Of course, the highest record is the 1993-94 Nuggets, who made history and became the first eighth-seeded team in history to defeat the first-seeded team in the playoffs. Apart from that, although it is not as high-profile as the 90s. In 1995, the Nuggets entered the playoffs again, but were quickly swept out in the first round by the San Antonio Spurs. Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf hit a really cool buzzer beater in the final game of the 92-93 season, and that was basically it. It’s the kind of decadence that’s more commonly seen with things like Lauf’s anthem controversy, Rafonso Ellis’ numerous injuries and Bernie Bickerstaff’s refusal to pay Dikembe Mutombo and keep him in the Lows such as free moves in free agency. This has truly been the darkest decade of Denver Nuggets basketball. Before beating the Seattle SuperSonics to the Nuggets with their young core, another memorable moment occurred in 1996. On February 4, 1996, the Nuggets, a mid-tier team, defeated the Chicago Bulls, the NBA’s largest team, 72-10.

The 1990s were the absolute golden era of Bulls basketball. If you didn’t know, they had a guy named Michael Jordan who was pretty good. Jordan had led the Bulls to three consecutive championships early in the decade before retiring in 1993 (some might say taking a hiatus) before returning to the basketball court and the Bulls in 1995. Winning his first three championships had continued (Horace Grant, B.J. Armstrong, Bill Cartwright, John Paxson), Chicago had brought in replacement players by the time Jordan retired, and then upon his return​ ​Go all out in the first full offseason. He still has his running mate and Hall of Famer Scottie Pippen, but the Bulls have built a stellar supporting cast around those two. They filled out their big three by acquiring Dennis Rodman, who had fallen out of favor in San Antonio and could be acquired on the cheap (read: Will Per Will Perdue). They changed Jordan’s backcourt partner from 6-foot-2 Paxson to 6-foot-6 Ron Harper. Acquiring Rodman allowed the Bulls to move Toni Kukoc to the bench, allowing him to play small forward (where he excelled and won Sixth Man of the Year). Steve Kerr replaced Armstrong as the backup shooter, and they had Luke Longley and Bill Wennington to fill the role of the classic big man who was only responsible for rebounding and not hindering the game. Everyone knows their job, and coach Phil Jackson knows how to maximize everyone in his system. There is no doubt that the Bulls are one of the greatest teams of all time, and many would say it is actually the greatest team of all time.

The ’95-96 Nuggets weren’t really a juggernaut, but they were a respectable team. Ellis was healthy midway through the season, and Lauf wasn’t involved in the national anthem controversy until late in the season. Mutombo didn’t play, Kobe Stice was still blocking defenders, and Tom Hammonds dunked off the bench. They even have a classic stiff Don MacLean. Overall, the team that beat Seattle in ’94 was still around in early ’96. They also have dynamic rookie Antonio McDyess, Dale Ellis’ outside shooting (some might say too much outside shooting), and young Jalen Rose. ) is a great backup point guard. It’s easy to make the argument that the 95-96 team was actually better than the 93-94 team when they were fully healthy. The biggest downgrade, of course, is the coaching position. Dan Issel left the team mid-season the previous year, and Bickerstaff decided to coach the team himself. The first third of the season has been a wild rollercoaster. Denver started with a 1-8 record (their only win came in three overtimes) and climbed all the way to .500 by mid-December, only to drop seven games below it by the end of January. 0.500. Meanwhile, the Bulls ended the first month of 1996 with a 39-3 record.

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This laid the foundation for the Nuggets to once again shock the NBA world. On February 4, the Bulls traveled to Denver for the fourth game of a six-game Western Conference road trip. They haven’t lost a game since the day after Christmas, and all three of their losses so far this year have come against some of the best teams in the NBA: The Orlando Magic (win 60 games that year) , SuperSonics (win 64 games) and Indiana Pacers (win 52 games). Meanwhile, the Nuggets are getting Fonz back into the rotation after missing a season and a half. They fell just one and a half games out of a playoff spot and were looking to make the playoffs for the third consecutive year. They also have the benefit of a break, having two days off before Sunday’s home game.

