The: "How did it come to this?!" Game
Billups scores season-high 33 in win
From Row 1, Seats 1-4 of Section 367 the Atlanta Hawks were coming right at us with :05 seconds left on the clock and a chance to win the game down just one point (110-109). Billups had just missed an 18 footer and the ball was tipped towards the fans sitting courtside when Atlanta gained control with no timeouts. They had to push the ball up the floor quickly and settle for the best available shot.
I had no clue who had the ball, but I was watching in horror as I realized they had no timeouts, but a lot of open floor in front of them. And then it hit me ... "JOE JOHNSON HAS THE BALL!" Not only was this the most experienced crunch time player Atlanta had available, but he was being guarded by Anthony Carter. My eyes scrambled for a defender as Johnson continued down the open floor on the left wing.
Denver hadn't stopped the ball on Hawks fastbreaks all night and Joe Johnson was now inside the three-point line! Suddenly, Johnson encountered a wall of Nugget defenders and flipped the ball backwards to Ronald "Flip" Murray who released a 14-foot floater and ... from where we were sitting it looked like the ball went in without moving the net or hit the front of the rim ... judging from Flip's reaction of sinking to the floor we knew he missed the shot. I placed both my hands atop my head and thanked my lucky stars for the win.
A win is a win is a win is a win. Denver improved to 38-20 and snapped a season-long losing streak of three games. How did it come to this?
Before things got under way at Pepsi Center (where with the family four pack I spent the evening with my parents and best bud enjoying the complementary pizza and soda that accompany the family pack tickets - a nice plug for Kroenke and Co. right there ... pretty good pizza as well, but pizza is always good.)
Anyway, I wanted to watch some pregame shenanigans as I've heard Renaldo "Crime Stopper" Balkman has a pretty good ritual before games. What I didn't know is that JR Smith has just as an elaborate one.
Balkman travels down media row high-fiving members of the media and continues on down through the coaching staff and players until he comes to his seat on the bench (where he better check his ass for roots pretty soon ... THANKS KARL!)
JR Smith has a bit more elaborate ritual. He stands out on the midcourt line just a few steps out on the floor and greets each starter with a hug and handshake. He then follows Balkman down media row until he reaches the half way mark where he then has his own hand motions (much like a 3rd base coach) and after that is completed he continues on down media row to the coaching staff and on through the players where he gets to Sonny Weems. Weems and JR exchange handshakes and a dual leg balancing dance. I probably can't describe this worse if I tried ... again.
You never get to see this type of stuff on TV so it was fun to watch some of the goofy stuff going on off the court. Pretty impressive how involved Balkman is with his teammates even though he records DNP-CD (Did not play - coach's decision) on a nightly basis.
On to game action ...
The Hawks opened up an early lead and my stepdad, just to my left, spilled his nachos! This was not a good sign of things to come because clumsy is not in his nature so we knew the night was off to a rocky start all around.
But Dahntay Jones brought his shot. Jones hit two three-pointers sandwitched between a Billups 15 foot jumper and later in the 1st Quarter he connected on an 11 foot jump shot. He led the Nuggets with 8 points in the period, but checked out with 2:17 to play and ON FIRE.
Jones finished the game 4-6 shooting for 10 points in 20 minutes. Dahntay averages 19.5 minutes a game and I for one would have liked to see him, on a night where he was shooting so well get a little more run. Why regulate his minutes when he's being very effective? Maybe play him a bit more and see if you can get some extra production out of him ... or throw Anthony Carter in there and watch him get manhandled by bigger guards ... either way Gerogie Boy! (More on this to come later)
The Nuggets found themselves down 33-28 starting the 2nd Quarter and were just giving up WAY too many easy looks. I think the Hawks had over 400 uncontested dunks in the period ... give or take. The reason I think this happened is because Johan Petro. The kid played pretty darn good once again as a starter playing 17 minutes, scoring 8 points on 4-6 shooting, grabbed 3 rebounds. Petro though didn't seem to be rotating off screens correctly and found himself out near the three-point line guarding nobody as Atlanta recorded some easy dunks. But Petro wasn't solely to blame, Denver came out with their old "let's out score them" mentality for sure.
