Nuggets heading to Round 2
To get recognized there comes a point in time where you have to step out of the shadows and into the spotlight. Last night Carmelo Anthony did just that by scoring and recording playoff career highs of 34 points and 4 steals. Indeed it was Melo the Smiling Assassin who provided the lift to lead the Nuggets out of the first round for the first time in 15 years. But more importantly the Denver Nuggets as a team took a step into the spotlight together by disposing of the New Orleans Hornets in five games.
This is the most complete team the Denver Nuggets have ever had. Every player has a defined role and they are all thriving at what they are asked to do.
Let’s take a look at those roles and how they helped push Denver to their series deciding win last night …
On the defensive end the Nuggets as a team have turned up the intensity, energy, and focus. But the Nuggets have two main defensive stoppers in Kenyon Martin and Dahntay Jones.
The Hornets’ two best players Chris Paul and David West allowed the Nuggets’ stoppers to maximize their impact. Denver could not have had a better draw in the first round, as KMart was able to lock up on West and Jones on Paul. The matchups were just about perfect.
While West probably played one of his finer games scoring 24 points and getting some open looks at the rim, many of his shots were highly contested by the far more athletic Martin. West is a stationary shooter and just was never allowed the spacing he needed to get his game going. On one play in the third quarter West was forced to take a runner in the lane that bounced off the glass resulting in a 24-second violation. Martin harassed and bothered West last night and throughout the series. The all-star West was never a factor in the series because of KMart.
Jones played 19 minutes last night and got into foul trouble, but still was flying around the floor and a complete pest for Paul. CP3 was put out of his misery in game five going 5-16 for 12 points, recording 10 assists, and 3 steals. Paul was only a factor in game three when he scored 32 points. My biggest worry going into the series was the “Chris Paul factor,” the kid is a superstar, but Dahntay Jones’ commitment to smothering Paul paid dividends. I’ve never seen a star entering the prime of his career become a non-factor due to the defensive effort of a guy most would consider a scrub … major credit to Mr. Jones.
The Energy Guy. Denver looked awfully thin on the frontline before the season started with just the Birdman acting as the Nuggets’ only insurance, and he was coming off the drug suspension. But Bird proved to be up for the challenge all season and is proving to be a major factor as the first big off the bench for Denver. Bird had a tremendous series. During the first quarter after a David West dunk I told my buddies it was time to get the Bird in there because the Bugs would not challenge the rim with him guarding it.
The Nuggets found themselves down 9 early until the Bird started flying. Andersen chased Paul down the floor on an easy breakaway layup and the Bird swatted Paul’s finger roll at the rim to fire up the quiet Pepsi Center crowd. On the other end Kenyon Martin hit Birdzilla with a beautiful alley-oop to make it 25-22 Hornets. You just know when the Bird enters the game that he’ll leave it all on the floor and be the scrappy guy every team needs. Bird finished the game with 9 points, 7 rebounds, and 2 blocks.
Fire Power. Not just a cool feature on Mario Brothers, but rather J.R. Smith. Swish’s instant offense was on full display last night as he hit consecutive three-points in the third quarter to push Denver’s lead to 70-62 and 73-62. I think each three was released roughly 93 feet from the hoop … okay that may be a little exaggerated, but this kid has outer space type range. J.R. finished the night playing 28 minutes and recording 20 points on 7-12 shooting (5-8 from downtown) and 3 assists. Smith only got to the foul line once, which shows me he could have been a bit more aggressive, but his up-and-under reverse dunk to make it 101-78 was pretty sick.
The postman. Nene looked great and he looked soft against the Bugs. Last night he went just 3-5 (4-6 from the charity stripe) scoring 10 points and grabbing 7 rebounds. He has been a very reliable rebounder in the post-season and has the offensive repertoire other big men are envious of. Getting to the foul line is huge for Nene and he made a few trips last night.
The utility man. While Renaldo Balkman and Linas Kleiza can fill in multiple roles for the Nuggets … only LK has saw adequate playing time against the Hornets. I’m not quite sure why LK didn’t play last night and I’ll be looking into that later, but he provides some firepower off the bench that the Nuggets will at times lack as he hit plenty of big shots versus the Hornets during some offensive dry runs. Denver’s ultimate utility guy though is Anthony Carter.
George Karl will ask AC to guard guys way out of his size range … like the 6’10’’ Peja. AC will also not see the floor that much. Last night he played just 11 minutes, but recorded 5 assists and 2 steals. One of his assists was a crazy alley-oop to a behind the play Chris Andersen … a definite top play candidate. AC failed to score last night, but I’m perfectly okay with him just passing the ball and playing pestering defense like he always does.
The leader. Chauncey Billups is the Nuggets’ unquestioned leader and voice. CB7 made the strongest case for Player/Coach of the Year this season and showed Denver how to win in games one and two. Billups played 39 minutes and went 3-9 from the floor (3-6 from three-point and 4-4 from the foul line) for 13 points and added 11 assists. The only thing better than Billups teaching this team how to win has been Billups also showing them how to win.
The Star. Carmelo’s stats: 13-25 (1-3 from three, 7-7 from the foul line) for 34 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists, and 4 steals. Melo played his finest game of the series last night and just took his defenders and the help defenders apart. Melo is at his absolute best when he’s attacking the rim from the top of the key. He cut through the lane a number of times last night and just glided to either side of the rim at will. At the end of the third quarter Melo capped off the three point party that Billups and J.R. were having by scoring the last 7 points of the quarter to push Denver’s lead to 80-66 heading to the final period.
With the game tied 62-62 in the third quarter the Nuggets did what they did all series long … took off … the Nuggets outscored the Bugs from that point 45-24 and won the game and the series going away.
This team has all the pieces and all the chemistry to be successful beyond this round of the post-season. But for Nuggets Nation let’s soak this series win in a little bit. The 1994 upset the Seattle Supersonics was the last time we were able to celebrate the playoff success of our team. And for me I’ll spend a few hours just reflecting on some of the new and great memories this team provided.
We’ll worry about all those, “We want Dallas!” chants in just a few moments.
Congratulations Nuggets … and welcome to the 2nd Round!