While he had very little to do with the 76ers ultimate victory over the Nuggets, former Nugget Allen Iverson looked better than advertised as his Philadelphia squad added to the Nuggets ever-growing list of losses to sub-.500 teams.
For some reason this disappointing ending didn't hurt as much as those we've seen in preceding losses to bad teams because the Nuggets - with the exception of a furious rally down the stretch (more on that shortly) - had no business being in position to win this game down the stretch. Had their 76er opponents just made a few free throws, the Nuggets Arron Afflalo would never have been in a position to tie the game with a three-pointer.
Just a night removed from a stellar, surprising victory at Utah - a game arguably the Nuggets had no business winning - the Nuggets lost a game they had no business losing. The 76ers have been on the road for more than week and had lost seven of their last 10 games. But rather than tire the 76ers out with a defensive effort reminiscent of last night's game against the Jazz, the Nuggets engaged in a shootout to the tune of a 60-59 Denver halftime "lead." And we fans know all too well, the Nuggets only win shootouts when Carmelo Anthony is on the floor. Tonight, Melo wasn't even (most curiously) on the bench in a suit.
Interestingly, the 76ers took control of this game while Iverson was on the bench during a 16-0 run over the third and fourth quarters. At one point, the lowly 76ers were up 16 and all looked lost until Nuggets head coach George Karl (who I just praised in the game preview for tonight) finally realized that a lineup of Afflalo, J.R. Smith, Nene, Kenyon Martin and Ty Lawson gives the Nuggets the best chance to win. Well, duh. My seat mate Justin and I were wondering from the second quarter onward where the hell that lineup was all night.
But as we've seen with the Nuggets in these losses against sub-.500 teams lately, it's often too little, too late. The team gives an uninspiring, weak defensive effort in the first half. Gets themselves into a hole in the second half and then puts it together late in the fourth quarter. Atrocious free throw shooting by Philadelphia almost saved us tonight, but frankly - just like the Broncos don't deserve to go to the playoffs, the Nuggets didn't deserve to win this game.
Views from the Not-So-Cheap Seats...
...the Pepsi Center crowd gave Iverson - who was announced first for Philadelphia - a boisterous, welcoming cheer.
...Iverson hugged most of his former Nugget teammates plus Chauncey Billups before tipoff but only waved at Karl, who graciously waved back.
...during a timeout in the second quarter, an Iverson retrospective video was played on the Pepsi Center scoreboard and the crowd gave Iverson another ovation. This was a nice touch and the powers-that-be at Pepsi Center should be doing more retro video pieces like this. (I'll get into this more when I write my column on how the Nuggets can/need to improve the fan experience at home games.)
...Maybe it's just me, but I thought Iverson looked great in person to the point that I can't believe he had no takers this past summer (sans Memphis). He had no problem weaving his way into the teeth of the Nuggets defense and getting good looks.
...Melo was inexplicably not with his teammates on the bench for the entire game, but his girlfriend LaLa was there. Does this make sense?
...a lot of fans (not me) pulled the Broncos/Nuggets double-header. And for the third time in four weeks, both teams lost on Sunday.
...Rocky made his over-the-head, half court shot on his first try.
Stiff of the Night
-George Karl: I have to give this one to Karl. The Nuggets were on the second of a back-to-back, were clearly exhausted, were without Melo and Billups and soon without Birdman and yet the Nuggets head coach still refused to put Renaldo Balkman in the game for some much needed energy and rebounding. Karl also waited too long to insert the Nuggets best possible lineup of Afflalo, J.R., Nene, K-Mart and Lawson.
Non-Stiffs of the Night
-(76ers) Elton Brand and Allen Iverson: Brand-ed as a Stiff by me before the game, Brand had no problem backing his way into the Nuggets defense en route to a very efficient 7-11 shooting night. And Iverson - even though he wasn't on the floor as the 76ers built up their biggest lead - played hard, tough, efficiently and unselfishly. It's always fun to watch A.I. play.
-(Nuggets) Nene and Ty Lawson: For the second game in a row, Nene showed up in the second half and ended up with 24 points and a monstrous 15 rebounds. And Lawson continued to show why he'll likely be the steal of the draft: the rook has just back-to-back 23 points/nine assists game.
Photo courtesy of AP Photos: David Zalubowski