I am going to be a mess by the end of this six game stretch. Even with a double digit lead in the fourth quarter and armed with the belief that the Denver Nuggets were the better team which had been solidified by everything I had seen during the game up to that point I was still on pins and needles. Jason Terry hit a three to cut the lead to ten and I made so much noise my wife came running to see what just happened half expecting to find out a loved one had just died.
Needless to say she left the room wondering why she married me when I finally admitted what actually happened. After all, they were still up by ten. I think I may be a little too fired up about the next nine days.
The Nuggets are definitely crafting a road identity and it is showing in their 8-4 mark away from the Pepsi Center. They are playing a more responsible game as they are content to work the shot clock to earn a good shot and rely on their defense to carry them to victory. Denver’s offense suffered from some inconsistent play, but the defense was there almost the entire game. They did a great job of chasing Jason Terry and crowding him on the perimeter. When he ventured in the paint he had no space to operate. He still tallied 19 points, but he was not the game changing force he has been for the Mavericks over their 9-2 streak. Anthony Carter deserves a lot of credit for how well he hounded Terry when he was in the game. Carter is probably the best Nugget of trailing a shooter around screens and arriving at the end of the route at nearly the same time as the ball does.
The Nuggets also did a good job of frustrating Dirk Nowitzki. Whether it was Kenyon Martin, Nene or Carmelo Anthony covering him, they were very physical and did a pretty good job forcing Dirk into difficult shots. Apart from a short stretch to start the second half Dirk was pretty well neutralized.
In that third quarter spurt, led by Nowitzki, the Mavs played with a great deal of intensity, but it was not a level they could sustain for a very long period of time. The Nuggets bent, but they did not break and after Dallas went on a 26-4 run to tie the game at 65 Denver collected themselves and put together a 10-4 run of their own to reassert some control once again. Then J.R. Smith took over and the Mavs were toast.
The Nuggets opened the door a little in the fourth quarter when they went into a dry spell for over four minutes, but Dallas could not take advantage with Nowitzki out of bullets, Terry being hounded all over the floor and Kidd virtually nonexistent. In fact there was a stretch from 7:20 of the fourth quarter until the 3:15 mark where neither team made a shot from the field.
Apart from that hot streak Dirk had early in the second half, Denver really dominated this game and for the first time in years I think it is safe to say Denver has moved ahead of the Mavericks in the Western Conference pecking order.
Tomorrow night they have a chance to make the same statement to the Rockets. Denver won a back and forth contest at home earlier this season and a win tomorrow would entrench the Nuggets ahead of the Rockets in that same pecking order.
Other Observations from Game 24:
- Carmelo was making me absolutely nuts in the third quarter. He let himself get caught up in a personal battle with Devin George. Instead of keeping the ball moving, he turned most of the third quarter into a mano a mano contest. The Nuggets offense bogged down and it took an explosive fourth quarter from J.R. Smith to get the Nuggets offense out of the rut Melo put it in.
- Speaking of Smith I was not sure how much he was going to play because I did not think he was a very good defensive matchup on Terry, but he basically delivered the knock out blow to the Mavericks in the fourth quarter. He scored 17 of his 25 points in the fourth including ten in the first three and a half minutes. He almost singlehandedly pushed the lead from four to a game high of 16. I mentioned the Nuggets opened the door for a Mavs comeback by going scoreless for four minutes in the fourth quarter and honestly Smith played a role in that as he tried to force things offensively that were not there. Smith will go from a good player to a great player when he realizes that even when he is on, he can use his immense powers to set up his teammates and not just to see how many points he can pour in. The Mavs were completely keying on him, yet he took bad shots on a couple of drives instead of dishing off to any one of his open teammates.
- The Nuggets have already clinched a tie with the Mavs for the season series, but I believe they will certainly win at least one of the two games left to clinch the tiebreaker in case it should come into play.
- I try not to get into officiating, but I thought the refs got a little caught up in the Mavericks run in the third quarter and started calling the game in their favor. Denver showed some very good mental toughness and pushed through it.
- Melo made me crazy with about a minute and a half left in the game. Dallas tipped a rebound out of bounds giving Denver a fresh shot clock and the ability to run it down close to a minutes before taking a shot. Instead Melo got the ball in the post and was called for an offensive foul for hooking Dirk in his effort to drive around the double team. What made it a truly horrible play was he made the move with 18 seconds left on the shot clock. That was completely asinine and selfish.
- The Mavs have some very good shooters in Dirk and Terry, but they are not a great shooting team. The Nuggets forced them to play a completely perimeter oriented game and Dallas only scored 14 points in the paint. I do not track points in the paint, but I never remember seeing a team below 30 points in the paint, let alone belwo 20! Nene, Chris Andersen and Kenyon Martin deserve a great deal of credit for the way they shut down the lane tonight.
Razzle Dazzle Game Stats
The pace factor was right about where the numbers said it would be at 93.1, in line with the Mavs season average and just a tad quicker than the Nuggets road pace factor of 91.7.
The Nuggets defensive efficiency continued to improve. With a rating of 94.5 it was the fourth time in the last six games where Denver posted a sub 100 defensive efficiency. For the season their defensive efficiency is 103.0 and they are knocking on the door of the top five. Tonight was also the ninth time this season they held an opponent below 40% shooting.
The Nuggets had a sluggish offensive night by their new lofty standards, but they still managed their 14th straight game with an offensive efficiency over 100 with a 105.3.