At halftime if you would have told me that I was about to write what I am about to write I would have probably kicked you out of my house.
That was a great win.
You can talk to me all you want about how it was just the Clippers, Baron Davis only played 13 minutes, it is only the second game of the season, but this was a important win for the Denver Nuggets.
It would have been easy for them to make excuses (no Melo, on the road, early in the season) and just mail it in. I think it is important that they did not. They fought back against Utah and they fought back again tonight.
What was so important about this win?
Tonight the Nuggets learned how to win with defense. They learned how everyone taking personal responsibility for rebounding will lead to great team rebounding. They learned that it is possible for hem to win without scoring a lot of fast break points. They learned how deadly the pick and roll can be when run correctly. Nene learned how to play with foul trouble. Allen Iverson learned how to play basketball again after a poor preseason. J.R. Smith learned how to take over a game without dominating the ball and taking bad shots. Once they learn these things they will have turned an important corner. I think they may have learned these lessons tonight, but only time will tell.
I think the fans may have learned something too. There just might be something to the preseason focus on defense. We heard a lot of the same talk from these guys before the previous two or three seasons, but this year it just might be more than talk.
Like the Nuggets, I have found myself strangely invigorated about this season. The Camby trade has energized me as a fan. I wrote at the time that I was glad they made the deal just as a sign that management realized that this team needed to be remade. My other immediate reaction was that I expected them to be a weaker team and this season was bound to be a wash. Well, because of that temporary decrease in expectation and the way the national media has dismissed the Nuggets I am entering the season that earning a playoff birth would be an accomplishment instead of another disappointment.
Because of that mindset, I was emotionally involved in the second game of the season. I was standing the entire fourth quarter and OT in the middle of my living room (or family room, I have never known what the difference between the two was).
The way the Nuggets played in the second half, this was a team that I could buy into. They played together on defense, attacked on offense and gave a great effort. Regardless of how much you hate George Karl or want to see Allen Iverson traded or think Kenyon Martin is a thug or hate the front office no Nugget fan could have watched the way they played in the second half and felt indifferent.
In my game recap of the Utah game I mentioned the key was that no one stepped up and gave a performance that carried the Nuggets to victory, well tonight they had several players step up and take care of business.
Nene, Kenyon Martin, J.R. Smith and Kleiza stepped up on the glass. After a disastrous first half during which the Clippers had 13 offensive rebounds the Nuggets as a group became hyper aggressive on the glass. They ended up giving up only five more offensive boards the rest of the game despite the fact that the Clippers missed many more shots in the second half and OT than they did in the first. J.R. especially deserves credit for getting after it on the glass. The box score shows he had a career high tying ten rebounds, but he would have had two or three more in the second half had Kenyon or Nene grabbed them instead.
Offensively Nene stepped up from the beginning of the game and was spectacular all night long. He showed his great hands, quickness and finishing ability in the lane. However, he was not the only one. J.R. Smith became a threat and played a great second half. He was not on fire, he just worked for good shots. Maybe most importantly, Allen Iverson appeared to come back to life. He did not force anything and he played his style without totally dominating the ball.
So there you have it. I believe this was a very good win and we will see if the Nuggets can recall how they played tonight and not go into “We’re the Denver Freakin’ Nuggets” mode and think they can show up and turn it on whenever they want to get a win. If they can play with this intensity and focus they will be a team to be reckoned with.
Other Observations from Game 2:
- George Karl was into this game. He was up most of the second half and was going after the refs again, even drawing a technical foul. So far this season we have seen a more active Karl than last season. He has not been the lozenge sucking bump planted on the bench. It does not make him any smarter, but it does make him a more effective coach.
- For the most part I thought Karl did a good job coaching this game. He took a couple of risks, the biggest of which was going small at the end of the third and early in the fourth knowing that the Nuggets had struggled rebounding the ball in the first half. I was worried, but it worked and hat group cut the lead from 17 to six. On the other hand, I did have a problem with the way he played Anthony Carter. Carter played hard and put up some nice numbers, but by having him in the game at the end and in overtime to guard Al Thornton was a big risk especially when considering how he was not needed on offense. The way Dahntay Jones played he should have been out there instead of AC.
- I was disappointed that Renaldo Balkman did not get in the game. His style was perfect for the way the Nuggets scrapped I the second half, but you cannot argue with the result.
- Chris Kaman has some long shoulder hair. Not shoulder length hair, long hair on his shoulders. He can almost style that stuff.
- Chris Andersen must box out when he is in the game. He relies completely on his athleticism instead of fighting for all the space he can get.
- The officiating in the first half was atrocious. Courtney Kirkland basically did the Sam Cassell testicle dance at the Nuggets in the second quarter. Fortunately, everyone calmed down and the officiating was merely a footnote to the game instead of a major factor.
- I was disappointed that the Nuggets did not go with a J.R. Smith/Nene pick and roll when they had a chance to take the lead with about 40 seconds left. The Clippers had yet to solve those two working together and I think it was an opportunity to go back to the well.
- Linas Kleiza has been awful so far. You have to wonder if the contract negotiations and an apparent lack of an agreement is messing with his head. Even though he shot very poorly, he did pull down nine boards. He made a drive to his left and converted on it although he still was on the right side of the hoop and shot with his right hand. Still that was nice to see. All of that was merely prologue as most importantly he hit to clutch free throws with just over nine seconds left to send the game into OT.
- As well as Nene has played, he has yet to hit a jumper and the fact that he has been working on adding the 15 footer to his repertoire since he entered the league and he still is very inconsistent is frustrating. He does have decent form though so hopefully it will start falling for him. If it does, he will be virtually unstoppable on offense.
- I can only hope that Carmelo sees how his teammates are playing on defense and does his part when he comes back tomorrow night. Melo has always lacked the focus to keep track of his man on the weak side of the court. This year, everyone is not only remaining attentive to their man (even AI who frequently in the past would only realize his guy had cut after he saw him standing on the other side of the floor), but also helping out and then rotating with purpose. Even in the first half when they fell behind, they were generally in the right spots, they were just not playing with the intensity that they did in the second half.
Tomorrow is the true test. We will truly get to see how far their team defense has advanced as the team that tore them a new ear hole last year is coming to the Pepsi Center. The Los Angeles Lakers roll back into town and the Nuggets have a chance to make a strong statement by pulling off the upset.
Check out Clips Nation for some insight into what Clipper fans are thinking about the game.