George Karl walked out of the Pepsi Center with a smile on his face that I haven't seen in a long, long time. During a timeout in the fourth quarter of Denver's 89-75 victory over the short-handed Celtics, Karl (wired for TNT's broadcast) told his team, "Our defense is going to win this game." Karl was spot on as his team closed the contest on a 16-0 run.
As weird as it was to see some former Nuggets in Knicks uniforms Wednesday night, it was awesome to see the new Nuggets in uniform tonight. And there is no better way to welcome new players and a new team than to pull out a win against the now 41-15 Boston Celtics.
The Celtics had nine players in uniform tonight, complete with their "Big-4" of Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett. Yes, they were short-handed, but their core guys were there and teams don't play much more than an eight or nine man rotation anyway. The game was low scoring, sloppy thoughout much of the first three-quarters and tight down the stretch.
The biggest question that the Nuggets were going to face, at some point: How are they going to win a close fourth quarter game without their two closers? Well, coach Karl knew exactly how ... with defense and working for the best shot on offense by moving the basketball.
With 6:05 left in the game, Pierce hit a jumper to give his team a 75-73 lead and as he strutted back on defense I began to worry about the home team. But as Denver had done all night, they continued to move the ball on offense in search of open looks. Nene moved the ball from the paint out to Arron Afflalo in the corner, who swung it to a wide open Wilson Chandler at the elbow and Chandler buried his third three-pointer of the night to give the Nuggets the lead 76-75 ... a lead the Nuggets would never surrender.
From there Kenyon Martin and Afflalo would score the final 13 points and the Nuggets 16-0 scoring run to end the game has to be considered a very impressive one. Here are the results of Boston's final 12 possessions to end the game: J.R. Smith block, Chander block (2), missed three, missed three, Raymond Felton draws charge on Glen Davis, Davis turnover, missed jumper, missed jumper, K-Mart steal on Allen (1), miss layup, Allen steps out of bounds for turnover (4) and missed three (0-5).
I watched this game from my couch in Wyoming and really wish I could have been in attendance. Chandler's final three-pointer got me up out of my seat (along with thousands of folks at the Pepsi Center) and from there I spent the rest of the game standing, pumping my fist after big plays and smiling.
Throughout much of the season I received texts and phone calls from a few key friends. But tonight the texts and calls came from some folks who hadn't found much joy in watching Nuggets Basketball over the past few months. And after two games (this one with the new guys) the fans are taking notice of the new brand of basketball being branded in Denver.
Here were some of the texts I got during the game:
My friend Jeff, who was sitting behind the Nuggets basket: "The energy in here is palpable man. Can't describe it." - that text came just as the game was ending and the crowd was enjoying the win.
My friend Rory, "Nuggets Nation, the new era. Believe dat!"
My friend Rich, "So fuckin pumped bro. I got a shit-eating grin right now. We just closed out the best team in the NBA bro!"
And perhaps the strangest reactions came after the game when Kevin McHale and Charles Barkley both commented on the Nuggets depth. They compared the team to a talent filled Portland Trail Blazers team of just a few seasons ago. Barkley said the Nuggets were a dangerous team now and added during the highlights that Denver also had the, "Kenyon Martin factor ... they got a crazy guy." Basically saying the Nuggets have depth, fire-power and some toughness with K-Mart. It is just one game, against a team that was dealing with their own rotation issues after losing a couple rotation guys to trade and still dealing with some injuries.
Tonight's win was a very satisfying one. The Nuggets answered the question of how they can close out games, but with depth comes questions of minutes and issues with keeping talented guys happy. If the Nuggets happen to get to a point where playing time happiness is their biggest issue, that could be a nice problem to have.
Breaking down the Nuggets
Ty Lawson - 24 minutes. 4 points, 10 assists and 1 steal. Lawson didn't have his usual scoring touch going, but he found the open guys and made smart plays tonight. He fed Danilo Gallinari from the floor for Gallo's only bucket of the night ... a dunk off a fastbreak. Lawson showed some nice court vision and finished the game on the floor with Raymond Felton.
Arron Afflalo - 30 minutes. 13 points and 3 assists. Afflalo didn't have his stroke going from downtown, but his runner late and And-1 layup later sealed the win for Denver. Afflalo looks like he's trying to expand his offensive game and become an even better all-around player. It was great to see Afflalo's smile as he hit a runner to give Denver a 6-point lead. He finished the game on the floor late.
Danilo Gallinari - 20 minutes. 1-6 shooting for 2 points, 4 rebounds, 3 blocks and 2 steals. Gallo, like the other new players, was a bit uncomfortable on the floor tonight, but he made a couple great plays in this one. First, Davis had a wide open dunk off a blown rotation, but Gallo's hustle from nearly the free throw line allowed him to challenge and block the shot. He also took a pass from Lawson at midcourt and finished with a Celtic on him by dunking the ball and making some new fans in the process. I'm worried most about Gallo's mentality outside of New York and hope he finds his place on this team because he is a special talent. He finished the game from the bench.
