Schg schg schg schg schg schg schg. Schg schg schg schg.
Most of us recognize the depressing sound of an engine failing to start. It's that moment right before you are going to work for an important meeting, hurrying to catch a flight, or trying to escape a pursuing zombie horde. It never happens at the right time, and having the Nuggets' starters fail tonight was no different. Ty Lawson, Andre Iguodala and Danilo Gallinari were flatter than the hardwood they played on. Even with a special night from the Nuggets bench, the Nuggets were unable to overcome the poor shooting of their key starters and another disastrous night defending the three. You're not going to win when the first made field goals of your three leading scorers don't occur until the third quarter, and definitely not when they're shooting 8-25 for the game. Oh, and the Nuggets once again failed to connect on a single three pointer (0-10) while letting the Spurs connect on 10 of theirs.
I think the most frustrating part of tonight's game was that the Nuggets were not only leading, but they had a big lead. Even with Ty Lawson playing on one ankle, the Nuggets managed to get up by as many as 14 points. Yet the Nuggets frittered away a lead by letting Danny Green - the fifth best three point shooter in the league (45%) - connect on nearly all of his attempts (6-8). What's worse, the majority of those came on wide open looks when Gallinari failed to rotate over or only bothered to close out the first few feet. Anyone could see that Gallinari has been struggling on offense, but now his defense has inexplicably disappeared like corruption charges against Silvio Berlusconi. His timidity on the last shot opportunity was also damning, meekly handing the ball back to Andre Miller instead of stepping up against a much more leadfooted Tiago Splitter. He had 4 awful turnovers, 3 fouls and was basically invisible all night. I'm pretty upset with Gallinari's play lately, and feel that Karl should strongly consider inserting Chandler into the starting lineup in his place.
The Nuggets had this game, and let a typically-lopsided San Antonio referee crew take them out of it. They were within one point with 34 seconds to play. I don't care that Bennett Salvatore and Haywoode Workman let the Spurs get away with virtually everything while calling the Nuggets for everything else, they're two of the worst officials in the league and typically call games for the home team anyway. That is how the Spurs have always won, by exploiting officiating and capitalizing on their open looks. If the Nuggets starters had even played close to a passable game, the Nuggets probably run away with it in the late second and third quarters, but it was all about the Nuggets' bench tonight. They outscored the starters 59-40.
The starters - except for Kenneth Faried, who was excellent - squandered a brilliant night from JaVale McGee, who recorded a double double and a collection of stellar blocks. After some of the worst basketball I've seen a Nuggets center play, McGee turned around and put up 21 points, 11 rebounds, 3 blocks and 2 steals - with just 1 turnover and three fouls on 10-11 shooting in 26 minutes. Even with his boneheaded play, it's so hard to give up on JaVale when he's capable of putting up a night like this. He defended the crap out of Tim Duncan, made him take tough shots and gave the Nuggets opportunities on the break. Wilson Chandler was his usual revitalized self, driving the lane, making tough defensive stops, and maximizing his time on the floor with 15 points, 5 boards, and 3 assists. Even Andre Miller seemed (slightly) more capable on defense tonight.
A disappointing finish, but when the game came down to foul calls and - what a familiar problem - late game execution, it seemed pretty clear to me that the Nuggets were going down. Up next is a home game against the Brooklyn Nets on Friday, which will hopefully let the Nuggets begin the process of righting the ship.
9 games left, 6 at home, 1 full (two effectively) game lead on the Grizzlies for the 4th seed.