I could not have been more excited at halftime of this game. The Denver Nuggets had weathered a predictable early flurry by the Houston Rockets and then took the game over in the second quarter. They were attacking the rim, working for good shots and flying around on defense.
Things changed considerably in the third quarter. There are games where the team comes out after halftime a changed team and everyone says to someone nearby, I guess the coach really let them have it. Well a neurosurgeon must have let them have it because the Nuggets came out lobotomized in the third quarter. I honestly think you can count the number of good shots the Nuggets took in the entire second half on one hand.
The Nuggets still respond to defensive resistance with decreased effort instead of increased effort. Instead of settling for the jumpers a good defense like the Rockets was giving them they need to work even harder to break down the defense with off the ball movement and unselfish passing. The Nuggets chose the easy way out. They would try to do the right thing, but when it proved to be difficult their offense became more perimeter oriented than a doughnut (you know, nothing in the middle).
They also started slipping almost every screen. Scott Hastings did a good job to point out on television the vast difference between the screens set by Yao and the screens set by the Nuggets big men. More often than not there was no contact whatsoever leaving the ball handler with few options.
Still as poorly as Denver was playing they were still within three a couple of minutes into the fourth quarter and with five minutes left the lead was only five.
As painful as the second half was to watch the most shockingly disappointing aspect of this game was how badly Aaron Brooks dominated Chauncey Billups. Brooks found his way to the paint so easily Chauncey should have changed his name to Poland. On the other end of the floor Billups was completely flustered by Brooks speed as well. Chauncey has a great post game, but he could not get Brooks pinned down to receive an entry pass. When he tried to back Brooks down Brooks tipped the ball away and almost created a turnover.
Chauncey only exacerbated things with his shot selection. It may not be fair to skewer Chauncey like that because he is the reason why Denver is where they are, but Brooks dominated him so completely I could not ignore it.
The players were not the only ones to drop the ball in the second half. I thought George Karl made two major errors down the stretch and they both occurred at the same time. One was removing J.R. Smith instead of Anthony Carter when Chauncey came back in the game with 6:49 left in the game. Then with Billups and Carter in the game together the Nuggets matched up completely wrong with Billups remaining on Brooks and Carter covering the bigger Tracy McGrady.
It is easy to write this game off. Second half of a back to back. The Rockets are healthy again. The Rockets just hit their shots in the second half. Houston got all the calls in the second half. Yao, McGrady and Artest were all on their game. I think all of those things are true, but this was a winnable game and the best teams in the league win more of these games than they loose. Denver still has four games in this six game stretch to prove themselves and I will expect the best out of Denver in each of those four games.
Other Observations from Game 25
- Once again J.R. Smith was the best Nugget in the second half. He did take a horrible three that resulted in a three pointer for Houston that was a big part of the momentum swing that came in the middle of the third quarter, but he was the only one who did not settle for jumper after jumper.
- The Nugget who did the best job on Yao was Chris Andersen. He was the only Nugget big man who started fighting for position with Yao early in the possession and as a result he kept him out of the paint. Nene and Kenyon were content to let Yao pick his spot and then they started holding their position. That is just asking for trouble and was a big reason why Yao dominated so thoroughly.
- We have all been hard on Linas Kleiza, but he played a very good game.
- The Nuggets have had to deal with hot players like Dirk Nowitzki and Tracy McGrady over the past two games yet we have not had a single Renaldo Balkman sighting.
- Apparently it was Rosie O'Donnell wig night in Houston. Oh wait, I was wrong. It was Luis Scola wig night. I got a little confused. Sorry about that Luis.
- Kenyon Martin did not play in the fourth quarter and I am not sure why. Karl did try to go small, especially at the end, but I do not know if Karl was unahppy with Martin's play, if his wrist was bothering him or if there was anothe reason for his absence.
- OK, here is the key stretch in the third quarter where the Nuggets lost the game. Dahntay Jones made a fast break dunk to put Denver up 67-60 with eight minutes left in the third quarter, then the roof caved in. Houston hit a three thanks to the fact that both Kenyon and Dahntay ran at McGrady leaving Battier wide open in the corner and the Nuggets offense went into doughnut mode.
- Melo takes a three with 15 seconds on the shot clock
- Nene looses ball on dunk attempt
- Out of a timeout Kenyon makes a runner in the lane
- Chauncey takes a horrible one handed leaning 15 footer with 16 seconds on the shot clock, Nuggets corral the rebound and then Melo gets the ball on the right wing dribbles across the court to the left wing, drives into the lane, over penetrates and has no choice to dump the ball off to Nene who looses it out of bounds with 14 seconds still on the shot clock
- J.R.’s aforementioned disastrous step back three pointer with 12 seconds on the shot clock
- Melo fiddles with the ball at the top of the circle, drives and throws up an right handed runner while flying in the air forward and slightly to the left, Nene tips in the miss
- Kenyon gets a pass from Chauncey on the right wing (in all honestly as soon as he caught it I thought, he is going to take a bad jumper) and even though he was isolated with the slower Luis Scola and has a deadly right handed push shot in his arsenal he settles for a jump shot that misses
- Chauncey takes a decent 18 footer, but he does it with 19 on the shot clock and of course, it misses
- Finally the string is broken with a fast break lay in by Melo
- However, it picks up again as Chauncey takes a three with 20 on the shot clock
The end result a 21-7 Houston run that for all intents and purposes was the deciding segment of the game. The sequence included six jumpers, five of which I would classify as bad shots and two turnovers.
- On one of Yao’s second half buckets he entered the lane with 17 seconds on the shot clock and took his shot with 11 seconds on the shot clock. I was pretty good at math in school and I am confident that that means he was in the lane for more than three seconds. And I am not talking his big toe was hanging over the line. He was planted in the middle of the lane.
- One last (disturbing) thought. The Nuggets starters were a combined -94, while the bench was a combined +34. No starter had a positive plus/minus and no bench player had a negative one.
Razzle Dazzle Game Stats
The pace factor was a season low 82.8. Incredibly slow.
The Nuggets defensive efficiency was a season high (or season low depending on how you look at it) 130.5. Incredibly bad.
As a result of the slow pace the Nuggets posted a very good offensive efficiency of 116.0. Thanks mostly to their scoring explosion in the third quarter.