The box score readers will wonder how the Pacers only lost by eight to the Nuggets tonight. Those who watched the game know the outcome was never in doubt.
While tonight's victory over the destitute Indiana Pacers wasn't the snoozer I forecasted in my game preview, I was never concerned about the Nuggets securing the victory. Their third straight against a sub-.500 team, by the way (and yes, it's somewhat concerning that that's cause for celebration around here).
In hindsight, my pregame description of the Pacers being a collection of white American Stiffs may have been unfair. Because regardless of the race of the players, this Pacers team stinks. It's not that all their players are bad per se, it's just that Pacers head coach Jim O'Brien's "system" makes no sense whatsoever. Rather than utilize his team's youth and athleticism to pester opposing teams into off nights with scrappy hustle play and full court defensive pressure, they basically engage in a Golden State-type fast paced shootout that encourages quick jumpers from any range.
The big flaw in O'Brien's "strategy" is that the Pacers can't shoot straight, evident by their third-to-last field goal percentage in the NBA and fifth-to-last three-point shooting percentage. Things were no different tonight, when the Pacers made just 44% of their shots. And that percentage is skewed as the Pacers made a handful of easy, meaningless buckets in the final three minutes of the game, making a 17-point blowout appear to be much closer.
The good news for Nuggets fans is that our team seems to be taking games against lesser opponents seriously at last. Even with Kenyon Martin and Ty Lawson missing in action tonight, the rest of the Nuggets roster - notably the starters plus J.R. Smith and Chris Andersen - performed as professionals tonight and never allowed it to get dangerously close.
The view from the not-so-cheap seats...
...when former Nuggets Dahntay Jones entered the game, he received a decent applause from the crowd but it wasn't as loud as I had expected considering how hard Dahntay played for us last season.
...Jones' adorable young son high-fived all of the Nuggets as they ran onto the court. It was a very cool moment.
...throughout the game, Dahntay was yapping with both J.R. Smith and Carmelo Anthony. Melo could be seen smiling whenever Dahntay tried to guard him and simply lit Dahntay up, proving good offense will always overcome good defense.
...the Pacers Josh McRoberts got a lot of playing time, and in the first half we openly questioned why. Then in the second half McRoberts showed why he belongs in the NBA with an assortment of athletic moves around the rim, including a spectacular alley-oop dunk. This kid has serious hops and is anything but the Stiff most experts predicted he'd be when he was drafted out of Duke.
...speaking of spectacular dunks, in all my years watching NBA games I've never seen a dunk thrown down with such rapidness as J.R.'s thunderous jam on Pacers center Roy Hibbert in the fourth quarter.
...Chris "Birdman" Andersen had a terrific game off the bench. He was active on both ends of the floor and definitely had his legs back.
...Hibbert is a surprisingly good free throw shooter and has nice, almost textbook, form. So why exactly can't other plus-seven foot centers do the same?
...when Nuggets head coach George Karl brought Melo and J.R. back into the game around the eight-minute mark in the fourth quarter with the Nuggets up 17, a lot of fans wondered why. in hindsight, the Nuggets were far from sealing this game and Karl absolutely made the right decision. By having Melo and J.R. in there for about five more minutes, the Nuggets were able to trade baskets and ice the victory. Good call by the coach here.
...a rarity, the Nuggets players laid off the refs tonight, accepted rather than contested foul calls and this produced a very fair whistle.
When I got home from the game I heard the news that Kenyon Martin might need surgery on his left knee. I speak for Nuggets fans everywhere when I say I really, really, really, really, really hope this doesn't come to fruition. It should be noted that, according to Yahoo! Sports' Marc Spears, surgery is being floated out as "among the treatment options". Let's not push the panic button yet until we get more definitive information. After all, we don't want our weekends ruined.
Non-Stiffs of the Game
-Carmelo Anthony and J.R. Smith: Melo and J.R. played great tonight. In addition to shooting 12-20 from the field, Melo got to the free throw 10 times and only missed one. Perhaps he's shaken off his recent free throw shooting slump. J.R. was hot out the gate and even though he shot a bit aimlessly in the second half, his season high eight assists more than made up for it.
Stiff of the Game
-Jim O'Brien: The Pacers have some (emphasis on some) talent, but O'Brien is out of his league trying to coach this team. Given that all of the Pacers core players are due to be paid next season, too, the Pacers should fire O'Brien now, bring in Avery Johnson and develop a more intense, defensive mentality in Indianapolis. Until this team takes playing NBA basketball seriously, they're going nowhere anytime soon.
Photo courtesy of AP: David Zalubowski