The Ugly Duckling game
Let's get some history out of the way ... the last time Denver won in Orlando it was in March of 1992 behind the efforts of Reggie Williams who dropped 20 points and Dikembe Mutombo who contributed 18 points. President Bill Clinton was just breaking in the White House and Sister Act grossed $139 million at the box office. But perhaps the most disturbing thing is that NBA players were still dawning fairly short shorts. I used to think of the 1990's as modern times, but I guess looking back 17 years proves me wrong.
Anyhow, as the Nuggets were running out the clock I jotted down in my note book the words "Best win of the season" and pointed it out to my roommate. My roommate offered up his take ... now this guy isn't much of a basketball fan at all. In fact, if the Nuggets have a back-to-back I typically try to watch one of the games away from "Home Base" because I can't deal with all the crying and complaining that goes on ... it's pretty ridiculous. But back to the point, this guy offers up a pretty brilliant point. He calls the game "ugly" then after I say it was still a big win he says it was an "ugly duckling" game.
The more I think about it ... the more I like that description of the Ugly Duckling game. Was it pretty? Nope. Will it look a whole lot better down the road? It definitely will. Especially when you consider the Blazers, Jazz, and Rockets all won last night and the Lakers and Spurs (the Big 3 played) both lost. Denver held ground in the Northwest race and gained ground in the race for home court.
You could tell early on with the Nuggets up 6-2 at the 8:48 mark of the 1st Quarter that this was an ugly game. Dahntay Jones Jones stripped Dwight Howard in the post and on the offensive end Nene lost the ball under the hoop and out of bounds. Orlando again got the ball in the post to Howard and KMart's quick hands stripped the ball and led to a fast break where Melo was called for traveling in the low block.
So Denver had a great chance to extend the lead and came up empty on both chances. It wouldn't be that way all night as Denver scored 22 points off 24 Magic turnovers, but there was just something in the air that stunk.
Another wrinkle to the game were the officials. The herky-jerky pace to start the game was dragged out all evening as both teams combined for 54 personal fouls (the previous night the Heat and Nuggets combined for 30). So, when Nene was whistled for his second foul at the 4:37 mark of the first period I was not surprised at all.
What I was surprised about was the effort Denver got from Johan Petro. With Birdman out I think every Nuggets fan was concerned with how Denver would matchup with Howard if Nene got into foul trouble and I for one didn't think Petro would be able to hold his own.
Petro came in and right away got a steal on Howard and recorded a block on Courtney Lee's layup attempt to preserve Denver's 24-17 first quarter lead. Petro would finish the game with 2 points, 7 rebounds, 1 block, and 1 steal in 15 minutes of work and even though he recorded a -4 (+/-) he was a big part of the reason Denver was able to keep Howard (16 points) in check.
In the 2nd Quarter Denver extended their lead in part because Orlando could not throw a stone in the lake as they finished the half shooting 29.4%, but also because the Nuggets were playing inspired basketball on the defensive end. With 5:39 remaining in the half and Denver up 39-26 all I could think was that if the Nuggets somehow lost this game it would have to be an incredible meltdown on their part as the Magic offense was no where to be found.
Denver closed the half on a 7-3 run and outscored the Magic 22-12 in the quarter to take a 46-29 lead into the locker room.
The second half posed the question once again for the Nuggets. That question is actually the title of the Magic blog here on SB Nation ... Would the Nuggets have a third quarter collapse?
Nene racked up his 4th foul in the third period at the 5:14 mark and Petro checked back in and again was effective against Howard. Petro has some game and some athleticism ... if this kid can get a better wrap on the mental aspects of the game, then he could be a player in this league. He also used five pretty good fouls as Howard finished the night 8-14 from the foul line and was unable to electrify the crowd with any powerful dunks and I credit the Nuggets' gameplan for fouling Howard in those situations down low.
As the quarter ticked away Altitude TV experienced more technical difficulties with both the scoreboard and the game clock - which frustrated me the viewer, but who cares right?
Denver didn't melt down in the period, but they were outscored 23-17 and took a 63-51 lead into the final quarter. It was very strange watching two high powered offenses not really get on track. Especially frustrating for Magic fans.
Linas Kleiza opened the 4th Quarter missing two three-pointers and finished the night 0-4 from distance with 2 points coming off a rare LK drive. I don't understand why Karl continues to play LK when he's not driving the ball and being aggressive on offense. Yet, JR Smith was passing the ball and hitting the three and he only logged 13 minutes in the game.
Orlando behind Rashard Lewis' three-point barrage cut the Denver lead to six at 79-73, but both Lewis and Mickael Pietrus missed consecutive wide open attempts from distance with about one minute left in the game and Nene gathered in the rebound and his two foul shots proved to be the final nails in the coffin. The Nuggets were again outscored in the quarter 22-19, but held on for the win.
This was a great win for Denver. Billups hit timely three-pointers along with JR Smith (when he was in). Melo carried the offense and finished with 29 points and went 15-18 at the foul line. Melo played very aggressive on offense and was really forcing fouls by getting to the rim all night.
The Magic were 20-5 at home before last night's game and Denver was again 0-15 in Orlando since the 1991-92 season. The Nuggets were also 3-6 in the second of road back-to-backs. With the all-star break coming right after the game it would have been easy for the Nuggets to be content with a 3-2 record in their last 5 games, all on the road, but the professionalism to grind out this Ugly Duckling will come in handy down the road as Denver finished the first part of an eight game roadtrip 4-1.
The Opposition's take: Third Quarter Collapse
Views you can use:
- The Nuggets held Hedo Turkoglu and Rashard Lewis to 23 points
- Nene led the team with a +15 in 31 minutes after fouling out in just 17 minutes in the previous game against the Magic
- Linas Kleiza is now 0-10 from three-point range in his last two games (take the rock to the rack young fella!)
- Carmelo Anthony was awarded the Mattress King rejection of the night as he rejected a Pietrus left handed layup at the rim and the Lexus drive of the game with a thunderous dunk that kept Howard from even attempting to block it - by the Altitude TV crew ... that might be the first time all season a player earned both awards in one night - I love how excited Chris Marlowe gets when he discusses the candidates for each award during the broadcast