A much better effort and vastly improved shooting carried the Denver Nuggets to the brink of an upset against the defending champion Heat, but the Nuggets were turned away in the closing seconds by a combination of their own indecision, a solid Heat defense and maybe just a hint of preferential treatment for the champs (through this fan’s eyes).
The Nuggets kicked the game off by spotting the Heat eight points before they got in gear, and you could see the concern on faces throughout the arena about a typical slow start against one of the leagues’ better teams. Brian Shaw quickly rotated out a couple of players off to ineffectual starts (sorry, Jordan Hamilton) and started getting better effort and production from his squad immediately. Suddenly the Nuggets were the first team to loose balls and turnovers, and Ty Lawson finally broke out of his shooting slump. By the end of the first quarter, the Nuggets had actually pulled ahead of Miami by one, and you only hoped they could keep their foot on the gas.
That hope was well founded throughout the first half, as Denver continued to apply pressure to the Heat, who are notorious for slow starts against any opponent. That said, the Nuggets took advantage of what the Heat gave them, and found themselves up at the half by nine, 55-46. Their rotations were crisp, they were punishing Heat mistakes from both the inside and outside games, and they looked as solid as they had during last month’s seven game winning streak. At the half, the Nuggets were hitting 56% of their field goals, and were 50% from beyond the arc (and hitting free throws at an 80% clip as well). Could Denver have a little magic in them for the night?
Possibly the most frustrating moment of the night came at the start of the third quarter, when the Nuggets immediately gave back the lead (and then some), giving the Heat the first 13 points of the second half, and immediately putting themselves back in a hole. You had to wonder if the Nuggets weren’t about to fold and retreat as they have during the tough times of the last few games. But here’s what gave me heart about tonight (even in a loss, doubting I’ve spoiled that bit of news for you). The Nuggets stood back up. Down four, and hearing a lot of cheering for the Heat from their own building, the Nuggets got tough, and went back to the ways that got them the nine point lead at the half, and the two teams battled and made a game of it from there. The Nuggets made a few too many mistakes down the stretch, going out with a whimper on a 5-second inbounding penalty on J.J. Hickson (Not all on J.J., everyone knew Ty was getting the ball, and no one even pretended to try to help those two gents with some motion).
Too bad a win was not to be, but I wonder how many of the games on this recent seven game streak would have been in the loss column with the effort we saw from the guys tonight. I don’t get to catch the postgame show from out of state, but hope sincerely that Coach Shaw spoke well of the gents tonight, they deserved some love for the effort and passion they put into tonight.
A lot of things went right for the Nuggets tonight, with nearly every player having moments they shone (I’ve got a couple who didn’t in the paragraph below, it wasn’t all roses). Standouts were Lawson (26 points, and mentioned above), Wilson Chandler for a nice two-way game against LeBron James (Chandler had 13 points, and LBJ had 26, but he had to work for every one of them, and a few of the shots he drained were with Wilson playing textbook D), and a shout out for Darrell Arthur. Darth stepped up with some badly needed long range shooting tonight (strangely, his bread-and-butter spot abandoned him) and a couple of how-long-have-I-been-waiting-for-someone-to-freaking-do-this drives to the rim for jams. Once he got started, a couple of other guys got in on the act, and miraculously, the pick and roll and outside games opened up. Who knew this stuff could actually work?
Jordan Hamilton got an early hook tonight, totaling three points in his 10 minutes on the floor, and looked like the game was moving too fast for him all night. Nate Robinson had zero points and two turnovers in his 11 minutes on the floor, and has gone from doghouse to top dog and back in his short stay with the Nuggets. His confidence is so shaken right now that his worst play of the night was a shot he didn’t take - when the Nuggets badly needed scoring. Ty, driving the lane, finds a wide open Nate Rob floating near the corner, and with a great look… he passes back to Wilson Chandler in traffic. Shaw pulled Nate soon after as he was obviously ineffective. And as a last little negative, how many stars besides LBJ could scream at two different refs, punch a ball across the court, and still get a second jump ball when they stole the first one? Not saying there was preferential treatment, but… oh wait, I kind of am.
Bottom line, a lot of good things to see from the loss tonight, but at the end of the day, we just racked up 7 in a row. How are you feeling, Nuggets Nation?