The impossible dream of an 82-0 season is over with the Nuggets 101-95 loss to the New Orleans Hornets tonight. Just like last season, the core of the Nuggets issues on the road continued in this evening's game and it doomed the Nuggets down the stretch after their spirited comeback, like a bad ending horror movie.
With Halloween just around the corner, the Nuggets game reminded me of a typical horror movie by Lionsgate films. The movie company notorious for funding horror movies where the bad guy wins, perfectly depicted the Nuggets loss.
The opening of nearly all horror films shows most of the main characters perhaps wrapping up their daily lives on say a Friday, with hopes of a big weekend away at the cabin with friends. Likewise the Nuggets main characters (the starters) were going about their business early and opened up a quick 8-0 lead off a Shelden Williams bucket, and three-pointers by Carmelo Anthony and Arron Afflalo.
Things were looking great! No big hiccups seemed to cause the weekend getaway to be delayed and everyone was back together again re-living old times (the Utah win from Wednesday night).
But once the crew arrived at the cabin ... a few of the characters began to notice some things out of place with the gorgeous private setting. You know ... like Ty Lawson being unusually tentative in the first half and staying out on the perimeter. But the other members in the party dismiss the notion that anything is wrong (Denver was getting to the foul line after all) and decide to push on and enjoy the weekend despite some minor snags along the way, like allowing too much penetration into the lane and to make matters worse--leaving sharp shooters wide open on the perimeter.
But then on a long hike ... it happens. The rain clouds come, the storm follows, and the group gets broken apart and the splintered groups are in a place they are unfamiliar. Denver's bench was torched in the first half by the Hornets second unit 29-14. The Nuggets looked lost on defensive rotations and turnovers and offensive fouls were plentiful.
And that's when the worst ideas start coming ... a guy's girlfriend has to use the bathroom and wants some privacy ... so she wanders off alone as you sit on your couch and tell your friends, "Oh she's dead ... she's so dead ... what an idiot!" Time and again the Nuggets failed to distribute the ball to the open man and elected to take low percentage jumpers instead of working for good looks inside for most of the second quarter. The Nuggets were down by as many as 16 points at one point and went into the locker room at the half down 59-50 ... not too bad for the poor first half performace.
As the third quarter started the horror film I was seeing before my eyes was right at the part where the good characters were getting picked off one-by-one, and eventually they managed to regroup in the woods after running around lost for hours alone or in small pairs. Now we're at the point where the group can either give up and die or they can fight for their lives and start to get pissed off. There is usually one person that snaps and survival instincts take over ... they are willing to do what others would not ... what others could not. Melo was the man in that familiar role once again.
With members of the group nearly in shock from the things they'd seen and the things that had been done to them, it was Melo who came alive with eight straight points off two difficult jumpers and two drives to the rim where he refused to let his friends die and pulled the Nuggets within six down 64-58. Melo's ruthlessness, the main character becoming a killer himself, showed his teammates that they too needed to pick up a weapon or become a weapon and join the fight.
Melo got the Nuggets to 58 points and a variety of buckets from his teammates capped off by Al Harrington's three-pointer gave the Nuggets a 69-68 lead. And just when you thought things were safe, the villain comes battling back and before you know it ... you're in the back-and-forth fight of your life.
At the beginning of the fourth quarter the Nuggets went on a 8-2 run and with a 79-74 lead it looked like the bad guy was going to die. But in some Lionsgate films, the cozy happy little ending doesn't come. The villain, Chris Paul, withstood the valiant effort by Melo. After all, this is Paul's territory and the good guys made just too many mistakes and suffered too many wounds to make it.
After Denver's little five point lead the Hornets kicked things up as Paul re-entered the game and went on a 10-5 run and closed out the Nuggets in the fourth quarter on a 27-16 run (after Denver's 8-2 start to the fourth). The good guy was supposed to make it ... not in this film. That's twisted.
- The Nuggets finished with 19 team assists ... just four fewer than their previous game. But consider this: Denver had 7 assists in the first quarter and just 12 assists in the final three quarters ... YUCK!
- I hate ... hate ... hate ... hate the Lawson at point and Billups at shooting guard lineup. I hate it. Lawson doesn't need a babysitter out there and he defers to Billups when they are on the floor together and it just doesn't look good. Billups has problems staying with point guards at this stage of his career, so what makes George Karl think it's a good idea to have him guarding athletic shooting guards? Willie Green blew by Billups for a wide open dunk and it'll be more of the same with that combo on the floor. Also, J.R. Smith and AAA are better shooting guards than Billups. Blah!
- Melo showed us tonight why he gets paid the big bucks. Role players are nice and team play is swell, but on nights when you don't have it going you can always count on Melo to get you back in games, maintain leads, or carry the team for little stretches. And once he gets hot and starts drawing two, three, or even four sets of eyes ... that's when he becomes even more dangerous and starts getting his teammates back involved in the offense. Melo's value to the Nuggets is vast.
- Two games down and we've seen two different Nuggets teams ... tomorrow night in Houston we'll get to see how a tired Nuggets team handles things and responds on tired legs in an environment where they usually are in close games.