I thought the Nuggets had the personnel to fill in for a suspended Carmelo Anthony. I know I was right, but in reality, I was wrong. They desperately needed someone to step up and deliver a special offensive game. They did not get it and ultimately, they lost because of it.
Allen Iverson got off to a solid start offensively reaching double figures early in the second quarter, but he ended up with only 18 points for the game. He had an efficient night scoring those 18 points on only 13 shots and he tallied eight assists, including the first time he has passed the ball to the roller on the pick and roll twice in the same game since he joined the Nuggets.
J.R. Smith scored 17 points and made seven of his 14 shots including three of seven from downtown. Not bad, but not great. Not enough to make up for Melo’s absence.
Linas Kleiza was another player with the offensive talents to have a nice game and help cushion the loss of Melo. Kleiza actually was as much of a no show as Melo shooting one for eight and missing all four of his three point attempts.
Nene would be next on the list of players who might have stepped up and gave some extra juice on offense. He only played 26 minutes before fouling out. He was most effective posting or showing in the lane either after a cut by one of his teammates or off a pick and roll. Nene did score 11 points making four of his seven shots, but he certainly did not ad anything above and beyond what you would expect from him.
Kenyon Martin had a nice first half, but like AI, did not provide much offense in the second. Anthony Carter also did a little more than his typical average from a scoring standpoint posting 13 points, but he only had two assists.
No one stepped up and the Nuggets lost out on a chance to steal a game from the Jazz.
On the other end of the floor, the Nuggets did show a better understanding of team defense concepts. I have written before that they are not going to turn into the Celtics overnight, but if they can simply adhere to sound defensive principles (keep track of your man on the weak side, be ready to help, do not take silly risks and know your rotational responsibilities) they can be a much stronger defensive team.
Obviously there were lapses, missed rotations and breakdowns, but it is clear they have the foundation for being a solid defensive team.
The one area they must work on is their ball watching after shots. They would play sound defense and then neglect getting in position for the rebound. All too often you would see a Utah player sneak inside a Nugget to get in position to steal an offensive board. I believe they almost missed Melo’s rebounding as much as his scoring tonight.
What we will remember from this game though is what transpired over the last 40 seconds.
With the Nuggets down three Kleiza hit his only shot of the night. It appeared to be a three pointer to tie the game. However, Kleiza’s right foot was barely over the line making it a run of the mill two pointer. It was a point the Nuggets would desperately miss down the stretch.
The next blow to the Nuggets chances was a lane violation call on Chris Andersen on a missed free throw by one of the best free throw shooters in the NBA, Kyle Korver. Instead of Nugget ball down two, they were down three after he was awarded the redo. Some fans and commentators thought the lane violation was a bogus call, but there was no doubt Andersen was in the lane early and he made no attempt to withdraw his foot. I have a difficult time arguing with that call. The sad thing is the Birdman did the exact same thing on the next free throw.
Between Kleiza’s foot and Andersen’s foot the Nuggets lost two points in the last 40 seconds of a tight game.
The most frustrating of all the possessions in the last minute was the final chance for the Nuggets to tie the game. The Nuggets had the ball with eight seconds left, down three and had no timeouts left. In that situation the players have to know what the plan is. There must be a prepared play or set that everyone knows to run. They had eight seconds, plenty of time to get the ball up the floor and get the shot they want.
Instead of having AI, Kleiza or J.R. run some motion to get open, AI ran up the floor and passed off the Kenyon with about five seconds left. Kenyon then shot a three with over four seconds left on the clock.
You can imagine the result of that shot.
The breakdowns were legion on that last play. George Karl bears blame for not having the team prepared for a situation where they need a three with less than ten seconds left and no timeouts.
Iverson bears blame for actually passing the ball to Kenyon. Martin should not have the ball in that situation. Even if he realizes he should not shoot the ball, he cannot create anything for anyone else.
