After a slow shooting start to the game Denver found their rhythm, took the lead and kept the Thunder from ever really being a threat.
This was exactly the type of hope crushing win the Nuggets needed. While the final score (102-93) doesn't indicate a completely dominant performance by the Nuggets, the Thunder were never really in this game after the first quarter. And that's the kind of performance that good teams have against opponents coming from out of town for the second game of a back-to-back set.
Too often this season we've seen the Nuggets give hope to their opponents (especially ones that are not on the Nuggets level) and it's nice to see Denver put on sort of a snoozer, by their standards this season anyway. The Nuggets bench got a bit back on track tonight with some nice efforts from J.R. Smith, Chris Andersen and Ty Lawson.
Smith and Bird each scored in double figures and the Birdman recorded his first double-double of the season with 15 points and 11 rebounds (3 offensive). It was great to see the Bird going strong to the hoop and his best finish came at the 3:45 mark of the second quarter when Billups took the ball towards the foul line and bounced a pretty pass between his own legs right to a streaking Andersen who kept the ball high and threw down a jam over Nenad Kristic. I think Bird went for the strong finish to insure he either made Sportscenter or so he got heavy consideration for the Chris Marlowe special ... the Kuni Lexus Drive of the Game.
It was also nice to see J.R. Smith back on track after a shaky performace against the Suns last Saturday night. As reader TheNoticer pointed out ... Smith wasn't happy after heading to the bench against the Suns, but he made up for it tonight by scoring 19 points. Most impressively, Smith got to the foul line 10 times and was able to convert on 8 of those attempts. I'll forever maintain that with Smith's shooting ability, it's a shame he can't shoot 85% or better from the freebie line.
The starters tonight also put forth a solid effort. Kenyon Martin was a workhorse on the glass, collecting 6 of his 11 rebounds on the offensive end. The Thunder are not the biggest team around, but they work on the glass and seeing Martin's effort just makes me greedy wanting him to come out with the same tenacity every night on the offensive end.
Keeping with good rebounding ... Nene posted 9 boards and got to work on offense as well posting a shooting night of 6-11 for 13 points. When Nene gets going on offense it continues to open up the floor for the rest of the Nuggets. The Brazilian is so tough to guard one-on-one that when he gets going teams almost have to double him and if you have to double Nene your team is in trouble because the big guy can pass the ball and his teammates like to cut to the rim. Nene also got a few dunks in tonight and it's always good to see the "big fella" (Bill Hanz!) get some easy ones.
Speaking of easy ones ... Melo was able to score at will tonight. Melo lost the one-on-one scoring battle against Kevin Durant 31 to 32 respectfully, but his team got the win. I thought the game really started to swing early when Melo made two passes on one possession that resulted in a Arron Afflalo three-pointer at the 5:19 mark of the first quarter. Scott Hastings could be heard on the broadcast saying to himself, "please go in," as Afflalo's three found its mark. That play gave Denver an early 12-11 lead, but seemed to get the team away from one-on-one jump shots and to focus more on moving the ball and eventually getting to the rim.
Billups had a poor night shooting the ball, but he was getting his teammates involved (7 assists) and was active in the passing lanes and overall on defense collecting 4 steals. The task of covering Russell Westbrook didn't prove to be a difficult one for Denver's floor general and that's a good thing because I was pretty concerned that Westbrook could be an X-factor tonight.
Turns out this game wasn't of the exciting brand and perhaps for the team and for us fans that's a good thing for a change. I had just about all I could handle against the Suns in my emotion department and a win like this tonight was again exactly what this team needed.
Random thoughts during the game:
- The Thunder have the worst away uniform name plates in the league. Seriously, "Oklahoma City" ... just horrific and don't get me started on their nickname. (Am I still bitter the Sonics are no longer around? Yes! We beat the Sonics in the 1994 playoffs ... not the Thunder!) Funny ... Sonic Boom sounds like Thunder.
- no longer rocks the corn-rows, didn't notice until tonight. Also sort of weird that he's from Switzerland isn't it? I'm not much of a world traveler and I'm probably an idiot for thinking that, but is basketball big in the land of Swiss cheese?
- Robert Sanchez of 5280 magazine shows us how Bird styles his hair. With the long hair in the back I propose we call Bird's look the "Mull-hawk" since it's basically turning into a mullet in the back.
- With 2 minutes left in the first quarter Scott Hastings said after a this 1939 version. dunk that the former Kansas star had speed like a "1928 flatbed ford" ... I'm guessing he probably meant
- After Lawson snuck behind the defense for a wide open layup I finally figured out that if he were a NBA Jam character he'd be those annoying little guys ... the John Stockton NBA Jam type. I loved that game and almost guarantee I'd beat anyone at the original Sega version. Dikembe Mutombo and LaPhonso Ellis can hit 3's on that game!
- The reason this game might seem a bit slow paced, a combined 71 free throw attempts. BLAH.
Photo courtesy of AP Photos: David Zalubowski