2007-2008 Game 75:  Denver Nuggets 126 - Phoenix Suns 120

Box Score

This win against Phoenix means if the Nuggets take care of business they will end up with at least 51 wins and will make the playoffs.  What I mean by taking care of business is winning games against Sacramento, at Seattle, at the Clippers, versus Memphis and win just one game from the group of games at Golden State, at Utah and against Houston.

Remember the John Hollinger Playoff Odd’s machine?  Well, according to projections just a week or so ago the Nuggets chances of making the playoffs was in the low 40’s.  After wins against Golden State, Dallas and Phoenix their chances have skyrocketed up to 83.1%.

So it was a big win, but how did they pull it off?  You can look at the numbers and see that Denver played Phoenix to a tie on the glass and the free throw story was almost exactly opposite from the night before in Phoenix.  Last night it was the Suns who made only 53% of their free throws while the Nuggets got to the line 47 times and made almost 79% of them.

That shows that Denver played better than the previous night, but what did they do that earned them the win this game?  They did not run.  Both teams combined to score only 20 fast break points.  They did not play particularly good defense.  Phoenix shot almost 53% from the field.  They did not move without the ball and cut to the basket on offense like they had been in the preceding games.  

The Nuggets won because they were able to get in the paint on offense and Phoenix failed to get the ball into the hands of Amare enough and they did not utilize the high pick and roll enough.

Now, the Nuggets did not score many points in the paint, but they were able to penetrate frequently.  The result was open shots for J.R. Smith, Eduardo Najera and Linas Kleiza and the aforementioned 47 free throws the Nuggets shot.

From the Suns standpoint, Amare Stoudemire had 20 points with over seven minutes left in the third quarter, but he only ended up with 25.  He shot 9-12 for the game.  With Steve Nash on the floor (a really smart point guard), how does Amare not get the ball more?

The Suns also let the Nuggets off the hook in another way.  The game before they were able to roll the Nuggets in the second half of game 74 because Nash and Amare killed them on the high pick and roll.  Phoenix only ran it a handful of times in the first three quarters and I have no idea why.  When they did run it, the Nugget big men were still not jumping out at Nash and he passed up shot after shot.  

From the time Nash reentered the game with just under ten minutes left in the fourth quarter all the Suns ran for the rest of the game was the high pick and roll.  Every single time down the floor, high pick and roll.  The Suns were down seven points, 106-99, when they first ran the high pick and roll in the fourth quarter.  Just over six minutes later the Suns were ahead 116-114.  It was like they had a gun and wanted to kill someone, but they thought it might be inappropriate to shoot the guy without trying to kill him by beating him with their belt first.  Just use the gun and call it a night.  Did they think if they ran it too often Camby might figure out that he needed to step out?  They could run it 500,000 times and Camby would stand back in the paint and hope to somehow get a block.

Even though they only sprang the play on the Nuggets in the fourth quarter the Suns had the game in hand, but they did not count on Denver’s secret weapon.  Marcus Camby lulled the Suns to sleep buy shooting 1-8 through the first 45 minutes and 55 seconds of the game and then busted two long jumpers to put the Nuggets over the top.  The first one from 19 feet as the shot clock expired tied the game at 116 and the second from 22 feet, also as the shot clock was running out, put the Nuggets ahead 122-120 and proved to be the game winning points.

I hope everyone realizes how lucky the Nuggets were to win this game.

But, lucky or not, win they did and are now looking like a surefire playoff contender.

Other Observations From Game 75:

  • Phoenix helped the Nuggets out a little with the way they were running that high screen and roll at the end of the game.  Nash kept running it to Shaq’s side and it worked pretty well for a while, but late in the game Shaq started slipping the screen.  Add the fact that Kenyon finally started hedging out and Anthony Carter was not getting knocked off of Nash due to the slip by Shaq and they were able to block the passing lane to the rolling Shaq and they prevented Nash from getting his shot.  It was very odd that Shaq would start playing it that way because up to that point he was setting very sturdy screens.  Also, the fact that Nash kept going Shaq’s way prevented Amare from being a big part of the offense.  
  • Apart from Kenyon actually stepping out to help on the screen the Nuggets also switched the screen a couple of times.  You all know I am not a fan of switching screens, but it was certainly more effective than what they did in Phoenix the other night.
  • There were a couple of times that Shaq was not able to handle passes from Nash when they ran the high screen and roll.  On the other hand there was the play where Nash threw the ball to the rim and Shaq went up, grabbed it in traffic and threw it down.
  • I projected that Raja Bell would not be nearly as effective as he was in the first game due to his 44 minutes and he did only play 21 minutes and shoot 1-5 from three point range, but the reason was he was tossed.  Bell is a very good defender and a underrated offensive player, but he always has a chip on his shoulder that causes him to be a total prick on the court.  He was jawing at Melo trying to convince Melo that he could guard him apparently after an obvious foul call and when play resumed he gave Melo a forearm shot to the back and when it was called laughed mockingly at the refs.  He was tossed.  It may have actually helped the Suns though as Gordan Giricek did what Bell could not.  Hit threes.
  • J.R. Smith played a great first half and a solid second half.  For seven minutes in the fourth quarter he was guarding Nash and did an OK job.  He did not recover well on a couple of occasions, but he continues to work hard on defense.  With the way his offensive game is blossoming, if he can just become more savvy on D with the effort he is putting forth he has the ability to be a great two way player.  He covered Nash for much of the fourth quarter and did about as well as could be expected.
  • Carmelo did not handle the Suns double teams very well.  He ended up getting to the line 19 times, but turned the ball over eight times with only four assists.  He also missed six of those free throws.  He has shown a little progress in passing out of double teams, but that was no where to be seen in this game.  He even resorted to dribbling out past the coach’s box line in an attempt to get out of one which makes me crazy.  He had not done that for a while.
  • AI played well.  He was able to penetrate pretty well, although the Suns usually did a good job of keeping him from getting to the rim.  He shot 9-18 on some pretty difficult shots and I thought he did not do a very good job of finding teammates when he got in the lane as is evidenced by his meager three assists.  He was able to get to the line eleven times though and made all eleven.
  • Nene played almost ten minutes and was very effective.  He scored on a great pick and roll with J.R., managed to pull down five boards and he slid in two assists for good measure.  He also provided some good defense on Shaq, which was important as he is the only Nugget who has a chance at guarding O’Neal on the block.  The fact he played ten minutes makes me wonder why he did not get a second stint in Phoenix the game before when they clearly could have used him to slow Shaq down in the second half.  

Check out Bright Side of the Sun one more time for some thoughts from that tremendous blog.

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