Maybe it’s a road trip, maybe it’s a trap game (sandwiched between Magic Johnson’s Los Angeles Lakers and Charles Barkley’s Phoenix Suns), maybe it’s the famous 90s Denver nightlife….. .But for whatever reason, the Bulls were unprepared for what happened that night in Denver. The Nuggets started attacking Chicago early in the first half. Although Lauf was undersized compared to Chicago’s two 6-foot-6 starting guards, he got what he wanted. Generally speaking, he only needs cover from the three-point line. While scoring-first point guards with the green light will be commonplace in 2023, in 1996 it was fairly rare and Chicago struggled to find answers, even having Jordan personally slow down Lauf at times. Mahmoud scored 23 points in the first half, while McDyess and LaFonso Ellis provided Rodman, another outstanding defender, with everything he could handle. On the other end, Dirk was doing his thing, blocking the likes of Jordan and Pippen at the rim and gobbling up every rebound he could find. Before you know it, just halfway through the second quarter, the Nuggets lead by 31 points. The Bulls rallied a little before halftime, but Denver led 68-43 after two quarters…but Chicago had that Jordan guy.

Michael has never been a known three-point shooter. He’s certainly capable and had some memorable three-point moments (the shrug game against the Portland Trail Blazers), but that’s not the main thing about his game, like his athleticism as a young player and throughout his career. The same goes for late post games. He keeps you honest, but as a career 33% three-point shooter, that’s never been his specialty. But things were different in 1995-96. He’s shooting over 42 percent from three and taking 3.2 attempts per game, which isn’t a lot, but it’s the second-highest number of attempts per game in his career (he’s averaging 3.6 three-pointers per game next season). ). In the third quarter, his outside shooting knocked down multiple 3-pointers (he finished the night 4-7 from downtown) and sparked the Bulls’ comeback. With Pippen added, the Bulls went into halftime and the momentum completely shifted. Anyone who watched Jordan play knows that when he takes a jump shot and the momentum is on his side, it creates a huge danger for the opponent. He soon realized it was Dale Ellis guarding him and got to work. He dropped 22 points in the third quarter. As Mike cooked, the rest of the Bulls got in on the action and kept chipping away at the lead. Chicago outscored the Denver Nuggets 39-16 in the third quarter and took a one-point lead with less than a minute left in the fourth quarter on Pippen.


Fortunately, the Nuggets shook off their scare in the fourth quarter. McDyess, Lauf and Dale Ellis started shooting. Dirk had a powerful comeback and a terrible block on Jordan. Despite this, Michael did not leave. He kept Chicago in the game until the very end, dueling with Lauf and others. With less than a minute left, Mahmoud hit a long shot from the free throw line to give the Nuggets a four-point lead, and then Laphonso Ellis blocked Jordan’s shot at the other end. Dale Ellis’ mid-range jumper proved to be a dagger as the Nuggets snapped the Bulls’ eighteen-game winning streak.

In the end I think the Bulls had the last laugh. They lost only six more games that season (including the next game in Phoenix) and defeated the Sonics in six games in the NBA Finals. This will be Jordan’s first championship and Pippen’s second three-peat. At the same time, the Nuggets were on the verge of complete collapse. About a month later, Rauf refused to stand during the national anthem in protest of U.S. tyranny. This immediately sparked controversy and the Nuggets traded him that summer. That summer, Dirk left Atlanta for a payday in Denver, but Bickerstaff refused to give him his salary in Denver, and LaFonso ruptured his Achilles tendon the next season, marking the beginning of the end of his career in Denver. This may be the greatest thing in Nuggets history. A team built on drafting and development, with a generational talent center, a score-first guard who can shoot the roof off the building, and a forward with unstoppable scoring ability when he gets on the court. My gut tells me this strategy will work in the NBA. However, that didn’t work out for the ’90s Nuggets, and a shocking upset of the 95-96 Bulls ended up being the team’s last hurray.

Check out Justin Adams’ great interview with Laphonso about the game!

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