One of the most successful seasons in Nuggets history methodically built itself to greatness month-after-month. The 2008-09 Nuggets were a study in steadiness, consistency, and a near-perfect blend of high-scoring offense and disruptive defense.
The roster itself was “officially” complete when the Nuggets traded for Chauncey Billups just three games into the season. And Mr. Big Shot, coming back to Denver from Detroit, fit in seamlessly. The Nuggets, 1-3 at the time Billups played his first game with the Nuggets, won that game and never looked back.
With Billups, the Nuggets went 53-25 the remainder of the season. But more importantly, they had The Look. We’re talking about the look of a winner. There was talent already on the roster, led by Carmelo Anthony. But Billups gave the team the blueprint of how to win, the moxie to win games of all kinds, the steely nature to perform in the most pressure-packed moments, and the hunger to never get complacent. And defensively, Billups became the proverbial head of the snake of a Nuggets team that finished in the top 10 in defensive rating.
Along the way, they carved out a personality of a team that could not only beat opponents, but beat them up in the process. Billups, Dahntay Jones and Kenyon Martin were the core of a physical squad that could win 88-80, as they did over the Bobcats that season; or win 129-116, as they did over Golden State late that season. They ascended to the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference.
And in the playoffs, these Nuggets took off.
It started with a breeze in the first round. The Nuggets were too powerful for the Chris Paul and David West-led New Orleans Hornets. They not only won that series 4-1, but had a victory for the ages on the road in Game 4 in front of a stunned Hornets crowd. The Nuggets won that game by 58 – 58! – points, a margin of victory that still stands as tied for the largest win in NBA playoffs history.
The Mavericks were next.
Two games were competitive in that series, a fiery five-game affair between the two teams. Games 3 and 4 were decided by a total of three points – the Nuggets won one of them. Otherwise, Denver won every other game by an average of 13.3 points. Four more wins in five games. It was on to the conference finals to face Kobe Bryant and the Lakers.
After a Nuggets’ 19-point win in Game 4, the series stood tied at two games apiece. The Lakers pulled out the final two games, but the Nuggets had served notice that they were, in fact, a bonafide contender.
And the team was stuffed with memorable players. Billups and Melo and Martin. Nene and Birdman and Linas Kleiza. Jones and J.R. Smith and Anthony Carter. Players that lifted the Nuggets to just the franchise’s second appearance in the conference finals.
The 2008-09 team was Nuggets basketball at its best. It very nearly led them to the NBA Finals.