When Carmelo Anthony got himself ejected with 2:40 remaining in the third quarter and the Nuggets hanging onto a tenuous three-point lead, I thought the Nuggets might be done for. Instead, Melo's foolish act of defiance ignited a much-needed Nuggets rally.
I seem to remember someone ogling the Nuggets late November/early December schedule over a week ago and predicting that a much needed winning streak could be in order. Oh right, that was me. After toppling the Milwaukee Bucks at Pepsi Center tonight, the Nuggets extended their victory streak to five with two more very winnable games on the near horizon.
Halfway through tonight's contest, I wasn't sure if that streak would ever get to five. The Nuggets were sluggish (to put it mildly) throughout the first half and eked their way to 45 halftime points. And midway through the second quarter, I thought we'd be lucky to crack 40.
Thanks to a confluence of bizarre events, including an unnecessary Carmelo Anthony ejection (unnecessary by Melo, he was begging to get tossed...more on that shortly), a J.R. Smith eruption and the Bucks diligent and patient first-half offense giving way to a hurried and careless second-half offense, the Nuggets look at lot better at 11-6 than they did at 6-6. And for a team that's been allowing it's competitors to stick around uncomfortably close until the final buzzer sounds, it was nice to see the Nuggets put away an inferior team emphatically for once. Seeing Chauncey Billups, Nene and J.R. come out of the game to a chorus of cheers with minutes left was a welcomed rarity.
The View From The Not-So-Cheap-Seats...
...the thin crowd was on the verge of falling asleep in the first half and didn't ignite until Chris Andersen had an emphatic blocked shot on Drew Gooden with 3:11 to go in the third period.
...Melo had a frustrating night, shooting 4-13 before getting thrown out. His shot attempt that was "blocked" by Bucks rookie Larry Sanders in the third quarter was clearly goaltending, but Melo's outrage had to be T'd up by the one of the referees. Regarding Melo's second technical foul, I don't know how it looked on TV but from my seat he was begging to get tossed. The secondary referee involved on this one was as patient as he could be with Melo until J.R. tried to restrain Melo and, rather than walk away, Melo continued to bark at the referee until the second whistle was blown. Then, Melo didn't leave the court immediately - as if he himself didn't believe he had just been ejected - until the Nuggets head of security Bobby Simmons finally escorted him out. Little did we know at the time that this would fuel the Nuggets run to come.
...before getting ejected, Melo seemed to have warmer on-court camaraderie with his teammates than I've seen all season. Could he be changing his mind about staying in Denver? Hmmmmmm??
...what can you say about J.R. Smith's night other than "sensational"? In addition to showing great patience with his shot, he was all over the boards and the passing lanes. It was by far J.R.'s best game of the season. Nuggets head coach George Karl has praised J.R.'s practice habits as of late and seems to be rewarding J.R. with increased minutes and responsibility. Let's hope it pays off continually but as we've learned with J.R., it's always two steps forward and one step back...
...Renaldo Balkman - J.R.'s alleged bad practice co-conspirator - was nowhere to be found on the Nuggets bench.
...two loud and passionate fans about 20 rows above the Nuggets bench were holding a giant "BAZINGAS!" poster with an image of Shelden Williams' head beneath the type, and they were wearing T-shirts displaying the same thing. Anytime Shelden did anything these two guys went berserk. After doing some extensive online research tonight, apparently "BAZINGA!" is Sheldon's catch phrase from the hit TV show The Big Bang Theory. Get it, Shelden meets Sheldon? Gotta love the creativity there!
...Bucks point guard Brandon Jennings is fast as hell and surprisingly smaller than I remember (Chauncey looks like a giant next to him). I love Jennings potential but he's a chucker that needs to learn shot selection soon.
...in 22 minutes of play, Bucks backup small forward Corey Maggette got to the free throw line five times for 10 attempts. Maggette remains one of the NBA's best at getting to the line. If Melo played just somewhat similar to Maggette when it comes to getting free shots, he'd be unstoppable.
...Chauncey Billups had one of - if not his best - all around games of the season. Chauncey was penetrating and dishing well in addition to getting himself easy buckets right at the rack. I loved Chauncey's second half performance tonight.
...Birdman seems to be falling for more head fakes than he did as a rookie.
...like J.R. and Chauncey, Nene may also have had his best game of the season. Taking advantage of the Bucks lack of interior defense, Nene took the ball to the hole aggressively all night.
Non-Stiff of the Night
-J.R. Smith: Nene had a great game from start to finish, but it was J.R. who spearheaded the Nuggets' big run in the second half. I've learned not to fawn over J.R. too much after great games like this, but damn this guy can play basketball when his head is straight!
Stiff of the Night
-Ersan Ilyasova: I'm an Ilyasova fan, but the Bucks' Turkish import missed multiple opportunities to keep the Bucks competitive in the second half as he repeatedly missed wide open three-pointers.
George Karl is now just three wins shy of 1,000 as a head coach in the NBA. More impressively, he's gotten there while winning nearly 60% of all the games he has ever coached. I foresee the Nuggets winning their next three games - home against the Clippers this Friday, home against Memphis on Sunday and then at Charlotte next Tuesday - to get Karl his 1,000th victory in the place where his basketball career truly began: North Carolina. Perhaps Karl's all-time favorite coach and mentor, Dean Smith, can find a way to be on hand even though his health is poor. Now that would be something.