In the 2nd Quarter the Nuggets defense tightened up and the Hawks went cold and they weren't finding as many easy points. Denver utilized a 32-20 point difference in the quarter and went into the half up 60-53.
The 3rd Quarter belonged to Melo and Billups as the two combined to score 20 of Denver's 32 points. Melo hit four jumpers in a row of 18, 17, 21, and 22 feet and ended the period with a 27 foot three-pointer with just one second left on the clock. Melo went 5-7 in the quarter for 11 points.
Billups scored 9 points on 3-6 shooting including two three-pointers (one and 1) and a pair of free throws. On the night Denver shot 10-18 from three-point land ... good for 55.6%. They essentially did from beyond the arc what the Bucks and Celtics did to them in their previous two losses.
Denver breezed to a 92-78 lead, but things didn't quite feel safe. My buddy and I sensed that even though Denver was up 14 that they should have been up more and Atlanta was still somehow hanging around.
Our suspicions proved correct as the Hawks went on a 8-0 run to start the 4th Quarter and got themselves right back into the game with 9:48 remaining on the clock and the scoreboard reading 92-86.
I didn't realize this until I looked at the play-by-play, but the only Nuggets to score in the 4th Quarter were Melo (2 points), JR Smith (10 points), and Billups (6 points). Denver appeared to be comfortably ahead with 1:57 left on the clock and up 110-102, but that's when George Karl made a nearly fatal mistake. He subbed "defensive stopper" Anthony Carter into the game in place JR Smith. The Prodigy as Smith is known had just come off a possession where he held Joe Johnson scoreless by staying with him as Johnson was clearly looking to score.
AC was now assigned to guard J.J. and the height advantage, as it was when AC was asked to guard Paul Pierce, was drastic. J.J. didn't hesitate to shoot over AC on a 27 foot three-point attempt and he got nothing but net. On the Hawks next possession J.J. again guarded by AC drew a shooting foul. That's 5 straight points for J.J. and a 110-107 lead for the Nuggets was rapidly disappearing.
After Johnson hit the first free throw JR checked back into the game with :54 in the classic offense/defense switch. After Johnson's second make Birdman's inbound pass to Melo was stolen by Maurice Evans and Evan's pass was nearly stolen by JR Smith as JR knocked the ball out of bounds under the Nuggets basket. This allowed Karl to yank JR after :08 seconds.
Karl again went offense for defense (in theory) and put AC back in for JR (even though JR nearly had the game securing steal) and Johnson got the ball and dished it to Al Horford who hit a jumper to close the gap to 110-109.
Billups with :33 ticks left held the ball as long as he could and took a leaner with :06 seconds left on the clock and that's how we come full circle to Flip Murray missing a 14 foot floater that would have ruined a nice win for the Nuggets.
I'm not going to blame AC for nearly losing the game, but clearly he can't be asked to be the teams defensive stopper. The guy is 6'2'' and 195 lbs. max. He was tasked the last two games with guarding Pierce (6'7'' 235 lbs) and Joe Johnson (6'7'' 240 lbs). So AC off the bat is giving up 5 inches and 40 pounds to each guy. What kind of coaching matchup is this??? You are setting him up for failure as soon as he steps on the court.
Denver has JR Smith (6'6'' 220 lbs), Dahntay Jones (6'6'' 210 lbs), and Renaldo Balkman (6'8'' 208 lbs) to guard these big guards, not a backup point guard. Pull your head out of your ass Karl - it doesn't take a genius to figure out where teams are going to go when you put an undersized guard on their best scorers.
I just hope AC isn't the one asked to guard Kobe on Friday.
Views you can use:
- The Hawks used a season-high 31 points from Marvin Williams (13.6 ppg) and 21 points from Al Horford (10.4 ppg) to more than replace the 31 points missing from Bibby and Josh Smith not playing.
- Chris Anderson recorded 7 points, 12 rebounds, and 5 blocks on the night
- Billups scored a season high 33 points after scoring just 3 points against the Celtics, you could see that there was no way Billups was going to lose last night with the effort he displayed
- AC recorded a team low -18 in 14 minutes and tied for the team high with 4 turnovers
- JR recorded a team high +10 in 26 minutes with 0 turnovers
- Dahntay Jones is 4-7 from three-point land this season (57.1%), guy is effective and knows his role