J.R. bears blame for simply standing in the corner and not making himself available for a pass. Smith has shown the desire to make the big shot down the stretch to the point where he gets in trouble for forcing bad threes. Tonight, he pretty much took himself out of the play on his own.
It was a very frustrating way to see the game decided on.
Ultimately, I still believe this was a game the Nuggets should have won. There is no shame in taking a loss at Utah, and they showed some fortitude by coming back from a 14 point defecit late in the third quarter, but if this team wants to prove the prognosticators wrong it is games like this they need to win.
Other Observations from Game 1:
- J.R. Smith really forced some shots early in the game. He took six long jumpers before he finally made a nice move to take even just a midrange jumper. He finally attacked the rim late in the third, early in the fourth and again late in the fourth and he scored relatively easily all three times. The interesting thing was he drove to his left all three times. Just another sign J.R. is blossoming on offense. However, had he played with that mentality from the start the Nuggets would have had a much better chance of winning. J.R. was the player in the best position to explode on offense with AI still slightly hobbled, but he played a far too perimeter oriented game. He also should have been involved in more pick and rolls as he does a good job either scoring or making the correct decision. J.R. did show that he is ready to be a key player for the Nuggets on both ends of the floor. In addition to his good offense, he played some strong defense. He clearly has a better understanding of team defense philosophies and his responsibilities as he was usually in the right place at the right time. He also got out on the perimeter and pestered Andrei Kirilenko on a few possessions that left AK-47 looking to his teammates for some help. Overall a very solid game for J.R., but a game that left me wanting a little more from him.
- I will always hate the Jazz, but I think I hated them a little less without Matt Harpring gooning the game up.
- Renaldo Balkman did exactly what the Nuggets need him to do. He came in the game, played solid defense, made a couple of big plays and made a mark on the game. He played less than eight minutes, but he led the Nuggets in plus/minus with a plus ten. Nuggets fans are going to like Balkman and whether he plays eight minutes or twenty, he will be an asset. I would be surprised if he is not playing at least fifteen minutes a game by mid December.
- Iverson is clearly not fully healthy. He does not have his typical explosion with the ball and I think that is why he was more content to look for the screener rolling to the hoop on the pick and roll.
- I thought both Kenyon and Nene could handle Carlos Boozer on the block, but Kenyon really struggled against Boozer. Nene did pretty well, but he was in foul trouble and could not defend Boozer full time because of it.
- Did anyone else notice Karl was up off his seat and giving it to the refs in the fourth quarter? That is a good sign for the Nuggets, because like it or not, Karl is the coach for at least the 2008-09 season. Hopefully he will get back to the aggressive coaching style that won him so many games in Seattle.
- I am pretty sure the Nuggets did not play one possession of zone defense and I am OK with that. They seem to be challenging themselves to be a better defensive team and I like the mindset.
- Anthony Carter played 36 minutes. I was hoping that his court time would be decreased with J.R. Smtih’s increased role, but due to the struggles by Kleiza and Dahntay Jones Karl played J.R. at small forward quite a bit the result being Carter staying on the floor. Carter played pretty well, but he did have two huge unforced turnovers late in the game.
- After allowing Kyle Korver to get the ball and shoot free throws on the third to last possession, the Nuggets, AI in particular, did a very good job of recognizing where Korver was and D-ing him up to make sure someone else was going to get the inbounds pass and shoot the free throws.
- The Nuggets only gathered seven offensive rebounds as it seemed they were very quick to retreat after the shot went up. I imagine that was by design, but the question is with the Jazz playing without Deron Williams, why?
- The Nuggets were outrebounded and you can certainly say they missed Marcus Camby on the glass, but once the players get used to the fact that all five of them need to get on the boards I think they will be OK.
Make sure you head on over to SLC Dunk for some great blogging from the Jazz perspective.
Next game is Friday in Los Angeles against the Clippers who lost to their roommates by 38 tonight.