Melo, Nene combine for 50 as Nuggets cruise
No matter how close these games are down the stretch, you know a run by Denver is coming. Last night the Nuggets utilized a 16-2 run in the fourth quarter fueled by Carmelo Anthony to blow past the Mavs.
Melo scored Denver's first five points of the fourth on his way to 15 in the period and 25 for the game. The most impressive thing about Melo's performance? His hunger to get himself into the lane. Melo's first two possessions of the final stanza earned him a trip to the foul line and a running floater in the paint.
The Nuggets next seven scoring possessions came off layups, dunks, and foul shots. The first outside make didn't come until the 5:52 mark of the fourth when Billups hit a timely three-pointer to push Denver's lead to 105-87. Say it with me ... BALL GAME!
Listening to talk radio this morning (finally centered solely around the Nuggets!) and hearing them asking if these Nuggets are true title contenders and if we should start treating them as such is a special thing. Even the TNT guys are talking about the Nuggets playing the best basketball of any team in the playoffs. Crazy times to be a part of Nuggets Nation.
We hear before tipoff that Erick Dampier is around 90% healthy and Josh Howard is hovering around 70% and playing in a lot of pain. Horrible news for this series as the Mavs sorely need both of those guys.
Denver started the game attacking the rim, but they just were not having much success converting the buckets. I tallied 4 missed layups in the quarter coming from Nene, Melo, Dahntay, and again Nene. Watching missed layups drives me to the brink of asking one of my roommates to start smothering me with a couch cushion. Denver starts the game 2-9 from the field and down 12-6 early.
Good news for Billups ... he makes his first trip of the series to the foul line at the 7:42 mark and sinks both shots. For the Nuggets to have success they must make their free throws as they have are just 56-76 from the line in this series (73.6%) ... aka not good.
But Denver inserts J.R. Swish into the lineup and good things start to happen almost immediately. Denver goes on a 6-0 run as J.R. gets to the rim and draws a foul, Melo swipes a ball in the passing lane and goes in for an easy dunk, Jason Terry misses a jumper with Bird in his grill and Denver pushes the ball up the floor and Melo finds J.R. for an easy jam in transition (Antoine Wright commits the foul.) Rick Carlisle calls a timeout and just like that it's 14-14.
More bad news for the Mavs ... Josh Howard heads to the locker room at the 4:16 mark and we find out he will not be returning.
Denver comes out of the timeout fired up and feeling incredibly unselfish. At the 3:25 mark ... J.R. takes the ball down the right sideline and finds his lane has been cut off and instead of forcing up an off-balance jumper he briefly pulls up and then fires a pass underneath the rim to a wide open Birdman for the crowd firing dunk. 20-18 Denver.
Melo gets in on act as well just about a minute later at the 2:17 mark ... passing up a shot and feeding Nene inside for a dunk. When Melo and J.R. are being facilitators the Nuggets are truly playing their best. Like I mentioned in the preview, when the Nuggets are sharing the ball they typically find the best available shots and in the first period Denver recorded 7 assists and scored 14 points in the paint to go along with 9 trips to the foul line (14-16.)
Denver ends the period up 30-22, but shooting a miserable 0-4 from downtown and can't seem to really find the range from anywhere except for in the paint. Meanwhile Dirk scores 12 points in the first for Dallas and gets to the foul line three times and goes 6-6 from the charity stripe. Kenyon Martin picked up two quick fouls in the period and would see some extended time on the pine.
2nd and 3rd Quarters:
These two periods were played very evenly as Dallas won the second 33-28 and the third ended in a 28-28 tie.
A few things that stuck out ... Both Dirk and J.R. go into the half with 17 points leading their respective teams.
At the 3:36 mark of the 2nd Quarter as Kenyon Martin goes up for a dunk, energetic Ryan Hollins commits a hard foul, but holds KMart up like a good sport. Kenyon, not wanting to be restrained, breaks away from Hollins and the refs call a double-technical on the play. I sort of understood giving Hollins a T for the hard foul since the benchmark was set in game one with Kenyon's foul, but to give Martin a technical for walking away from the play was confusing.
Remember once a player in the playoffs gets 7 technicals an automatic suspension occurs for the next game. Kenyon now has 3 techs in the playoffs.
J.R.'s decision to shoot a 26-foot three-point shot with three seconds left on the clock before the half was definitely one that could have resulted on George Karl choking on a throat lossage. Jason Kidd then turned that miss into his only made field goal on the night as he connected on a 27-foot three as time expired. So instead of Denver being up at least six heading into the half ... it was a three point game 58-55.
