The Charlotte Bobcats won the pace battle, but the Nuggets pulled out their shinny new hand grenade and won the war (if you have no idea what I am talking about, that is what you get for not reading the game preview).
The pace factor for the game was 89.4. To get an idea of how slow that is picture yourself at Sizzler bruising your hand as you bang away at a new bottle of ketchup praying that at some point the red sludge will ooze its way onto your plate. That is how slow that game was. However, it was still faster paced than the Bobcats average game entering tonight as they had a pace factor of 84.5 (I guess now we know why they only have 38 people at their games). It was a far cry from the Nuggets 98.5 pace factor. The good news is despite playing the Bobcats style the Nuggets prevailed 88-80 thanks to the Nuggets new found ability to frustrate teams with their defense.
The Nuggets began the game going through the motions a little bit and they fell behind early because of it. They gave up offensive rebounds on Charlotte’s first five missed shots, partly from bad bounces and partly from a lack of ball hawking, which was pretty alarming. They quickly tightened things up and ended the game having only allowed six offensive rebounds. Jason Richardson was hot early draining two threes in the first two minutes and he added third just five minutes later. The Nuggets did do a much better job on him as the game wore on.
After a decent first half Denver raised the intensity a level or two and played some serious lockdown defense in the second half. As we discussed in the preview, Charlotte was in the basement of the NBA in points per game, but that was a direct result of their slow pace of play, not offensive ineptitude. Charlotte actually entered the game with a very respectable offensive efficiency rating, but the Nuggets held them to only 34 second half points and 39 fewer points than Charlotte scored on Denver the last time the Nuggets were in North Carolina.
The other positive from the game aside from another solid effort on defense was Melo seemed to find his game a little in the third quarter. He scored 14 of his 25 points in the third quarter where the Nuggets took control of the game. Melo drained three midrange jumpers and a three as the Nuggets went from down four to up nine by the end of the quarter. I would have liked to see him attack the rim a little more, especially on pick and rolls with Billups, but when he is hitting that 18 footer he is unguardable.
This was not a great win and at the end of the season no one is going to remember much about this game, but the bottom line is Denver took care of business on the road against a decent home team despite being seriously short handed in the front court. Now they can focus on Cleveland, a team they have handled pretty well since Melo came to town, and clinching a winning road trip.
Other Observations from Game 7:
- The one aspect of the Nuggets defense that really bothers me is their propensity to switch for no reason. I realize part of that is by design as switching is a different way to play defense and can be effective in short bursts, but if they never switched another screen this season I would be a happy camper. One situation in particular showed the danger in switching everything. Melo switched onto Raymond Felton after a less than wall like pick by Gerald Wallace. Chauncey knew Felton could blow by Melo whenever he wanted so he was paying a great deal of attention to Felton and lost track of Wallace who snuck behind him for an easy dunk. That sequence occurred because of an unnecessary switch.
- One of the things that always bugged me about the way the Pistons played was that they took a lot of unnecessary threes to try to knock teams out late in games. The two primary culprits were Rasheed Wallace and Chauncey. It is safe to say that Billups has yet to find his shot since returning to Denver, but tonight he still took two really bad threes in the last four minutes of the game, especially considering how he has been slumping from long range.
- After forcing Charlotte to miss 46 of 77 shots the Nuggets have now held five of their seven opponents below 41% shooting and are holding the opposition to a shooting percentage of 41.2% for the season good for fourth in the league right now.
- Here are some facts for you. Fact: The Nuggets were short handed and needed Cheikh Samb to play a little bit. Fact: Charlotte has a tall skinny prospect big man of their own in Alexis Ajinca. Fact: Larry Brown and George Karl both went to North Carolina and are friends. Fact: When Karl put Samb in the game Brown put Ajinca in the game. Fact: When Karl took Samb out, Brown took Ajinca out. Put all of that together and my conspiracy theory of the night is Brown did Karl a favor and played Ajinca when Samb was on the floor.
- I think tonight J.R. Smith hit rock bottom. He played only 17 minutes, missed six of his seven shots and had far and away the worst plus/minus of any Nugget who played with a -12. Teams are really focusing on choking off his driving lanes. I believe J.R. has been affected the most by the departure of AI as he is now the second most explosive scorer on the roster. A lot of the attention that went to AI is now being transferred to J.R. and he is going to have to adjust to that. The easiest and most important adjustment he can make is to hit some shots. Since starting the season 2-3 on opening night in Utah he has gone 4-25 from downtown. Yea, that is good for 16%. Ouch.
- Okafor is clearly not one of the better post scorers in the NBA, but Nene deserves credit for making him a complete non factor in this game.
- One thing the Nuggets wings are pretty poor at is entering the ball into the post. Melo, Kleiza, and Balkman all struggled in this area tonight. Dahntay Jones is the worst as he seems so frightened at the prospect of passing the ball into the post he simply refuses to do it. There were several occasions tonight where Nene was wide open and did not receive a pass or the pass came too early or too late. Scott Hastings does a good job pointing out how the angles they pass from make it more difficult to enter the ball. There are many occasions where if they would just take a dribble towards the baseline the passing lane would be wide open. Instead they keep throwing it over the defender’s arm towards the baseline or the corner drawing Nene away from where he wants to be.
- Marcus Camby’s catapult set shot has been replaced by Dahntay Jones jumper as the shot that makes me shake my head in disgust even before the ball leaves his hands.
- The Nuggets had a possession where they passed the ball six times. It was the most passes in any single possession since the Junior Harrington era.
- I thought Linas Kleiza played as well defensively as I have seen. He was matched up against Gerald Wallace for much of the night, who holds a serious athletic advantage, but LK was able to move his feet and also managed to play solid help defense.
- Nene had to stay out of foul trouble tonight and he did. He was called for an early foul and I got a little nervous, but he managed to remain aggressive on defense without picking up a second foul at any point in the first half. He finished the game with only two fouls.
- Anthony Carter pulled himself from a shooting slump following the Billups trade with a couple of big threes in the second quarter. When he is hitting his jumper he is a high quality player.
- Karl gave Nene a break with just over two minutes left in the third quarter. He clearly did not trust Samb to play in a close game and Denver went with a front line of Melo, Kleiza and Balkman. They got away with it as Brown countered with a front line of Dudley, Wallace and Adam Morrison. To start the fourth quarter Brown put Sean May in the game as an Oliver Miller sized big man and Kleiza defended him although Melo checked him once on a switch in the post. The next time down the floor Melo went to cover May again because he was worn out and needed a break. It would have been interesting to see how that lineup would have done had the Bobcats gone big, but we are left to do nothing but ponder that as Brown chose to go small as well.
- You may have thought I was not going to mention it, but Renaldo Balkman played a great game. He proved that if you move without the ball and put yourself in open space near the rim this team will get you the ball. Balkman scored 15 points and I think he only made one shot where he was more than two feet from the rim. Even when Kenyon Martin and Birdman return Balkman will continue to get plenty of time on the floor. You just cannot keep him on the bench unless you are the wildly incompetent Isiah Thomas.
Razzle Dazzle Game Stats
As I mentioned above the pace factor for the game tonight was 89.4.
The Nuggets had a stellar defensive efficiency rating of 89.5 lowering their rating for the season to 100.0.
Denver’s offensive efficiency rating was 98.4. Not great, especially considering how poorly Charlotte had been defensively entering the game.
If you want to find out what Bobcats fans thought of tonight’s game, click on over to Queen City Hoops for some more great blogging.