I mentioned in my preview that Ben Gordon had not really enjoyed playing in the Pepsi Center. He entered tonight’s contest with a career shooting percentage of 33%. After his performance tonight I bet he cannot wait to return next season. Gordon scored 28 points on only 13 shots and was the key player in the Bulls attempt at earning an upset victory over the Denver Nuggets.
The Nuggets did not play their best game, but they did what good teams do and that is close out a close game like they have done against the Clippers, Mavs, Bobcats, Timberwolves and Celtics. In less than two minutes of game time in the fourth quarter the Nuggets went from down two to up ten. They accomplished that feat by doing two things. Guarding Ben Gordon and passing the ball.
It was a little frustrating to see the Nuggets in a dog fight at home against a team we all know they are superior to, but the Bulls were able to make it a close game thanks to some hot shooting by Drew Gooden and Ben Gordon. In the 30 minutes of game time from the end of the first quarter to midway through the fourth Gooden and Gordon scored 47 of the Bulls 78 points. If either one of those guys has even an average game the Nuggets win this one easy. This is the NBA thought and there are going to be plenty of nights when players simply play great basketball. Quality teams overcome those nights and the Nuggets did so tonight.
Ideally when a couple of players are hot your defense can adjust and make things tougher on them. The Nuggets were playing pretty solid defense on Gooden and I think they expected him to cool off as long as they continued to pressure him. Gordon is a different animal he will hit shots all night long. Denver did a good job of focusing their defense on Gordon in the fourth quarter and that was the difference in the game. Anthony Carter deserves a ton of credit for coming in the game and hounding Gordon all over the court. Gordon is a good defensive matchup for Carter as he is an undersized two guard and Carter loves the challenge of shutting down a star player. As good as Carter was, it really was a team effort. They were all ready to help on screens and on one instance Nene actually pushed Gordon at least ten feet past the three point line until Carter could catch up.
The proof as to how the Nuggets cranked up the defense in the fourth quarter was in the Bulls shooting. They went from shooting 47.0% after three quarters to 41.6% by the end of the game. The Nuggets held the Bulls to 6-23 shooting in the fourth quarter.
Offensively, the Nuggets were great in the first half. They ran the offense through Melo who did a stellar job of passing the ball to cutters. In the second quarter Melo had four assists and only attempted one shot. He is starting to realize how much better he can be by paying as much attention to rebounding, passing and defending as he does to scoring. Over the previous six games Melo is averaging 10.3 rebounds and 5.0 assists. Those are numbers I can get excited about.
Another huge key on offense was the way the Nuggets ran, but did rush. Tonight’s game was a perfect example of running when you can without playing at a fast pace. In order to lead the league in pace as the Nuggets typically do you have to take shots early in the shot clock, whether it is on a fast break or not. The key to offensive efficiency is running when the opportunity presents itself while not cheapening your half court opportunities by taking quick shots and that is what the Nuggets did tonight.
Denver had 29 fast break points, but the pace factor from the game was only 97.3. They scored a plethora of fast break points without the pace entering triple digits. 97.3 is a relatively fast pace, but not to the extent of how fast they played in at home in the past. The Nuggets are still a team with the capability to run and they did a great job of scoring in transition when the opportunity presented itself. But they are also a team built to score in the half court, which could not be said over the previous couple of seasons. Once they get thing figured out, they should be one of the most efficient offensive teams in the league.
And oh by the way, the Nuggets shot 54.1%.
Tonight’s game was not perfect, but they won a game that could have gone either way. They got back to their defensive mindset, especially in the fourth quarter and hopefully realized how much easier offense can be when everyone is moving (although that is a lesson that has been learned and unlearned over and over in the past by this team).
Other Observations from Game 14:
- The play that really got Gordon going was a three he took with just under three minutes left in the first quarter. The catch is he shot it during a dead ball situation. Before he hit that three pointer he was 0-1 with zero points, but after it he was 7-12 with five threes accumulating all of his 28 points.
- I mentioned the Nuggets did a very good job on Gordon in the fourth quarter, but he did make two big shots back to back to put the Bulls up 96-92. Both of them were due to mental defensive breakdowns by the Nuggets. The first one was in transition and J.R. Smith was laying off of Gordon as he brought the ball up the floor to take away the drive. The problem was Anthony Carter was just a few feet behind him ready to help on the drive and was telling J.R. to step out to take away the three. J.R. never did and Gordon splashed an easy trey. The second three pointer came in another transition situation where Balkman was caught out on Gordon. Drew Gooden came out to set the a high screen and Kenyon Martin, doing his best Marcus Camby impersonation, stayed back in the paint and provided no help whatsoever. To make things worse Renaldo Balkman actually went under the screen leaving Gordon wide open. Honestly, that play is more Kenyon’s fault than Balkman’s. Balkman should have tried fighting over the top, but if Kenyon is where he is supposed to be hedging on the screen Balkman could have gotten away with going underneath the pick. Regardless, it was a poor play by two of the Nuggets more defensive minded individuals.
- I may have missed the final score by about 40 points, but I did get one quasi prediction correct in my game preview. The Nuggets probably could have let Larry Hughes shoot from behind the three point line all night long without it hurting them. He ended up shooting 1-6.
- The Nuggets had a stretch late in the fourth quarter where they scored on ten of 11 possessions and they were by running their half court offense.
- Melo did a great job of jumping in the lane to rebound when his teammates were shooting free throws. After getting inside Joakim “The Ugly Stepsister” Noah a handful of times Noah resorted to the chest to chest box out, a play I that I have no idea how it could possibly be legal, but is hardly ever called a foul especially on free throws. I wanted to see how Noah planned on grabbing the ball with both hands crammed into Melo’s chest if it bounced to him.
- With 47.9 seconds left in the game Kenyon Martin got to do his version of the Sam Cassell testicle dance. Based on his interpretation Kenyon only has one nut or else he was trying to do some Big Lebowski bowling ball thing, but I will be happy to give him some time to work on it. The sequence that lead to his little dance recital was fun to watch. The Nuggets rebounded a miss with 1:43 left on the clock and they did not relinquish the ball until there was only 47.9 seconds left. Kenyon grabbed one offensive rebound and then tipped a second one to Melo after which Martin hit a three pointer to cap his 10-10 shooting performance and break out said dance.
Razzle Dazzle Game Stats
As I mentioned earlier the pace factor was 97.3 bringing their season factor to 94.2. That is good for seventh in the league, but seriously below the pace they have traditionally played at.
The Nuggets defensive efficiency for the game was 103.5 and has brought their rating for the season up to 102.5 which is safely in the top ten.
On the other end of the floor the Nuggets posted their second best offensive effort of the season with an offensive efficiency rating of 117.2. That raises their season rating to 104.9.
Make sure you check out Blog a Bull for more great coverage of tonight’s exciting and therapeutic win.