The Nuggets first half of basketball tonight was some of the worst basketball I've ever seen. Yet, after persevering through three quarters, an Italian and a Greek American come to the rescue.
Nuggets defeat the Hornets 96-88
I will give this to these Denver Nuggets. They are relentless.
The first three quarters of basketball was an exercise in frustration. It wasn't the Nuggets offense (which was struggling) that was frustrating, it was the defense. Giving up easy baskets to a team that is missing their best offensive player (Eric Gordon) was inexcusable. And when George Karl elected to play the "ultra small" lineup toward the end of the second quarter - well, I was beginning to yell at the TV screen.
Then came the second half, more specifically the end of the third quarter. The Nuggets were getting opportunities to close the gap, even tie the game in the middle of the quarter (specifically a Ty Lawson clear-path foul opportunity that resulted in two free throws and a bad shot) but couldn't quite get there. Then a MASSIVE run at the end of the third quarter in to the fourth, spearheaded by tonight's hero's Danilo Gallinari and Kosta Koufos, took the wind out of the Hornets sails, and the Nuggets spend the majority of the fourth up by double digits.
Gallo finished with a game high 23 points, 6 assists and 4 rebounds. He was by leaps and bounds the most consistent offensive player of this game (even though he still has issues with his three-point shots ... he did manage to hit three). I grow more and more impressed with Gallo's court vision and passing ability. When he leads the break he seems to know how to feed the appropriate big man in the lane, such as a nifty pass to Nene in the first quarter). The more I see, the more I like ... and I LIKED him already.
K2 is starting to become my second favorite Nuggets player. He always seems to be around the ball, and can exploit his athleticism. Even more impressive is his refined post moves on offense and his tough interior defense. What's not to like? Ever since he was first inserted against Milwaukee till tonight, Kouf has made the most of his minutes and has improved in each game. Koufos finished with 8 points, 5 rebounds and 3 blocks in just 17 minutes on the court. Gotta love it.
Additionally, after getting gashed by Jarrett Jack and Greivis Vasquez in the first half, the Nuggets clamped down defensively and limited the Hornets to 41 second half points. Lead by the aggressive wing defense of Arron Afflalo and the quick hands of Ty Lawson (who had his first "off" game of the year). Nene Hilario was limited due to it being his first game coming back from his bruised heel. So majority of the power forward minutes went to Koufos, Gallinari and our surprising buddy Al Harrington.
Big Al provided a much needed offensive spark off the bench when the Nuggets couldn't hit the broad side of a barn with their shots. He finished with 14 points and 6 rebounds while occasionally playing the center position. Meanwhile Rudy Fernandez, while still struggling offensively did play some good defense and was very good at passing the ball. Nice to see a game with no chucking.
Nuggets of wisdom
This was a game that Nuggets teams of old would have lost, hands down. Once the tide going against them, former Nuggets teams would have let it get in their heads and lost by 19. George Karl had a brain fart mid 2nd quarter by putting the ultra small lineup out there, but credit where credit is due, he corrected that and stuck with Koufos through most of their big run in the second half. Which is good and the luxury of depth.
One issue, however. Timofey Mozgov has either looked just good, or he's been a non-factor all season. This points to the frustratingly slow development for big's in the NBA. I can see capability in Moz, but I'm frustrated with his lack of court awareness and propensity to pick up ticky tack fouls by reaching in. When you are 7'1" you don't need to do that. Like Scott Hastings said, there will come a time when Moz realizes he is big. I'm hoping that realization comes quickly because the Nuggets will need him to be better going forward.
On to San Antonio tomorrow. The Nuggets have won 4 in a row and two out of their four road games. Hope the run continues. It's still very fun to watch.