An inspired effort from the Nuggets tonight without Carmelo Anthony in the lineup falls short in San Antonio 109-103. The Nuggets played their guts out tonight, but were not able to close things out in the fourth quarter as the team searched for scoring and came up empty time and again.
Basketball is just a game and as Melo was with his family tonight, his basketball family went out and tried to pull off the nearly impossible in San Antonio this season by attempting to upset the now 16-2, at home, Spurs.
But we did deal with a game without Melo and I have two thoughts about it. The first, had the Nuggets been able to pull of this win some could say that the team showed Melo that even without him they are a force and he can make them that much better. Second, in a loss people can point to this game and say ... "well had Melo been able to play, they would have won this one."
The coulda/woulda/shoulda is the game the fans play and what makes being a fan a lot of fun. I was really hoping Denver could get the win tonight because it was a big game against perhaps the best team in the Western Conference (thus far). Things were looking good as Denver matched San Antonio's energy early, hung around at the half and looked like they were poised to steal one at the end of the third quarter with a nine point lead.
But in the fourth quarter the Spurs did what the Spurs always do. They changed things up on Denver by switching to a zone defense (one that George Karl apparently still struggles to teach his team how to beat), hitting big-shot-after-big shot, getting some nice help from the officials as the game was allowed to be very physical on the Spurs defensive end and the Nuggets just blew opportunity after opportunity.
Here is how the key stretch of the game played out. With the game tied 99-99 Ty Lawson stepped to the foul line and buried both of his free throws to give Denver a 101-99 lead with 3:55 left in the game. The Nuggets had coughed up their once 89-80 lead (to start the period), but had battled to stay even and it looked like they might have got the momentum back and been ready to make a run ... here is how things went from there:
- J.R. Smith had a great steal and slowed things down.
- On the offensive end J.R. got a mismatch as Matt Bonner was covering him, it looked like Chauncey Billups was urging J.R. to drive on Bonner, but instead J.R. took a wild three-pointer that missed badly from the top of the key.
- Richard Jefferson gets called for a charge as Nene sets up just outside the half circle.
- Arron Afflalo gets the ball in the corner and drives baseline ... it looks like he'll get to the rim, but he loses the ball on the drive and turns it over.
- Manu Ginobili takes advantage of Denver's blown opportunities to widen their lead and buries a three-pointer to give the Spurs a 102-101 lead.
- Ty Lawson misses a little 9-foot runner.
- Tim Duncan travels as Nene plays some nice interior defense against him.
- Afflalo (not looking like a big moment guy) misses a three-pointer from the corner.
- 26 year-old rookie Gary Neal hits a 26 foot three-pointer to give the Spurs a 105-101 lead.
- Billups gets rejected on a drive attempt by Jefferson.
- Gary Neal drive the nail into the Nuggets' coffin with a 10-foot jumper 107-101 with just under a minute left ... ball game.
The Nuggets go 0-5 in the key stretch of the game and didn't make a bucket from the 3:59 mark until the 0:42 second mark with the game already decided.
The Nuggets looked totally baffled by the Spurs zone defense and the players were hesitant to take shots late in the game. One thing you can say about Melo is that he's never been hesitant to take shots with the game on the line as he often buries them and that's where he makes his money.
Some people will be satisfied with the Nuggets effort in this game and point to it as a moral victory. The truth is that Denver should have won this game and I doubt there is a single guy in the Nuggets locker room who is happy with how this game ended. And for myself, this is one of those games that just makes me sick. Denver played three great quarters and just collapsed when it mattered most. It was still a hell of an effort and a hell of a game from a team without its star and a team that is working three core players back into the mix.
Had the real Denver Nuggets of Billups, Afflalo, Melo, K-Mart and Nene been on the floor in the fourth with a nine-point lead in hand things might have been different ... but alas they were not and it might still be awhile before we can see the healthy and complete squad together again.
Views you can use:
- The Nuggets are now 8-9 in games decided by 6 points or less. A couple breaks here and a few shots there and yada yada yada ...
- San Antonio beat up on the Nuggets in the fourth quarter and won the final period by a 29-14 margin.
- With the Spurs up 95-93 Billups drew his vintage bringing the hands up foul and launced a clear three pointer ... he was only rewarded with two free throws and the refs didn't even review where his feet were. He did make both shots, but should have had one more attempt.
- If you didn't get a chance to see J.R.'s nasty 360-degree layup ... check it out!
- Hero for a game: Gary Neal put up a career-high 22 points on 7-12 shooting including 5-7 from downtown.
- Tiago Splitter, normally useless, put up 12 points and grabbed 9 rebounds. Matt Bonner was again left to bomb away from deep and connected on 3-4 of his shots from downtown ... he did go 0-3 from the foul line after flopping on a three-point bucket.
- After killing the Nuggets in Denver, Tim Duncan only played 27 minutes and scored only 9 points on 3-7 shooting.
- Spurs role players Splitter, Neal, Bonner and Jefferson combined for 63 points.
- In 28 minutes Lawson scored 22 points on 8-12 shooting. Lawson was unstoppable thoughout much of the game and abused Tony Parker and his backup Chris Quinn. Lawson needs guys on the floor with him that will run with him. Billups is not that guy and again showed that he should not be on the floor much with Lawson, but the minutes again didn't break that way. Blah!
- Al Harrington played a forgettable 24 minutes and was just 1-6 from the floor, including a humbling blown power dunk after he got to the rim and realized, "Hey, I'm alone at the rim ... I should really stuff this thing with authority." Short memory Big Al ...
- K-Mart's minutes were kept under wraps tonight as he was on the floor for 17 minutes. It was awesome to see him back in action and he looks like he has the same spring in his legs. He was 3-4 in the first half and scored 6 points and had a couple nice dunks. He finished the game 4-5 from the field with 8 points, 5 rebounds, 1 block, 1 steal and a team-high +9. Good to have Kenyon back!
- J.R. was unreal in the third quarter. He scored 16 points on 6-8 shooting, including four three-pointers. He finished the night with 22 points, 7 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals and 1 block. He also had 4 fouls and 2 turnovers. Outside of the third quarter J.R. was just 2-10 shooting.
- In the second quarter, Denver's second unit made up of Lawson, Afflalo, Gary Forbes, Big Al and Birdman looked like a pickup squad that had been thrown together just seconds before they started playing. That group is going to need time to gel as their defensive assignments got mixed up and the offensive timing was off just a bit.
- George Karl started Billups, Afflalo, J.R., K-Mart and Nene tonight. Interesting move to start J.R. tonight ... it was J.R.'s first start of the season. The first guys off the bench were Lawson and Big Al ... Bird checked in minutes later.