Once again ... the Nuggets are able to run away with the game late. With the score 86-83 to start the period I'm guessing everyone was expecting a tight finish. For Dallas being down three on the road entering the fourth is about as good as they could have hoped for.
For the hometown team however, they came out like they were shot out of a cannon. The energy levels were just polar opposites and the Nuggets again proved to be the far more mentally focused team in the fourth.
The Mavs were basically a comedy of errors missing open shots, missing contested shots, turning the ball over under duress, and committing unforced errors (traveling and the like.)
It wasn't hard to tell which team wanted it more as the game came down to the final 12 minutes. Denver did what they were supposed to do in these first two games and that's protect homecourt.
More analysis after the jump ...
Nuggets on Dirk:
Denver chose to switch on Dirk multiple times last night. Dahntay Jones found himself matched up with Dirk in the post and "pulled-the-chair" on him twice ... meaning he applied a lot of body weight on Dirk until he felt Dirk pushing back ... then you take all your weight away and watch the 7-footer lose his balance and go for the steal. Beautiful plays by Jones and two turnovers by Nowitzki.
Other than Jones ... Kenyon, Nene, and Bird had little success stopping #41 last night. Dirk took the ball to the hole a few times and settled for a lot of jumpers and fadaways.
Nowitzki had himself a fine game last night going 11-20 from the floor (1-2 from three) and got to the foul line numerous times going 12-13 from the stripe. Big #41 scored 35 points and corralled 9 rebounds, but it just wasn't enough.
I'm sure Denver fans will probably forever have some hatred for Dirk after this series no matter how it plays out. But you have to respect the man's shooting touch. Time and again he'll get shots to fall that don't seem to have a prayer of going in. However, Dirk disappeared in the final period. In the fourth Dirk checked in at the 10:22 mark with his team down 91-83 and he shot 1-3 in the quarter scoring 5 points (2-2 from the charity stripe.) Compare that to Melo's 15 points and you'll see who is having a more effective series thus far.
Point Guard Matchup:
Jason Kidd stunk the joint up last night. He followed up his 15 points in game one with a 1-6 shooting night (1-5 from deep) for 4 points. Kidd cut his turnovers down from 8 to 2 last night, but turned in a -9 in 38 minutes.
Billups on the other hand came back to have a strong game two scoring 18 points on 5-12 shooting (4-9 from deep) and dishing out a team high 8 assists.
Both of these guys seem like they are trying to make a difference from the three-point line only. Billups got to the foul line twice last night and that's just not enough in my eyes. The lane has been cut off for him a bit and being defended by a big Kidd is causing some problems for Billups. I'd still much rather have CB7 running this team than anyone else and I expect Billups to keep getting better as he will adjust to his new matchup.
J.R. and Bird are killing ... KILLING the Mavs. Bird turned in a +24 last night in 25 minutes only trailing J.R. who turned in a team-high +27 in 25 minutes.
Andersen could not be kept off the offensive boards and he grabbed 5 of Denver's 12 offensive rebounds. He should have had one more, but was called for an over-the-back on Dirk negating his tip-in. But Birdman finished the night with 8 points and a team-high 9 rebounds.
Swish finished the night with 21 points, 3 assists, and 2 steals. He finally hit his first threes of the series going 3-7 from downtown. J.R. was looking to set up his teammates early and got himself going in the rhythm of the game.
The Starting Bigs:
KMart finished with 12 points on 4-7 shooting (4-5 from the foul line), grabbed 7 rebounds, and recorded 4 assists. His passing abilities were on display last night and his driving lasers were finding the range. He even had a beautiful floater on the baseline that I haven't seen from him ... ever?
Nene ... what can you say about this guy's performance? 8-12 shooting (9-13 from the foul line) for 25 points. He added 8 rebounds and a block in 34 minutes. Nene is playing great and looks rejuvenated knowing he can dominate anyone the Mavs try to put in front of him ... or rather usually ending up under or behind him. So far Nene has been the series MVP in my book.
Views you can use:
- The Nuggets recorded another 28 assists last night
- Denver outrebounded the Mavs 42-37
- After not allowing over 95 points in six playoff games, the Nuggets finally surrendered a 100 point game as the Mavs scored 105 last night
The series now shifts to Dallas where the Mavs have won 8 in a row and 17 of their last 18. Oh ... by the way ... the Mavs last home loss? Came at the hands of these Denver Nuggets on March 27th (103-101) without Nene (suspended.)