In the first half of tonight's game ... the Raptors couldn't seem to miss and the Nuggets couldn't seem to get on track defensively. With the score tied at 64 a piece heading into the locker room, I was a bit concerned with the Nuggets focus in their defensive rotations because the Raptors were getting a lot of open looks and making them.
Before the contest I said this could be a "trap game" for Denver after coming off a big win with a lot of rest. The first half didn't do anything to quell my fears. But then the second half began and once again Denver came out ready to go in the third quarter and looked to have their killer instinct back and took control of the game's tempo.
The Nuggets held down the fast-forward button as the Raptors moved in slow motion after the break. Being at the game I couldn't really count, but Denver may have had 152 straight possessions that led to fastbreak points. (A bit of a stretch?) The Nuggets came out of the locker room and just owned the tempo of the second half. The Raptors started missing contested shots and the Nuggets took advantage in a major way. You could see the Raptors become deflated and Chirs Bosh even earned himself a technical foul after getting whistled for a double foul along with Birdman.
There was a stretch in the third quarter where J.R. Smith and Chris Andersen walked up to the scorers table, but were not able to get into the game for a large chunk of time because there was no stop in the Nuggets' fastbreak action. By the time play came to a stop you could see Toronto was worn out and the Nuggets starters were a bit gassed themselves ... as Lawson, Smith, and Bird entered the contest.
The passing got contagious as the game progressed and Billups (10), Lawson (6), Melo (5), Nene (5), and Double A (4) all finished with more than four assists. Sometimes the ball was being whipped around so fast that I thought the Raptors players were going to get dizzy and fall over ... then the play would end with a wide open dunk or shot for Denver.
That was a very fun game to be at with all the offensive firepower and Denver earned a 130-112 victory with a great effort in the second half. Definitely a tale of two halves.
CB1 - logged his second game of double digit assists of the season. Denver is 2-0 in those contests. This was one of those games where the veteran guard realized his offensive prowess would be best served getting his teammates involved ... and he did just that tonight. Billups will probably always find ways to be useful on the floor.
Ty Lawson - "the Rook" logged meaningful minutes as the primary backup once again with A.C. on the shelf. Lawson's effectiveness allowed Billups to play just 27 minutes. More games where Billups plays less than 30 minutes and the Nuggets win, will prove very valuable down the road. Lawson made a play on a fastbreak that just shows his basketball I.Q. ... Amir Johnson was chasing him down on a breakaway and instead of trying to get the layup off over the bigger guy, Lawson used his body to shield Johnson off and almost made the difficult layup anyway. We've seen body defense on layups become a staple of the Rookie's game since getting some layups blocked in the preseason.
Double A - as he continues to get more comfortable with his new teammates we're starting to see the all-around game that Afflalo talked about wanting to be known for when he was traded to Denver. He shot 5-9 on the night and 2-4 from downtown ... it's nice to have a weapon like him. There seems to be some nice chemistry between Lawson and Afflalo as well. Lawson knows when he drives the lane that Afflalo is going to be in the corner waiting to launch one of his text book threes.
J.R. Smith - the Nuggets are a different calibar team with #5 on the floor. J.R. loves to toy with his defender ... especially if his defender is not as quick as him. Tonight Smith abused Marco Belinelli with his offensive arsenal. When Belinelli sank off and gave J.R. room he was burying threes (5-9) and when Belinelli tried to play J.R. straight up Smith would call for a clear out and take the ball to the rack. Belinelli had a nice night shooting the ball, but he was not up for guarding Smith. It was nice to see J.R. find his stroke and yet remain aggressive attacking the rim for 29 points.
Melo - had it going tonight ... his shot was falling, but it seemed like he knew he was starting to force some stuff so he started using his brilliant passing ability to find wide open shots for his teammates and they were WIDE OPEN ... maybe because the defense figured he was going to shoot. He scored 32 points in three quarters of basketball and didn't even play the fourth quarter as George Karl has adopted the superstar mentality with Melo ... meaning he may sit to start the fourth and then be used only if necessary. My favorite play that Melo made ... after stealing the ball with the quarter winding down in the third Melo drove baseline and drew a foul. He then walked over to the crowd and encouraged them to cheer the teams' effort in the period. Nothing better than players recognizing the crowd and mixing it up a little bit (no, Ron Artest does not typically mix it up correctly with the crowd.)
Renaldo Balkman - saw 11 minutes as K-Mart found himself in a touch of early foul trouble. Balkman wasn't effective and was trying to guard the massive Andrea Bargnani ... total mismatch. Balkman's hustle unfortunately didn't become a factor tonight.
K-Mart - had a nice game and got out on the fastbreak a few times and was rewarded for doing so with a couple nice throw downs. I don't know if there is another player on the team that can fire the crowd up with a dunk the way Martin can ... maybe Bird ... sometimes Nene, but a K-Mart dunk just has that anger behind it that lets you know it's a big dunk and probably a momentum changer.
Nene - had perhaps his best game of the season. He was attacking very quickly ... as soon as he got the ball he was on the move with it going to the rim with a pretty left baby hook. Usually Nene will get in trouble when he holds the ball too long, but when he attacks quick the way he did tonight ... guys can't stay with him. Nene notched his third double-double on the year with 20 points (season high) and 10 rebounds. Denver is now 3-0 when Nene has a double-dip.
Birdman - had a block where his elbow was just about above the rim it seemed. It was nice to see some of that Bird back. There was another play where he tried for a finger-roll on the baseline and came up just short ... he jumped a bit too early with the ball as his window for a clear path wasn't very open, so I don't think it was a lack of hops or anything like that. There were also a couple plays where after setting a pick, Bird rolled to the hoop and the ball hit him in the back as he wasn't expecting the pass. On the second one you could see the frustration on Bird's face ... I believe Lawson threw the pass and the chemistry will come eventually. Some of Nuggets Nation (including myself to a degree) are worried about the Bird and his ability this season. Suffering injuries to your legs (especially nagging ones like he's had) are very frustrating things ... I think we'll see a more explosive Bird as the season presses on.
Malik Allen, Joey Graham, Johan Petro - the end of the bench guys played very little late in the fourth quarter. I was surprised that Karl chose to use Balkman over Graham because Karl has a tendency to use guys who used to play for former teams ... Petro got some run against the Thunder whenever Denver played them. Speaking of Petro ... he was wearing sneakers that was white with a lot of yellow on it ... for some reason it looked like he was wearing two school buses out there. (I'm also a bit concerned about Afflalo playing in Adidas Superstar shoes ... they just don't seem like great shoes for bball, maybe he'd be even better in some Jumpman's?)
And speaking of former players ... Sonny Weems has found a home in Toronto this season. Weems played 27 minutes and scored 12 points. It was nice to see him get some burn in Denver and mix it up with his old teammates.
Photo courtesy of AP Photos: David Zalubowski