George Karl stopped short of calling tonight a must-win.
But the Denver Nuggets coach labeled it close to it.
With the Thunder up 1-0 heading into Game 2, the Nuggets’ main goal is evening the series with a win tonight before the series shifts to Denver for Games 3 and 4.
“We want to win this game,” Karl said. “I don’t think it’s a 100 percent must-win game, but I think it makes the series more the way we want it. Home court is something that we’d like to take from them and there’s no question that we’re anxious for that opportunity.”
Karl said his team has a “youthful anger” that he thinks will allow it to overcome Sunday’s defeat. And he added that he’s watched the film of Game 1 game roughly three times and has come away more impressed with his team’s performance after each viewing.
“Yesterday’s practice was very, very mean and ugly a little bit,” Karl said. “Some guys were pissed off and they decided to show it against on other. Hopefully, they show it tonight against Oklahoma City.”
As he had in the previous two days, Karl stressed that now is not a time for his Nuggets to panic, or even overreact to the Thunder taking the first game. His main reason for optimism was the scorching hot shooting by Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. The tandem scored a combined 72 points on 25 of 45 shooting. And according to Karl, the Thunder’s All-Star duo combined to make 18 of 25 jumpers, many of them, Karl said, were contested.
“If they shoot 18-for-40 I’d probably be a lot happier than 18-for-25 on jump shots,” Karl said. “They shot an incredibly high percentage, which I think is what you see in playoff games. The great players make tough shots. But I think they went a little above board on that.”
It appears Denver’s biggest hope is that Durant and Westbrook simply can’t possibly put together a repeat performance from Game 1.
“I think the guys saw that we did some things in a positive way,” Karl said. “And it was a tough loss.”
Karl said something very interesting prior to tonight’s game. When asked whether the possibility of Thunder coach Scott Brooks extending minutes to his stars would play into the hands of Denver’s depth, Karl said that particular asset of his team might not manifest itself until later in the series.
“Our depth isn’t going to show up in Game 1,” Karl said. “Our depth hopefully is going to show up in Game 6 or 7. Hopefully we can figure out how to get it to Game 6 or 7.”
Karl said before the game that he thinks Durant is in the top five or 10 players in the game in terms of jump-shooting ability.
“The thing is when he gets in a rhythm he has a mental toughness where what he does in the first three quarters doesn’t matter (when it comes) to what he does in the last five minutes,” Karl said. “That’s where he’s (improved).”