Quote of the Night
ACEIII: Bring on the Lake Show!!
I was all set to write about how the Nuggets once again blew a game they could have won due to missed opportunities and poor play in the closing minutes, but tonight I was pleasantly surprised. The Nuggets played this like a playoff game and for all intents and purposes it was. They managed to show that they can hang with the darlings of the Western Conference and have now strengthened their chances that they'll be the 6th seed against the Lakers, with either a Mavericks loss against the Hawks or a Nuggets win against the Timberwolves.
Make no mistake about it, in a game that meant nothing to their playoff seeding, the Thunder wanted this one BADLY. James Harden being out certainly hurt their chances (Denver's bench outscored the Thunder bench 35-20), but Durant played 40 minutes while Westbrick played 35 - just a game removed when they didn't play in the 4th quarter at all. Thunder coach Scott Brooks narrowly avoided disaster when Russell Westbrook appeared to strain his wrist late in the fourth quarter.
The Nuggets won more than just a better shot at a higher seed, though. They gained another shot of confidence heading into the playoffs. Tonight's win marked three straight tough road victories, their third win in a row, and seven out of the last 10 games. That is exactly the type of roll you want your team to be on heading into the postseason.
- The Nuggets had seven players score in double figures: Ty Lawson (25), Arron Afflalo (15), Danilo Gallinari (14), Kenneth Faried (13), JaVale McGee, Corey Brewer, and Al Harrington (10 each).
Conversely, the Thunder had just three: Kevin Durant (32), Russell Westbrook (30) and Serge Ibaka (15)
- Denver outrebounded the Thunder 42-37, out-assisted them 21-18, and forced them into 18 turnovers while turning the ball over just 10 times.
- Denver's appalling night at the free throw line (18-30) nearly cost them the game, as it did several times during the 2011 playoffs. If the Nuggets hit just 6 more, they win by 11 points tonight going away. I'll just say that if they can't shoot better than 60% from the charity stripe, they don't deserve to win a game in this year's playoffs, much less a series.
Nuggets of the Night:
Corey Brewer: 23 min, 5-10, 10 points, 2 steals, 1 block, 0 turnovers.
Hats off to "Sea Brew". Although Westbrook and Durant did shoot above 50% from the field combined, his length definitely bothered them both all game. He played the passing lanes, kept a hand up at all times and closed out marvelously well. If Corey can continue to play defense like this (and stop shooting threes, please, PLEASE COREY), the Nuggets will have two lethal wing stoppers in he and Afflalo.
Ty Lawson: 36 min, 8-15 (3-5 3p), 25 points, 4 assists, 5 rebounds, 2 steals, 2 turnovers.
Ty Lawson continues to elevate his game. He's never looked faster and is finally starting to show that hunger we've all been waiting for. His tendency to follow up big games with a disappearing act tempers my expectations - but it seems that he's finally starting to realize that the hallmark of true greatness is consistency. In the last 6 games, Ty has averaged almost 23 points a game and 6 assists.
JaVale McGee: 18 min, 5-9, 10 points, 6 rebounds, 2 steals, 1 block, 1 turnover.
Sure, I could have given Arron Afflalo or Kenneth Faried the nod here. Both had better statistical games than McGee. McGee wasn't spectacular tonight, posting a pedestrian 10 and 6.
He is finally showing the maturity and composure that many suspected lurked beneath "Pierre". He didn't commit any terrible fouls (or any fouls, period), boneheaded plays or take awful shots. He was instead a force in the paint, bothering cutting Thunder players all night.
And the best part? Late in the game, on the Thunder's last timeout, Karl gathered the team to talk defense. Timofey Mozgov waddled over, arms extended, in an apparent attempt to go for the jumping shoulder-bump with McGee.
McGee waved him off and turned back to the huddle to listen to Karl.
That is why McGee gets the nod.
And also why Mozgov recorded yet another DNP-CD.
Denver heads to Minnesota tonight, one win short of clinching the sixth seed. They control their destiny now, and now THEY can choose who they wish to face in this year's playoffs. Given their gutty win tonight, neither the Lakers nor the Thunder can be thrilled at drawing this Nuggets squad.