To date, I've left most of the adulation thrown towards rookie Kenneth Faried to my Denver Stiffs co-writer Nate and Jeff.
But consider me a Faried convert now. I'm not sure what took me so long other than to say I haven't witnessed (in person) Faried's best games. Tonight, I was fortunate enough to witness perhaps his BEST game as an NBA player so far.
With Faried playing less than half of the game (which made no sense, more on that shortly) against an aging, weary Celtics team, the rookie racked up 18 points - on just five shot attempts! - to go along with 16 rebounds (6 offensive!) in leading the Nuggets to a gut-wrenching 98-91 victory over the Celtics on St. Patrick's Day. Earning his "Manimal" moniker, Faried - again, when given the opportunity to play - was all over the floor and set the tone for a Nuggets team that was otherwise willing to watch the Celtics miss shots all night and just hope for a victory.
But the Nuggets shouldn't have needed Faried's re-injection into the game around the 4:35 mark in the fourth quarter to begin with.
For much of the night and the first third of the fourth quarter, the Nuggets had the visibly tired Celtics handled until Nuggets head coach George Karl stuck too long with his "trust lineup" that included our own visibly tired veterans Al Harrington and Andre Miller. With Harrington and Miller on the floor for much of the fourth quarter (Harrington played the entire quarter, Miller got yanked for Arron Afflalo at the six-minute mark), the Nuggets saw an 82-68 third quarter lead dwindle down to 87-83 (the Nuggets scored just five points in seven and a half minutes of play) before Faried came in for Rudy Fernandez.
With Faried on the floor, the Nuggets gave up another basket to Boston cutting their lead down to two. On the next possession, Harrington missed a three-pointer (which he did four times on five attempts ... ugh) but Faried gobbled up the offensive rebound, got fouled and sank two free throws. With Faried leading the charge, the Nuggets owned the energy of the game from there and never looked back.
All of this, of course, begs the obvious questions for Coach Karl: why isn't the youthful Faried being played more minutes? Had the veterans not given the game back to Boston tonight, would Faried have even gotten on the floor again in the fourth quarter? And what more does Faried need to do to get into Karl's circle of trust to close games? The kid is a game-changer!
When tired and road-weary teams stumble into Pepsi Center on the second of a back-to-back, that is exactly when we want to see the likes of Faried, Timofey Mozgov / Kosta Koufos, Ty Lawson, Afflalo and Danilo Gallinari on the floor. That collection of players has size, speed and youthful energy and the Nuggets could wipe teams off the floor routinely with that lineup. Instead, the Nuggets' over-reliance on Harrington (whose fatigue cost him multiple jumpers and free throws tonight) and Miller (who shot an atrocious 1-8 from the field to go along with 5 turnovers) has made winnable games stupidly lose-able.
To reiterate what has written here before - I have no problem with the veterans in tight situations. I just have a problem with the veterans being run ragged which creates the tight situations in the first place, and then hoping they have enough gas (which they never do) to eke out victories.
Non-Stiff(s) of the Game
-Kenneth Faried: Faried had one of the most efficient games I've ever witnessed for under 24 minutes of play. He made his mark on the game every time he was on the floor and deserves more playing time going forward. Faried made a sold out Pepsi Center forget about Nene real fast.
-Danilo Gallinari: Gallo has his sea legs back and played his third straight solid game. Could Gallo/Faried be the Nuggets small forward/power forward duo of the future?
Stiffs of the Game
-Ray Allen: Allen had multiple opportunities to get the Celtics back into the game and even take over the game, but he just couldn't connect when the meaningful shot opportunities arose, finishing 3-10 from the field and 0-6 from three-point range.
-Andre Miller: Beyond the putrid stats (1-8 from the field, 5 turnovers) the game came to a halt whenever Miller touched the ball.
At home especially, the Nuggets should go with a young lineup and play fast. And after seeing the splendid, energetic performances put forth tonight by Faried, Gallo, Mozgov and Koufos, hopefully Karl is starting to see that his circle of trust can be expanded immediately.