Once again the Nuggets handled their business at home against a dangerous team. The Nuggets never had a John Candy sized lead, they did briefly possess a 17 point bulge, but for most of the game the Hawks were within six to 12 points. Despite the relatively close score, it seemed Denver was in continuous control from the time they caught the Hawks at 15-15 in the first quarter through the end of the game. Even when the Hawks climbed to within four with just over three minutes left, it still felt to me like the Nuggets would hold on.
I was interested to see what the Nuggets would do on defense seeing how the Hawks killed them from the perimeter last week. As I have mentioned several times lately they play an inside out, pack the paint style of defense that leaves them vulnerable to perimeter shooters.
The Nuggets focused on the paint as usual, but they were also extra careful to defend Joe Johnson on the perimeter and they held him to a 5-17 night. Nearly every defense has to give something up in order to take something away. The Nuggets decided that they were content to let Josh Smith shoot as much as he wanted from outside and he accommodated them rather nicely with a consistent barrage of hopeless heaves toward the rim from 18 plus feet as proven by his 8-23 line.
Iverson matched those two with an equally insipid shooting performance going 6-21 as he tried to do too much on several occasions. The difference was AI shot 18 free throws making 15 because he was being aggressive.
Staying with the shooting theme a little longer we mentioned how Camby, Kleiza, Najera and Carter shot 4-28 against the Hawks in Atlanta. They successfully turned that frown upside down going a combined 18-35.
The Nuggets executed their defensive plan perfectly. Atlanta did have 42 points in the paint, but that number is a bit misleading as 19 of those points came on the fast break. That shows how Denver was able to successfully protect the paint and take Joe Johnson out of the game.
The Nuggets were equally as pleasant to watch on offense as they moved as well as they have all season on offense. It was even possible to detect a few offensive sets which was a very nice surprise. Apart from a couple stretches here and there, where we saw the old one-pass-and-a-bad-shot offense they have ran so often, but for the most part they were all cutting and attacking. When you only have one player who wants to have isolation sets run for him instead of two it really opens things up.
X’s and O’s aside, the key to tonight’s victory was the Nuggets consistent focus on what they had to do throughout the game. They played with energy and purpose as we knew they would have to in order to win. I would expect Melo to be out again Friday against the Nets and the Nuggets will have to produce a similar performance in order to win that game as well.
Again it will be interesting to see if they are up to the challenge.
Other Observations From Game 41:
- The curse of the 60 point half almost came back to bite the Nuggets as the Hawks scored 58 in the second half.
- With his 2-5 night from downtown Kleiza now has seven straight games with at least one made three pointer and he has made at least two in four of those eight games. I do not think Michael Adam’s streak is in jeopardy, but it is good to see LK getting more consistent from the perimeter.
- In other Kleiza news, he actually drove to the basket with his left hand tonight. I almost passed out and had to rewind the play just to make sure I had seen what I thought I had seen. If he can become an ambidextrous, or amphibious if you prefer, driver that will really open things up for him even more. I was not a Kleiza fan when the Nuggets drafted him, but he clearly is becoming a player before our very eyes. When I mentioned that the Nuggets needed him to step up and be a Robert Horry type role player before the season started I may have been selling him short.
- Staying with Kleiza, in case you did not see the game, there were several rows of fans dressed in the yellow, green and red of Lithuania, waiving flags and generally going bonkers when Kleiza did anything. I want to know if these people were really Lithuanian or if Kleiza’s agent hired them as part of early contract extension negotiations.
- If you are wondering why Zaza Pachulia did not play tonight, Kelly Dwyer over at the Yahoo NBA Experts Blog has the inside scoop as to why.
- Kenyon was looking quite spry throwing down a couple of huge dunks and swatting a shot off the backboard that came off so hard it looked like it was one of those little rubber super bouncy balls that you get out of the little 25 cent vending machines outside the grocery store. My parents never bought me one, but I bet they have bought my daughter ten of those things already. That’s OK mom and dad, I still love you!
- Camby looked like he had a shot at grabbing 30 rebounds the way he was inhaling them in the first half, but he clearly wore down as the game progressed. Up until the Utah game he had only played more than 40 minutes in two games all season. After his 41 minute 32 second stint tonight, he has played over 40 minutes in three of the Nuggets last four games. Camby did not come out until the 9:43 mark of the second quarter. That may have been too long to keep him out there continuously.
- Josh Smith was called for a T in the middle of the fourth quarter and then Coach Woodson - who really may actually be made of wood, that guy swivels less than the old Star Wars action figures who had the light sabers slide out of their forearms - was called for a T directly after that. It struck me as strange that he would get called for a T in the fourth quarter of a game where they were behind single digits. Then again, it is just surprising for Nugget fans to see that coaches actually are allowed to disagree with the refs.
- In a general NBA comment, maybe this deserves it’s own article, but no one is reading this far down anyway so I am sure I can whip it out again sometime with no one knowing any better, it is interesting to see Phoenix, Dallas and San Antonio fall all over each other in an attempt to show who cares about the regular season the least. New Orleans is actually leading the conference halfway through the season which is setting up a scenario where it will be the first time a number one seed has played in front of a half empty arena in the conference semifinals. Heck, almost anyone who finishes eighth would feel pretty good heading into the first round having to face the Hornets instead of one of the big three. It would be like getting a reprieve just before they start to open the valve to juice you up with the lethal injection.
I still do not have a Hawks blog I feel comfortable linking to so if you run one let me know. I will send up to a dozen readers your way twice a year starting next year since this year’s two game series is over.