I do not want to get too carried away, but wow. That was an impressive game by the Denver Nuggets. I have tried to make excuses for Toronto, but they were not playing their fourth game in five nights or wrapping up a long road trip. In fact, they had yesterday off after playing the Lakers reasonably tough on Sunday night. There are no two ways about it, that was just a superlative game by the Nuggets.
I have no idea if the Nuggets were better on offense or defense tonight. They played a great game on both ends of the floor. After looking a little shaky defensively over the first three or four minutes the Nuggets completely locked Toronto down. The Raptors offense is designed to get their gaggle of very good shooters open looks. If you go back and look at the video I bet they did not have more than two or three open looks through three quarters.
To me the key player defensively was Dahntay Jones. He did a great job of harassing Jose Calderon and not allowing him to use his tremendous talents to set up his teammates. Calderon never had any room to operate and Jones was in his grill wherever he went. I also give credit to George Karl and the Nuggets staff for assigning Calderon to Jones. It did not cross my mind to have Jones cover Calderon and Chauncey Billups to check Anthony Parker, but it turned out to be a great strategy. Tonight was the first time I wanted to see Jones play 48 minutes. He even hit a 22 foot jumper, but I am not going to expect him to repeat that feat as I will his defensive performance.
I was a little concerned with how Kenyon Martin and Nene would do facing a solid front line of Chris Bosh and Jermaine O’Neal, but they were more than up for the challenge. Bosh ended up having a nice night offensively, but they made things difficult on him in the first quarter and forced him to work hard on defense.
Kenyon just knows how to frustrate Bosh. Martin always manages to get a hand in his face while not giving up the drive and he also does a great job of battling Bosh in the post. Bosh is immensely talented and he still put up very good numbers, but Kenyon’s ability to D up on him allows the rest of the team to focus on their own assignments.
Nene did give up a couple of easy hoops to O’Neal, but he was by far the better player on this night. He was great on the glass as he attacked missed shots and scooped up rebounds that were out of his area. On one play in particular I recall the ball being up for grabs and Nene just flying in and clamping his big mitts on it. Offensively, Nene looked as quick as ever blowing by the smaller and very athletic Bosh along the baseline on one occasion resulting in a thunderous jam and the third foul on a helpless Bosh late in the second quarter.
Offensively the Nuggets played a nearly flawless game. They had a handful of possessions where they were a little stagnant in the second quarter when the Raptors made their only run of the game to cut the lead to ten, but they snapped out of it quickly. Tonight may have been the most unselfish game I have seen the Nuggets play in years. They were even guilty of over passing from time to time. By the middle of the third quarter the Raptors had no idea how to defend them. The Nuggets could get any shot they wanted at any time.
Chauncey has continued to impress me with his passing ability. I knew he could shoot, but I have always thought of him as a former combo guard who learned to play point guard. Over the past few games Chauncey has made some passes that most “pure” point guards would have never seen let alone attempted to execute. He surprised Melo with a diagnal pass from the perimeter to the rim, which was just beautiful, but the true gem of the night was a behind the back bounce pass along the baseline to a cutting Martin. Bosh looked to be in position, but Chauncey noticed he was not watching the ball. Kenyon dunked the ball before Bosh had any idea what had just happened despite being right next to Kenyon the whole time.
Other good news on offense was we saw the return of Melo’s midrange game. He made several jumpers from 15-18 feet, but did a good job of using the threat of that shot to either get to the rim or hit open teammates in the lane. We have seen J.R. Smith extricate himself from his shooting slump. Hopefully tonight will be the game we can point back to and say Melo exited his shooting slump right there. Melo was clearly bothered by his sore elbow, but it only seemed to bother him from the free throw line. He even splashed two of four threes.
Even though it was fun to see a complete and utter demolition of an opponent it was a night where everything went the Nuggets way and we need to try to keep from getting too excited. There will be nights, maybe even Thursday against the Spurs, when nothing is going right. The important thing for Denver to take away with them from this game is how crucial it is to play the way they did on both ends of the floor regardless of how high or low they are emotionally. It is easy to share the ball on nights like tonight, but they need to guard against getting overly individualistic on offense when things get tougher.
Other Observations from Game 19:
- The Nuggets shooting was absolutely remarkable. The only player who shot under 50% was Carmelo and he shot 9-19 which equates to 47.3%. J.R. Smith was 4-8 on three pointers and I think each of his four misses barely rattled out. The Nuggets pushed the pace and made a lot of passes in traffic, but managed to hold their turnovers to 11.
- Typically a great defensive effort like tonight is generated by forcing turnovers, but Toronto only lost the ball nine times. Denver’s defensive performance was almost entirely based on forcing missed shots.
I have made a big deal in the past about how frequently the Nuggets would shoot after making two or fewer passes. I would love to chart their passing tonight and see how many possessions they made three or more passes.
- It is 1:00 AM and I have pneumonia. I better go to bed.
Razzle Dazzle Game Stats
I usually start off with pace factor and defensive efficiency, but the Nuggets offensive efficiency was so staggeringly high I have to lead with it. They absolutely demolished their season high of 119.4 and posted a frighteningly astounding 134.7. That continues their stretch of games of earning an offensive efficiency rating in excess of 100 to nine. For the season they have cracked the top ten at 108.2. This team is beginning to click in a way they never could have dreamed with Allen Iverson.
OK, now to pace factor. The Nuggets were able to push the pace to a much faster level than Toronto is comfortable playing at. Tonight’s pace was 98.0, which is faster than the Nuggets have been playing and much faster than the Raptors season average of 90.8.
The Nuggets defensive efficiency rating was impressive, but not quite as much as their offensive efficiency. They held the Raptors to 36.6% shooting, the best mark of the season for the Nuggets defense and their defensive efficiency was a very good 94.9, breaking a string of six games where their defensive efficiency was over 100, and it dropped their efficiency for the season down to 103.4, which is also good enough to be in the top ten.