Like Rosie O’Donnell’s midsection the Nuggets season rolls on for another day.
The Nuggets are not in the playoffs yet, but if they cannot make it from here it will be a big disappointment.
It would have been easy to be down after the first quarter when the Nuggets come out soft and a little unsure of themselves and found themselves down 37-21 before AI closed out the scoring in the first quarter with a free throw. Fortunately I have watched a lot of Golden State games this season and I knew that they would let the Nuggets back in.
I just did not expect it to happen so quickly.
With the start of the second quarter came a 21-1 Nuggets run and a brand new game.
How did the tables turn so quickly? Believe it or not, it was thanks to the Nuggets defense. They switched to a zone and it took Golden State a good six or seven minutes before they figured out how to beat it, which really should not have been difficult.
The Nuggets zone was a 2-3, but because the Warriors had no player that demanded the Nuggets’ attention in the paint it was more like a 2-1-2 or 3-2. Eduardo Najera, who was the middle man on the baseline, spent more time at the top of the circle than in the paint. Golden State resorted to shooting jumpers instead of sending cutters behind Najera and hitting the men in the corners and as a result, they did not score a field goal for more than six minutes.
On the other end of the floor it was J.R. Smith and Allen Iverson who lead the Nuggets anemic offense back to life.
For the rest of the first half and most of the third quarter the game was pretty close. To start off the third Carmelo was the big scorer for Denver as he put up eight points during a five minute stretch early on with a variety of jumpers. Then once again, J.R. and AI took over and brought the Nuggets home.
In a game full of surprises, perhaps the most surprising thing was how relatively tame the Warrior’s final surge was. The Nuggets biggest lead of 17 points came smack dab in the middle of the fourth quarter.
Golden State went on a quick 9-0 run and it looked as if they may make things very interesting, but they could not get any closer than eight points until Monta Ellis two free throws with 57 seconds left to make the score 112-105. Golden State stole the ball on the Nuggets next possession and had a chance to cut the lead to four with a three, but Keleena Azibuike took a two point shot that hit hard off the back of the rim. AI grabbed the rebound, pushed the ball up the floor and hit Melo in the lane for an easy dunk to seal the game.
Golden State had a few chances to draw things closer, but had a Baron Davis three just rim out with a couple of minutes left and Ellis had a layup barely roll off the rim before he was fouled that would have given him a shot at a three point play.
The bottom line is Denver hit the shots and made the stops against a very good team in a difficult place to play.
And if they can win two of their last three games, they will get a chance to prove themselves once again in the playoffs.
Other Observations From Game 79:
- While watching the Clippers play man to man against Denver for the entire game reader RyanBuff posted a comment wondering if the Clippers watch film. Denver has clearly struggled scoring against zone defenses lately, especially against the Kings. However, the Clippers did not play any zone, or at least very little zone, and Golden State made the same mistake. There were only short stretches where Golden State played any zone. Before the game on the Nuggets radio broadcast I heard Don Nelson say that it was a player’s league and at this point coaches can only lose games, they cannot win them. Well, I think Nelson’s desire to let the Warriors play man to man defense for about 40 minutes of the game may have lost the game for Golden State.
- There were a lot of empty seats up until the midpoint of the first quarter, but ironically, the first quarter was when Golden State played their best.
- I mentioned how good the Nuggets zone was with Eduardo in the middle as opposed to Camby. Look at the plus/minus stat in the box score. The difference between when Najera was on the floor and when Marcus was on the floor was 32 points! The difference was not only in Najera’s ability to play towards the top of the key in the zone defense, but in their offensive output. Najera scored ten points including two big threes in the second quarter. Camby was 2-7 and started the game off horribly with three of the softest attempts at finishing you will ever see by a big man. Marcus followed up a very energetic game with another relative dud.
- We have yet to discuss how Golden State was able to dominate the offensive glass. They ended up with 14 more offensive boards than the Nuggets did and that was a big factor in allowing the Warriors to take 17 more shots than Denver. Fortunately for Denver, they failed to make any more shots than the Nuggets did. Both teams finished with 42 made baskets. Getting a lot of shots up is good, but only if you make some of them.
- With the Nuggets down 17 towards the end of the third quarter the question arose who will lead this team back in the game? The funny thing was, with all the talk about whether Melo or AI is the leader of this team, it was J.R. who made two big threes to help get the offense rolling. J.R. had a couple of bad turnovers, took a couple of bad threes and a very dumb technical, again on a foul called on a teammate, but his lay was an integral part of the victory. He played very solid defense in the zone, never once getting caught in a bad spot and his offense took a lot of the burden off of Melo and AI.
- Speaking of offensive burdens, Monta Ellis probably felt like he was all alone out there. Al Harrington did provide an early spark, but after the first quarter it seemed Ellis was the only Warrior capable of hitting a shot. Ellis is quickly becoming every bit as important to this team as Baron Davis and Stephen Jackson. In fact had Davis, 9-25, or Jackson, 5-17, done anything on offense, this game may have been completely different. Getting back to Ellis, both he and AI played all 48 minutes last night. In games like this you see who the coach has faith in and Nelson obviously has great faith in Ellis.
- AI played a great game taking advantage of Golden State’s soft defense by getting to the rim on several occasions. He also hit the shot of the game. After Golden State cut the lead to eight AI missed two free throws which appeared to give the Warriors fans an extra boost of hope. After three defensive stands by the Nuggets, AI made a shot to boost the lead back up to ten. Then following a Warrior bucket he hit the aforementioned shot of the game, a three off the dribble, to put the Nuggets up 11 and pretty much seal the deal.
In case you did not notice during the game or in the box score, Melo did not shoot any free throws. Melo’s attempts almost all came from the perimeter. As well as he is shooting right now he can get away with it, but he better not forget that without driving to the rim from time to time his efficiency will see a steep decline.
It is on to Utah on Saturday night and if the Nuggets can win there, they will all but lock up a playoff spot.
Make sure you check out what is going on over at Golden State of Mind and sorry about the Milkshake clip Warrior fans. I really wish Denver had drank someone else’s milkshake and the Warriors were going to the playoffs. I love watching them play and Baron Davis and Stephen Jackson were major contributors on my latest fantasy basketball championship squad.