Kenyon Martin - 26 minutes. 18 points, 10 rebounds, 1 steal, 1 assist and 1 throw-down of KG. Martin was hitting some jumpers, layups, put-back dunks, a free throw and even a three-pointer to end the game. This was Martin's best game of the season and I think he will relish playing the role of the veteran voice on this team. I love K-Mart's fire and he provided the Nuggets with a lot of fire tonight and led the team in scoring. He finished the game on the floor.
Nene - 32 minutes. 12 points, 10 rebounds and 2 blocks. Nene played soft to start the game, but finally snapped after he grabbed an offensive rebound, slammed it down one-handed, hung on the rim, almost kicked Davis in the face and received a technical foul. Nene will not take a lot of shots ... even in this new lineup, but he rebounded well this evening and was helped out by nice box outs from his teammates.
The bench guys:
Raymond Felton - 28 minutes. 2-8 shooting for 4 points, 6 assists and 5 rebounds. Felton turned his ankle early and slipped later in the game. He was not totally comfortable in the offense in this one, but he distributed the ball, grabbed a lot of boards for a guard and hit a couple opportune shots. I can't decide if Felton should start or not ... glad Karl gets to make that decision, but it seems like he might start slow off the bench and Lawson always starts fast off the bench. Food for thought. Like Karl did with Billups, he played Lawson and Felton together in crunch time to close out the game.
J.R. Smith - 26 minutes. 12 points, 8 rebounds, 1 assist and 1 block. J.R. had a nice jumper going last night, but wasn't going to the rim. If there was any ball-stopping going on it was when Smith breifly had a couple possessions where he looked to take his man off the dribble. We continue to see this kid mature and he is playing very well this season in all aspects of the game. He finished just 5-9 tonight from the field and played well within the team. He finished the game on the bench.
Wilson Chandler - 25 minutes. 5-9 shooting for 16 points, 5 rebounds, 1 steal and 1 block. The knock on Chandler is that he can be inconsistent. Well, he looked great tonight and is just 23 years-old. Chandler hit 3-4 shots from deep and his threes came at the right times. This guy is a willing defender, scorer and a great teammate. When J.R. was on the floor after a rare layup attempt, it was Wilson who raced over to pick him up ... love seeing that. Chandler rotated well and closed out on an Allen three-point attempt (was missed) with an effort we are not used to seeing form the Nuggets small forwards. This kid has star in the making potential. He finished the game from the bench ... thought that was a risky move because he was hot late and can defend shooters.
Al Harrington - 16 minutes. 2-7 shooting for 5 points and 4 rebounds. Big Al's minutes should continue to be around 10-15 minutes. If he's not shooting well he shouldn't be playing and if he's only shooting from outside (0-3 last night) then he needs to sit. With deep teams it means you better be doing the right things or your playing time could be affected. Denver still needs Al and he needs to take a hint from his teammates and start focusing on other things besides jacking up long shots. Finished the game on the bench.
Chris Andersen - 13 minutes. 3 points (all free throws), 3 rebounds, 1 steal and 1 block. Birdman played about the right minutes. If Birdman isn't playing smart and with energy then he needs to be playing less (he had an awful turnover where he just sort of let the ball go thinking J.R. was coming to get it and he had a horrendous defensive rotation that led to an easy bucket for KG and heard it from the crowd). He finished the game from the bench.
Timofey Mozgov - Did Not Play - Coach's Decision. The biggest disappointment of the night was not getting to see this kid in action. At 7'1'' I thought Karl might run a twin tower lineup of Nene and Moz or Birdman and Moz for a few minutes to get the kid a little burn with his new squad ... you know, make him feel like he's part of this team. Maybe he'll play tomorrow against the Blazers as Denver likes to monitor K-Mart's and Bird's minutes in back-to-backs. The Celtics only seven-footer in uniform last night was KG and I would have loved to see the Celtics try to defend 6'10'' Nene and 7'1'' Mozgov for a little stretch. I was afraid that Karl wouldn't play Mozgov and I better be wrong because this guy can ball and needs some minutes. He's a 24 year-old rookie and can hold his own ... PLAY THE RUSSIAN Karl!
Views you can use:
- The Nuggets had 9 assists in the first half and 13 assists in the second half. I love that!
- Denver out-rebounded the C's 52-38 ... and had a 7-3 advantage on the offensive glass.
- The C's shot just 39.0% on the night ... an off shooting night or the Nuggets challenging more attempts and a sign of good things to come? I hope for the ladder.
- Denver played 10 players tonight ... Harrington and Bird were the two who didn't notch at least 20 minutes.
- Denver out-scored the C's 28-15 in the fourth quarter and 16-0 to end the game. Yes!
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