For three-quarters of last night's game in Portland the Nuggets did what any road team needs to do: kept the crowd from getting too involved, kept the game close, and controlled large portions of the game flow. But in the final period, as we've seen with Denver on the road this season, everything built crumbled and the Nuggets wilted under the pressure.
I want to go ahead and break this game down by the four quarters ...
Quick summary: Denver finishes the quarter on a 17-0 run after being down 16-11. Carmelo Anthony had two brilliant assists; one a left-handed zip pass to an all alone Nene under the hoop that resulted in an easy dunk. The other Melo jumped the passing lane and found a streaking Gary Forbes on a full length pass for an easy two handed slam.
Quarter winner: Nuggets 28-16.
Team stat tracker: Nuggets grab 9 rebounds (2 offensive) and give up 12 rebounds (7 offensive), record 5 assists, 3 steals, and 5 turnovers.
Feeling after the first: The Nuggets were getting beat up on their defensive glass, but the ball movement and team play picked up after a slow start. For a road game I felt pretty good about things and thought Denver was going to cruise (should have known better).
Quick summary: My high hopes for an easy win were quickly dashed as the Blazers energy level erupted and they started the quarter on an 11-0 run. I thought coach George Karl had a blunder by not taking a timeout after the Blazers started the period on a 5-0 run. From my stinkin' couch I could feel and see the energy for Portland taking off and felt that Karl needed to stop the bleeding before it got any worse ... he didn't take a timeout until the lead had evaporated (28-27 Denver) and by then it was a whole new game. The energy for both teams picked up from there and baskets were traded until the half ended and Denver clung to a 45-43 lead.
Quarter winner: Portland 27-17.
Team stat tracker: Nuggets grab 8 rebounds (1 offensive) and give up 15 rebounds (6 offensive), record just 3 assists, 0 steals, and 4 turnovers.
Feeling after the second: Well ... crap. The Nuggets are going to have to fight to win this one and as usual a strong third-quarter is needed. Wesley Matthews has 15 points and the Nuggets need to figure out how to slow down the Blazers getting to the rim and cover the shooters on the arc.
Quick summary: The Nuggets come out firing as Arron Afflalo hits a couple threes and Denver is rolling up 55-45 and on a 10-2 run to start the quarter. During the halftime break I talked to my mom on the phone a bit, she was watching the game and I was telling her I was a little disappointed in Afflalo as I don't think he's as athletically gifted as J.R. Smith, but he's a coach's dream. After the 10-2 run my mom sends me the following text, "I think you better reconsider AAA as I think he looks great! Did you see his last shot? Wow..." My mom helps me out with the glass half full stuff when I'm down in the dumps. The good times don't last long as the Blazers make a run of their own and the quarter ends with Denver up 71-69. Another fourth quarter road game ...
Quarter winner: Tie 26-26.
Team stat tracker: Nuggets grab 4 rebounds (0 offensive) and give up 11 rebounds (2 offensive), record 7 assists, 2 steals, and 1 turnover.
Feeling after the third: We've seen this game before ... the Nuggets are going to have to win this one with a nice closing effort and attention to detail. I'm not too confident that Denver will get things done as a pattern seems to be developing on the road ... play close for three quarters and then the burnout in the fourth loses the game. In the street racing world (thanks Fast and Furious) this is known as using your Nitro too early.
Quick summary: What happened? I started throwing up after the Nuggets started throwing up three-after-three. The Nuggets must have been running for Mayor of Turnover City in the fourth. Just 12 points in the final quarter, on 3-15 shooting, for Denver as Portland did all they could to allow the Nuggets to stay in the game by scoring just 17 points themselves.
Quarter winner: Portland 17-12.
Team stat tracker: Nuggets grab 14 rebounds (4 offensive) and give up 10 rebounds (1 offensive), record 3 assists, 1 steals, and 6 turnovers.
Feeling after the fourth: A sloppy quarter ... very sloppy, Melo fouled out with 3:08 to go, and somehow Denver still had a chance to tie things up, but a Billups missed three followed up by an Afflalo missed three doomed Denver. I'm really in need of a Jeff Morton Weekly Optimism piece.
Final team stats: Nuggets grab 35 rebounds (7 offensive) and give up 48 rebounds (16 offensive), record 18 assists, 6 steals, and 16 turnovers.
Final thoughts: Another tough road loss that could have been avoided. The Nuggets are now 6-6 (2-5 on the road) and in a tie with the Phoenix Suns for 9th place in the Western Conference (but the Suns own an early tie-breaker so Denver is technically in 10th place). I was thinking it during the game and Charles Barkley talked about it after the game ... this team, in at least the past two games, has looked like a squad just going through the motions. The Blazers were without their best player, not the best shooting team around, yet stayed in the game with hustle and the attacking style were used to seeing from the Nuggets.
Watching Denver live-and-die from the perimeter tonight was very frustrating. And when the Nuggets are taking the ball inside they were either out of control or looking to pass the ball and not actually finish the play. I know it's tough and we are not watching a complete team as Kenyon Martin and Chris Andersen are still in street clothes, so it's tough to judge this team fairly. But something also has to be said for the vocal leader of this team ... Karl has done a heck of a job trying to keep this team focused on playing basketball and not worry about the circus going on all around the squad, but on night's like last night it feels like this team is not doing the things they need to win the game. There is plenty of blame to go around, but this is a .500 squad without the big men this team needs. The cracks in the damn are starting to leak and the arrival of Birdman Andersen is something I'm looking forward to.
Additional nuggets to chew on:
- The Nuggets are now 1-11 in games that Melo fouls out of. Melo doesn't get much love from the officials and he continues to get called for the same types of fouls on the offensive end. Might be time to make some sort of adjustment.
- Billups ... 37 minutes (too many), 3-8 shooting for 13 points and 5 assists. Seven of Billups' shot attempts were three-pointers ... when will he realize he needs to start doing some other things to help the team win? Isn't he a veteran?
- What the hell is going on with Shelden Williams' minutes?!? One night he'll play 30+ minutes (vs. the Knicks he played 33) and then the next he plays just 14 minutes (his minutes tonight vs. the Blazers). I thought Karl liked having defined roles for his players and on a night when Denver was struggling to rebound the ball, it might have been nice to have our best rebounder (currently) on the floor.
- I talked up Forbes quite a bit in the preview and tonight he had one of those typical rookie games. In 17 minutes he went 2-7 from the field, grabbed just 1 rebound, recorded 4 fouls, and had 3 turnovers. With rookies these are the games you have to live with from time-to-time and Karl knows that. Would the Nuggets have been better off with Swish out there? We've certainly seen stat lines like that from J.R. in the past ... so it's hard to say.
- Wesley Matthews was impressive ... he scored 20 points and grabbed 10 rebounds in 40 minutes and guarded Melo for a good portion of the game. He's a strong dude and looks to be a nice pickup for Portland. In the two games Roy has sat out, Matthews has scored a combined 50 points.