Kenyon Martin's Late-Game Blunders Prove the Difference for Denver

Ben GibsonSenior Analyst IMay 24, 2009

DENVER - MAY 23:  Kenyon Martin #4 of the Denver Nuggets sits on the bench after losing to the Los Angeles Lakers 103-97 in Game Three of the Western Conference Finals during the 2009 NBA Playoffs at Staples Center on May 23, 2009 in Denver, Colorado. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)

Kenyon Martin has certainly had an interesting postseason in 2009.

The Denver Nuggets forward has gained national attention for his spat with Mavericks owner Mark Cuban.

After last night though, that might be the least of his worries.

Now he must live with the shame of knowing that his late-game blunders cost the Nuggets a chance to win a critical game three against the Los Angeles Lakers at home.

I mean to take nothing away from the skill and career of Martin, both of which are spectacular.  However, those final two minutes were full of mistakes that will leave Nuggets fans wondering what could have been.

Let's take a little trip down memory lane for the last two minutes of game three shall we?

First, Martin becomes overly aggressive and reaches across Lamar Odom for an offensive rebound that leads to a foul being called.

You have to admire his hustle.  Certainly a rebound would have done wonders for the Nuggets, but Odom has position and you have to be smarter than that.

As a result, the 93-92 Denver lead is in jeopardy when Odom goes to the line.  Fortunately for Martin, Odom misses one and the game is only tied with 1:46 to go.

Mistake two comes with 56.9 seconds to go.

After Kobe Bryant has hit an unbelievably clutch three-pointer with the shot clock winding down, Chauncey Billups makes a great move and hands Martin the ball to lay in and reclaim the lead for Denver.

Martin, with a clear path, misses a chip shot that would have made the score 97-96 Denver with under a minute to go.

Instead, the shot clangs off the iron and Gasol nets his 11th rebound of the game.

An opportunity lost and frustration gained for Denver.

Then Bryant is able to coax J.R. Smith in and draw contact.

Even then though, Bryant leaves the door open for Denver by missing the second free throw, making the score 97-95 Lakers.

Well, then comes the play we all know about.

Just like game one, Denver cannot even get the ball inbounds.  Coach George Karl has learned from his mistakes and instead of the diminutive Anthony Carter in-bounding he uses Martin.

The first try, Denver has poor movement and has to call a timeout leaving only one left.

The second time, Odom's defense on Martin makes him throw a bad pass towards Carmelo Anthony which is picked off by Trevor Ariza.

Worse yet, the play forced Anthony to commit his sixth and final foul.  This meant that the Laker defense could focus solely on Billups late in the game. 

They could slow him down and nearly guarantee a win.

One bad decision equals ball-game.

Granted, Odom played stout defense and his teammates could have helped Martin more, but those are three moments where a positive play by K-Mart would have shifted the momentum in this entire series.

In total, Martin finished the game with six points and seven rebounds and three game-changing mistakes. 

Certainly he was not the only one to err in the final minutes, nor will he be the last.  However, Martin's actions in the last two minutes represent a microcosm of what most of think of when we fear the Nuggets are not ready to take the next step.

We all know the ability of Billups and Anthony. One superstar is a proven winner and the other is developing before our very eyes.

However, basketball is still a five-on-five sport.  If the pieces around them do not make the right decisions and handle adversity correctly, they will not win this series.

Martin and Smith are two emotional players and that can work both ways.  When things are going well they can push Denver over-the-top towards unforeseen heights.

When things go bad though, they have to show the fortitude to take it in stride.

Championship teams are made through adversity and the Nuggets certainly have it.  Martin has had many great playoff moments in his career, he has the ability to bounce back from this.

The question is, will he?

Can the Nuggets maintain composure after nearly winning two of the first three games?

Can they overcome the heartache and provide some for the Lakers and their fans?


The latest in the sports world, emailed daily.