Early in the third quarter, this game was shaping up to be a mirror of prior Nuggets regular season disappointments in emotion-packed games. But thanks to a little patience and fantastic point guard play by both Chauncey Billups and Ty Lawson, the Nuggets were able to shake off an awful night by Carmelo Anthony and crush the 76ers at home.
Like many of you I'm sure, I couldn't be prouder of this Nuggets team. I'd argue that this game combined with the wins at Portland and at San Antonio are the most significant/meaningful of our 16 wins thus far. These three games are showing us that when the Nuggets comport themselves as professionals and don't let the emotions of the moment get to them on the road, they're lethal. Not only do we have the Western Conference's second-best team residing in Denver, but if the Nuggets can win road games even when they're shooting poorly overall and Dick Bavetta is one of the referees, we might be rooting for the NBA's second-best team right now.
Did I mention that we've won 16 games?!
On the other end of the "success" spectrum, we have the lowly 76ers and their newest acquisition, Allen Iverson. First off, it's not fair to judge the Iverson comeback experience based on tonight's game. He hadn't played in an NBA game in over 30 days and has never been known to work as hard off the court as on the court, so he has some serious on-court conditioning to do. That said, Iverson was more than several steps slow on both ends, and Billups and Lawson basically embarrassed him. Moreover, the 76ers collectively were a mess - even when the going was good on the floor. They're not comfortable playing with each other and were routinely unsure of what to do with the ball. There's a reason why these guys have lost 10 straight. (By the way, I just heard Brent Barry on NBATV refer to Iverson needing to adjust to the "76ers system" - ha! - the 76ers have a system? Eddie Jordan coaches this team, right?)
But while the 76ers imploded the Nuggets capitalized during a furious third and fourth quarter rally during which we witnessed a 22-3 Nuggets run. Billups in particular was spectacular tonight en route to a near triple-double. He sensed Melo was forcing it (more on that shortly) and that his Nuggets teammates were caught up in the emotion of the night, evident by an inordinate number of turnovers, bad shots and sloppy plays in the first half. Billups was the coolest head on the floor. Shocking, I know.
And for the third straight game in a row, Lawson was integral to the Nuggets victory (we could have done without his second three-point attempt, but hey, he's a rookie). Not only did Lawson blow by Iverson a few times, but he dished out some big assists, somehow managed to yank down six rebounds and had a huge block on "The Answer". When asked after the game if guarding Lawson was like guarding his younger self, Iverson laughed it off and said "he's like lightning." Indeed.
Melo, meanwhile, had his worst game of the season and frankly, I'm glad his streak of 20-point games is over. Hopefully in the games to come on this road trip, Melo will go back to letting the game come to him rather than push his way into a 20-point outing. Melo was clearly forcing it from the opening tip and Nuggets coach George Karl deserves credit for keeping Melo on the bench during the Nuggets rally. It's not a big deal in the long run, it just wasn't Melo's night.
As often happens with these over-hyped games, this one turned into a bit of a snoozer. As long as the Nuggets are on the right side of a snoozer, I'll take another one of these any day of the week.
Photo courtesy of AP: Matt Slocum