Once again we return to the central theme of the Nuggets season. Should we be happy that the Nuggets won or should we be disappointed that they needed a great deal of luck down the stretch to beat a team who was 1-19 on the road?
In an attempt to figure out what to think I went back and watched the game again from the point in the second quarter when Denver extended their lead to 56-42. Why that point in the contest? Because that was when the wheels fell off.
After watching that portion of the game again (who else would rewatch that much of such a disappointing game for you guys? Well, OK, I did like the last minute. And it was fun to watch AI work.) what I saw was that Minnesota player very well. The Wolves basically caught fire. For the most part Denver played hard, but the problem was not effort, it was their lack of passion.
The other thing I noticed was that they did not really crank up the defensive pressure in the fourth quarter. At first glance or by looking at the stats it looks like the Nuggets must have really locked down on D in the fourth quarter to hold the Wolves to 18 points. However, the difference was not so much with their effort on defense, but with the Timberwolves play on offense.
Minnesota completely altered their approach on offense as the clock wound down. They stopped doing what they had done well that had earned them a lead, which was playing quickly and moving the ball. They started force feeding Al Jefferson and that allowed the Nuggets to focus on him and play that inside out style of defense that Minnesota had taken advantage of. They played right into the Nuggets hands.
The other thing Minnesota did was they simply got scared. That can happen when you are trying to win just your second road game of the season on your twenty first try. The best example of that can be seen in the fourth quarter stats for Marko Jaric and especially Ryan Gomes. Jaric was not shooting great, but through three quarters he was 5-12 from the floor and he had made two three pointers. Gomes was red hot though. He had made eight of ten shots through three quarters including two threes of his own.
Neither player took a shot from the field in the fourth quarter. When it came down to time for winning, they were afraid to shoot. Gomes was particularly bad as he passed up open jumpers on more than one occasion. He was 8-10 through three quarters and was afraid to shoot in the fourth!
Contrast that with the play of Allen Iverson in the fourth quarter and you see the difference between players who were afraid to do something wrong and a player who was afraid to not do all he could for his team.
Sebastian Telfair made a shot with just over three minutes left in the third quarter to give the Wolves a seven point lead and that is when Iverson took over. During those fifteen minutes AI dropped in 16 points on 5-10 shooting. Minnesota only scored 21 points over that span and they only hit six of 20 shots.
Even with Iverson’s strong finish the Nuggets needed a couple of calls to go their way to eek the game out. The first was the deflected rebound with nine seconds left that was given to Denver even though the laws of physics dictate that it would have been physically impossible for Al Jefferson to have been the one who knocked the ball out of bounds. The second was the no call on Iverson’s travel on the inbound play after they were awarded the ball after the deflected rebound. Iverson clearly took four steps, but apparently the referees were OK with that so I guess I am too.
Instead of restarting the constant argument about whether a win is a win or if the Nuggets should have won by more because they were playing a bad team at home I am going to go in a different direction.
This team does not strike fear into anyone and that tells me something.
The Minnesota’s and Charlotte’s and Atlanta’s of the league are not in any way intimidated to play the Nuggets. The weaker teams of the NBA go into games with teams like the Suns or Celtics knowing they have to play their absolute best to keep from getting blown out. When those teams fall behind by 15 or 20 points there is a sense of inevitability as to what the conclusion will be.
When these teams play Denver it is obvious that they go into the game with a great deal of confidence. It is clear that teams respect the talents of AI and Melo, but I rarely get the sense watching the Nuggets that teams are in any way worried about taking them on. No one knows who the great teams are any better than the players who compete against them. Other teams clearly do not believe Denver is an elite team.
Other Observations From Game 39:
- Linas Kleiza did not quite live up to expectations following his 41 point explosion. Kleiza scored 23 of his 41 points off of layups or dunks and free throws. Those type of points will not always be there. Minnesota did a great job of getting back on the break and keeping him from doing to them what he did to Utah.
- J.R. Smith played another very solid game. He got a little three happy in the fourth quarter, but he again did a good job driving to the basket and did not hurt the Nuggets with his defense anymore than anyone else did.
- Encino Man is on again.
- Minnesota is a very good offensive rebounding team, but they only grabbed nine offensive boards. I wish I could give the Nuggets the credit for that, but the real reason why Minnesota did not gather up many offensive rebounds was because they made so many shots. The Nuggets deserve some credit for that too.
- It was good to see Anthony Carter get out of his shooting slump. In his last six games before last night he had shot 2-7, 1-6, 9-16, 3-9, 0-5 and 1-3. Not good. He did manage to go 4-7 and had a big shot that would have given the Nuggets the lead by one had it gone in with just over two minutes left that went halfway down, but somehow rattled out. Can I mention a missed shot at a crucial part of the game in the same section I am claiming the guy is out of a shooting slump? Well, I just did.