It's anybody's series
Had Carmelo Anthony made either of his last two shots to win the game for the Nuggets yesterday Denver would not have learned their lesson. A stinging loss to the Hornets may prove to be exactly the wake-up call the Nuggets needed after playing their worst game of the series.
The Hornets had/have basically one way to win games in this series and that is to turn the contests sloppy. And the Hornets were able to make yesterday's game a pig's paradise.
Yesterday's game featured 58 fouls (29 for each team) and 70 free throws (35 for each team.) It was just a very choppy game and one that never really allowed the Nuggets to get back into the rhythm they found in the game's first eight minutes.
In the opening eight minutes Denver carried out a great gameplan and carried over all the momentum from games one and two building a 22-6 lead. From there the Nuggets were outscored 44-25 in the first half (50-47 Hornets) and 89-71 for the rest of the game.
No matter what the final score says ... to me Denver lost 89-71. If yesterday's game was a boxing match you would have seen the Champ (Nuggets) come out swinging from the opening bell and connecting on a few good jabs and imposing his will on the Challenger (Hornets.) Everyone in the stands is just sitting and waiting for the knockout punch, but then ... it happens.
The Challenger in the closing ten seconds of round one out of desperation throws a looping left hook that connects right on the Champs chin sending him stumbling back to his corner ... (Denver up 22-6 ... then the Hornets closing the final 4 minutes on a 15-4 run ... 26-21 after the first.)
As the Champ comes out for Round 2 (the 2nd Quarter) you can just tell he's not right. Suddenly he's not using his much effective jab (attacking the rim) and the Challenger is slipping in punches on the suddenly cracked defense that you know if the Champ were on his game would be like the Berlin Wall.
You find yourself screaming, "Use the JAB ... THE JAB! WHY ISN'T HE USING THE JAB? That's what got him here! That sets up everything!"
And as the rounds wear on you realize you are witnessing the undoing of the title holder and it's not really because the Challenger is worthy ... it's that the Champ has gone away from his game and everything that earned him the right to hold the belt in the first place.
As the sting of watching your favorite fighter starts to fade a little you realize that he didn't get knocked out, he just lost a decision. And then you remember the best part ... there's a rematch clause!
And the Nuggets will get that rematch tomorrow night in Game 4 at 6:30 p.m. MDT on NBA TV or Altitude TV.
Heading into the rematch both teams know a little more about each other now and both teams have a few new tricks up their sleeves and adjustments to make ...
For the Hornets:
- They have been getting stellar three-point shooting from Rasual Butler in this series. He's shooting 9-12 in the series and 7-9 in his last two games including 3-4 yesterday from beyond the arc. It might be a good idea for the Nuggets to start smothering Butler and stop allowing him open looks.
- Sean Marks should be getting the majority of the minutes at the center spot for the Bugs. Tyson Chandler is not giving the Hornets anything except the hope that he can be effective, while Marks is actually the one who turned the tables down low yesterday. In games one and two Marks played just 15 combined minutes and had 4 points and 6 rebounds heading into yesterday's game. Chandler's foul trouble allowed Byron Scott the excuse to play Marks for extended minutes and he produced. In 26 minutes Marks put up 8 points, 6 rebounds (3 offensive), and turned in a +18 to Chandler's 2 points, 3 rebounds, and -9 in 18 minutes before fouling out. Marks should continue to be the primary center for the Hornets as he (being healthy) gives the Bugs the best big option.
- Paul has to hope that George Karl continues to cut Dahntay Jones' minutes. Jones' minutes go ... 21, 20, to 17 yesterday. It's mind boggling as to why the most effective Paul defender continues to see his minutes shrink, but it's no surprise that Paul had his best performance in Jones' absence. With Jones on the floor Paul scored 14 points ... with Jones on the bench Paul put up 18 points. The math seems simple to me ... free Dahntay!
For the Nuggets:
- Denver just took the Hornets' best shot and are still standing after having two opportunities to win the game late on Melo's rushed shot attempt and Melo's half court heave. The thought process for the Nuggets should be: They can't hurt us unless we let them. Play our game (defense and aggressive offense) and we'll win.
- Nene layed a major egg in Game 3 putting up 2 points, 8 rebounds, and 3 steals before fouling out in 33 minutes. I know Beefyswats is very concerned about Nene as I'm sure many of us are. In an email exchange with Chris Tomasson of In Denver Times he thinks Nene's injured left hand may still be affecting him either mentally or physically as he pointed out Nene should be "totally dominating a gimp Chandler in this series." We need the rim rattling Nene back, but I don't know what can snap him out of his less-aggressive funk. I'm sure there is some fatigue there, but Nene has to get a second wind and let his nasty side come back out.
- The Nuggets played right into the Hornets' hands by switching practically every pick-and-roll yesterday. Mismatches galore as Denver guards tried to cover the post with a big matched up one-on-one with Paul. Denver needs to get back to trapping Paul at times and fighting through the screens when they come ... switching only does the Hornets favors.
- The rebounding was there yesterday as Denver won that battle 44-40 ... but if Marks is in the game the Nuggets have to lock him up and Denver needs to do a better job of not allowing offensive rebounds. The Hornets were only credited with 8 offensive rebounds yesterday, but I swear they had more off back taps and loose balls. The Nuggets seemed to give up crucial second chance opportunities and they must continue to box out and protect the glass going forward.
- Team assists took a hit on the road as I feared they would. After putting up 25 and 26 assists in the first two games Denver only tallied 19 yesterday. When the Nuggets don't share the ball and go into jump shot mode they are in trouble on offense. When in jump shot mode Denver rarely has bodies in position for offensive rebounds and there is typically about 0.93% chance the Nuggets will follow their own shot on jumpers like they do on missed layups (which we all know by now ... Denver will miss roughly 415 layups per game.) Just think of all the missed jumpers you witnessed that had an extra pass had been made could have resulted in a layup and added to the assist total. If Denver gets to 20+ assists I can almost guarantee they'll win the game.
Views you can use:
- The Nuggets last 2-0 series lead was in 1978 against Milwaukee. Denver lost Game 3 in Milwaukee, but won Game 4 and the series in seven games.
- Denver found themselves down 0-2 in 2004 and 2006 to the Timberwolves and Clippers respectively. The Nuggets traveled home for Game 3 in each series and won to close the gap to 1-2. Those would prove to be the Nuggets' only wins in each series ... hopefully the Hornets will be resigned to that same fate. We'll find out Monday night!