I am not entirely sure how the events of this night actually transpired, but what I do know is this game was exciting enough that even my wife was riveted.
The Denver Nuggets broke out a small ball long range assault that left the Philadelphia 76ers wondering where their 17 point third quarter lead (which was also a 12 point lead with just over eight minutes) disappeared to. With a fourth quarter lineup consisting of Chauncey Billups, Chucky Atkins, J.R. Smith, Linas Kleiza/Kenyon Martin and Nene Denver drilled seven three pointers in the final stanza to roar back and win a wild and wacky game.
We could dissect the X’s and O’s as much as energy as anything. The 76ers started the game with full court pressure, which I believe was the first time the Nuggets faced such a tactic right out of the gate. Early on Philly really pressured Chauncey wherever he went and with the absence of Carmelo Anthony it was obvious that he was the player they did not want to allow to beat them.
By after seemingly every Nuggets caught fire in the fourth quarter the Sixers had forgotten about Chauncey and were simply struggling challenge shots. With the game on the line and holding a one point lead with 17 seconds left Philly once again decided to attack Chauncey and they doubled him near half court after a pick from Kenyon Martin. Chauncey passed to a wide open Martin at the three point line who was completely startled with the vast openness of the lane before him. He drove to the rim nearly unchallenged and threw down a game winning dunk with nine seconds remaining. After playing such a solid defensive game it was shocking to see the 76ers just roll out the red carpet with the game on the line.
It was actually the second defensive breakdown in the last minute of the game for Philly. On the play before Kenyon’s dunk Chauncey drove off of a high screen from left to right at the top of the circle. Thaddeus Young hedged out and slowed him down. Samuel Dalembert also stepped up to help stop him and Chauncey stopped at the right elbow. Players are taught from the time they are very young that the ball is what kills you not the man. In other words, you want to cover the guy with the ball first and worry about someone else who may be open later because it is the guy with the ball who can score, not the man without it. Well, both Young and Dalembert left Chauncey to go back to their men leaving Billups open for an easy elbow jumper. Needless to say Andre Miller who had switched and was not struggling to recover back to guard Chauncey was quite distraught and the play only underlies the importance of communication on defense.
The Sixers were not done with mental errors though. Andre Iguodala traveled in the middle of the lane with only 2.9 seconds left to give the ball back over to Denver. Iguodala was playing to pass off to a teammate when he spun into the lane, but much to his surprise saw two teammates standing and watching giving him nowhere to pass off to. The final mental mistake came as Miller was called for loitering around the free throw line prior to Chucky Atkins shooting his first free throw after Philly fouled on the inbounds play. (If memory serves the NBA instituted a rule that you could not attempt to intimidate a free throw shooter after LeBron James hung around saying God knows what in front of Gilbert Arenas before two crucial free throws late in a playoff game after which Arenas missed both free throws and the Cavs won by one.) Altitude never showed a replay from the midcourt camera, but I by watching from the baseline camera you can see Miller come waking into the lane in front of Atkins after Chucky was set to shoot. Atkins backed off while Miller slowly walked back out of the lane towards the three point line. Miller was talking the entire time, but I am not sure if it was directed towards Atkins, a ref or his teammates. Regardless of who he was communicating with the ref had seen enough and called the T. As a result the Nuggets had an extra free throw and after three makes Denver was up four points instead of three and any hope for a tying three pointer went out the window.
As I mentioned in the game thread I had written the game off a couple of times in the second half and even after Denver heated up in the fourth quarter Philly kept hitting shots and it seemed like Denver would fall short even after their hot fourth quarter shooting, but in the last minute it was the Nuggets who kept their composure and made plays.
Other Observations from Game 30:
- Denver scored 37 fourth quarter points and only six of them came on two pointers. Only Martin’s dunk was scored inside the paint.
- J.R. Smith continued to pick up the offensive slack with Melo out of the lineup. He did a good job of mixing up his shots when he had the ball and only forced one three pointer. If he could be accused of forcing anything it would be forcing drives as he missed a couple of tough shots from near the rim though they were high degree of difficulty attempts.
- Nene has been incredibly efficient over the last four games. Since the Cleveland game, where he was a non factor, Nene has scored 69 shots on only 36 attempts. Anything over 1.25 points per shot is impressive and Nene’s 1.92 over those four games is out of this world. Oh, by the way, he is averaging almost 13 rebounds a game since the Cleveland game as well.
- Chauncey and Nene shot 22 free throws, the rest of the Nuggets took three and two of those were by Atkins when he was fouled at the end of the game to stop the clock.
- For those of us who like seeing Renaldo Balkman on the court he got just over six minutes of playing time. He did not play incredibly well, but it takes a while to get back into the swing of things after sitting out all but four minutes of the previous six games. He did manage to be credited with four offensive boards.
- Speaking of taking a while to get in the swing of things, after playing significant minutes for the third straight game Atkins may have found his shot. I have always supported playing Anthony Carter over Atkins, but the way Carter is turning the ball over this season, and turnovers were a major issue for the Nuggets tonight, Atkins has a window to win me over.
- I am not sure if Karl knew it would work or if he was out of ideas, but he deserves credit for sticking with his small lineup even after Philly pushed their lead back into double digits about four minutes into the fourth quarter. After Denver started hitting shots it slowed down the Sixers running game which was a key to their big lead in the second half.
- Philly was hot from behind the arc. How hot were they? Even Andre Miller made one and for Andre to hit one he has to be absolutely red hot. In fact, after missing all of their three point attempts in their previous three games they made five against Denver.
- The 76ers played very well, but they put up two of the worst shots I may have ever seen from the lane. Mareese Speights, who is going to be a very good player, airballed a dunk attempt. He tried throwing down a monster one handed windmill, but he was a little too far away and came up a little. As a result he spiked the ball and it went out of bounds. Louis Williams, who I think can be a very good player one day too, one upped him though. After driving baseline along the baseline from left to right tried throwing up a reverse layup that was so far off he shot it on the wrong side of the backboard. He missed so badly that it did not even hit any part of the rigging holding the backboard up.
Razzle Dazzle Game Stats
The pace factor was typical for a Nuggets home game at 95.6.
The Nuggets defense was a little subpar for most of the night, but they clamped down enough in the fourth quarter to edge their defensive efficiency down to 105.6 which is near their season average.
Denver’s fourth quarter explosion also pushed their offensive efficiency up near their average as it ended up at 109.8