"We almost did everything in our power to not win it." said Nuggets coach Brian Shaw to the cramped reporters in the Pepsi Center hallway after the Nuggets gave the rookie coach his first-ever victory on his fourth try.
If ever there was an apt description of a Nuggets game, that was the one. The Nuggets were going on an eerily similar trajectory to the San Antonio Spurs game of Tuesday night, and as several points during the fourth quarter the team looked less like an NBA team than cats attempting to be herded by an increasingly exasperated Brian Shaw.
Then, as it happens, Ty Lawson began to take over the game. Culminating in a wacky banked three-point shot that put the Nuggets up five points with one minute to play. It capped what was a stellar game for the diminutive point guard, he finished with 23 points, 8 assists and 7 rebounds. It's clear that Ty has taken the team under his wing and is determined to play even better this season.
However, the Nuggets do NOT win this game without the considerable aid of Andre Miller, who's clutch shots and ... wait for it ... defense ended up saving the day for this Nuggets team. Miller's defense on Paul Milsap in Atlanta's last possession was flawless and sealed the game for the team. It's amazing to think that someone at the age of 37 could come up with such textbook defense on someone who is considerably larger than he. Miller finished with 7 points and 7 assists ... but that is almost incidental to the defense he played in the waning moments of the game.
Nuggets high spots
The Nuggets offense managed to break out of their month long slump (including preseason) and managed to score over 100 points for the first time this season. While by no means efficient, and sometimes downright ugly (particularly at times with Nate Robinson going iso and chucking fade away long twos). The Nuggets shot an amazing (for them) 56% from the three point line, with two clutch three point shots from Andre Miller (!) and good production from Evan Fournier.
Additionally JaVale McGee did some good stuff on both defense and offense tonight. Generally staying within himself and finishing with 14 points. It wasn't pretty but it was generally effective ... particularly with several alley oops from Randy Foye and Kenneth Faried. However...
Evan Fournier also broke out of his early season slump and contributed 12 points. In general, he looked more confident, and the offense flowed much better with him contributing positively during the game.
Nuggets low spots
JaVale McGee's fourth quarter. This may be a recurring theme throughout this season but for all the good JaVale did through most the game, he had a stretch in the fourth quarter on both offense and defense where he sucked the wind out of the Nuggets sails. Particularly when he decided to launch a pull up jumper with about 4 minutes to go in the game that made those who assembled on media row put their collective faces in their hands. It's these moments that are so frustrating. They are random and needless. There is no reason for things like that, but it happens on an all too consistent basis for JaVale. IF he eliminates those kinds of mistakes, and plays WITHIN himself like he did for a majority of the game ... good things will happen.
Coach Shaw had this to say about JaVale after the game "He's taking baby steps and, with the exception of that ill-advised shot he took in a critical part of the fourth quarter near the end ... you know, he stayed around the basket and used his length." Shaw continued, "I'd like to see him rebound a little bit more (note: JaVale finished with 3 rebounds), but he was away from the basket alot tonight because their bigs were on the perimeter, shooting threes, popping out and keeping us spaced."
Nate Robinson - Robinson had some great shots and finished with 15 points (and 4 three point shots) but there are stretches of basketball where Nate Rob bogs down the offense and becomes "iso-Nate". In the first quarter, after a bad shot on offense, Brian Shaw took Nate Rob out of the game. From press row I could see Robinson yell at Shaw and then throw his mouthpiece. He went to the bench and kicked a chair. This fire is ok when it's not a distraction, but it will be something worth watching as the season progresses.
Nuggets of Wisdom
Andre Miller came up big, and sometimes we gripe so much about Dre that we forget the positive things he does. Shaw on Dre; "You know, he's just the consummate professional. He understands how to play the game and conduct himself as a professional. Every day when he comes to practice, you know, some of our young guys need to watch and learn from him. You know, he's not the fastest guy out there, you know, he can't jump high ... but he just knows how to play and he has a good feel for the game. He plays the game the right way."
Without Dre Miller, the Nuggets are likely wondering why they are 0-4 after a 57 win year last season. As it is, they are 1-3 heading to Phoenix on a back to back. Maybe Shaw is right? Maybe the Nuggets need to conduct themselves a little bit more like Miller? It's something to think about going forward. The team got off the schnied but they are still a massive work in progress. Like Shaw said about JaVale ... baby steps. Hopefully this will be the start of some sort of light bulb turning on above the collective head's of this team.
One can only hope.