One view: an exciting, high-scoring affair, and two teams showcasing plenty of offense. Another view: a poor defensive game, questionable officiating on both teams, and fans robbed of an exciting finish by said refs. However you look at today's game, the Nuggets didn't do enough defensively to earn a win in New York.
After watching Amar'e Stoudemire today in New York, it's no wonder why Carmelo Anthony might be thinking about joining the Knicks ... Amar'e is loved by the fans (they were chanting "MVP" for him just before Denver tied it at 120-120) and, at least today, was protected by the officials. How can a guy who had five fouls be protected by the officials? Well, officially he had five fouls, but he got away with at least two non-calls and had a third changed from him to teammate Toney Douglas.
But the Denver Nuggets had no reason to complain about the officiating today as they got to the foul line plenty of times and were rewarded with 40 free throw attempts. The Nuggets came into the game leading the league in free throw attempts with 31.5 per game, as their game plan calls for drives to the rim or three-point shots. And the Nuggets have plenty of guys who can get to the rim whenever they want, but the problem is they don't always want to get to the rim for the easy shot.
The Nuggets again shot a poor percentage from beyond the arc as they went 7-21 today for 33.3%. On the other end it seemed for awhile like the Knicks couldn't miss from outside as they finished the game 13-30 from deep for 43.3%. The Nuggets biggest dud from outside was the guy who seemed to want to flourish this morning, but Melo just didn't have his outside shot going and should have known better than to keep chucking as he finished 0-6 from distance.
No matter what Melo may or may not do after the season, he always wants to play well in his hometown area and while he did score 31 points, grabbed 13 rebounds (5 offensive), and was 9-9 from the foul line, I think even he would say he wasn't happy with his game today. Melo had 4 turnovers, 3 fouls, the aformentioned 0-6 from downtown, and just 11-27 from the field. It took Melo 27 shots to get 31 points and in his team high 37 minutes, he also was a team high -12 in the +/- column.
Melo did move the ball pretty well early to cutters in the lane and picked up 3 assists, but the way he stops the ball when he catches it in the post or out of the wing just doesn't fit with how the Nuggets move the ball with him off the court. Melo needs the ball in his hands to score and he has never really been an off-the-ball scorer like say Arron Afflalo. Although when Melo does play the catch-and-shoot game he does seem to find success.
The Knicks had success every time they touched the ball offensively, for the most part. Wilson Chandler (27 points), Danilo Gallinari (16 points), Landry Fields (18 points), Toney Douglas (13 points), and Ronny Turiaf (6 points) combined for 80 points on 53% shooting. The Knicks utilized just a 7-man rotation as Shawne Williams and Bill Walker played just 6 minutes combined.
The Nuggets role players: Afflalo (8 points), Shelden Williams (2 points), Al Harrington (19 points), Ty Lawson (18 points), J.R. Smith (7 points), and Gary Forbes (6 points) went for 60 points and shot 57% from the floor. Harrington did most of his damage in the first three-quarters and sat on the bench during crunch time, which is something George Karl hasn't done with him much this season.
Lawson outplayed Chauncey Billups once again and Billups' season continues to be a puzzling one. Billups finished with 4 points and was 1-7 shooting (1-4 from deep), his only make was a key three-pointer late to tie the game at 120-120. Billups led the team with 6 assists (20 on the day for the Nuggets, but just 9 in the second half), but had a very quiet day. His counterpart, Raymond Felton, continued his nice play this season and almost had as many assists, 17, as he did points, 19.
The Nuggets did a great job frustrating Stoudemire in the first half. He was just 2-8 from the field with 6 points and was lucky to have only one foul at the break to go along with a technical foul as well. But Amar'e exploded in the second half, with a lot of buckets coming either without Nene guarding him or without Nene even being on the floor. He did have enough confidence going with Nene on him later to bury some big buckets and scored 30 or more points for the eighth straight game (a Knicks record). So in the first half Nene outscored Amar'e 18-6, but in the second half Amar'e got the better of Nene by outscoring him 24-8.
Nene was a beast in the first half. He used-and-abused whatever defender was on him, mainly Amar'e. But as we see with Nene, he just disappeared for most the second half. The Nuggets did try to run the offense through him in the second half at different times, but it looked like Nene wore down and let himself get out of the offense as he was looking more to set screens and was catching the ball out by the three-point line versus posting up Amar'e deep in the post like he did in the first half.
The Nuggets had trouble keeping up with the hot shooting Knicks throughout the game, but the defensive effort was just poor by the road team. Too often the Nuggets left shooters open and blew defensive assignments giving up easy layups and some dunks. We can look at the end of the game and question the charging call on Melo when Denver was down three and looking to make an exciting finish (that the fans were robbed of!), but there were just too many other opportunities for Denver to get control of the game at other times that they just failed to do.
At the 2:58 mark of the first quarter Chandler had 12 points for the Knicks. The small-ball lineup worked for Mike D'Antoni as Chandler was being guarded by either Nene or Williams to start things off and that was a mismatch. Williams limited offensive game allowed Chandler (or anyone else assigned to cover him) to hide a bit defensively and exploit him (or Nene) offensively away from the paint. And later in the game with the Nuggets desperately needing a defensive stop it was Afflalo who lost track of Chandler and left him wide open to knock down a huge shot to give the Knicks a 125-122 lead. The next play was when Melo was called for a charge on his vintage push-off that he rarely gets away with (Brandon Jennings perfected this push-off in his rookie season) and Gallo did a nice job flopping to really force the refs to call something. Game over.
The Nuggets finished the road trip just 1-3 and will be back in Denver for three games starting Tuesday night when they play the struggling Orlando Magic. The Magic are losers of four in a row at the time of this writing, but get to play the L.A. Clippers later today. The Nuggets will need some of their own Mile-High Magic on the upcoming homestand where they are an NBA best 10-1 (tied with Boston).
- For those of you who watch body language ... did anyone have worse B.L. than J.R.? One play he disregarded Douglas and never left the left side of the paint with Douglas in the right hand corner ... Douglas wound up with the ball after a Fields offensive rebound and he, of course, buried a three. J.R. had his head down quite often after Knick makes and just seemed totally out of the game and frustrated on his drives to the rim where he wasn't earning calls.
- Can Nene ever score over 30 points? I'm not sure his unselfishness will permit it and that's not a good thing.
- That call by Marc Davis at the end of the game calling Nene for the inadvertant forearm to Turiaf's face after a made free throw was questionable. Davis seems to have some type of vendetta with the Nuggets and while he's not killing the Nuggets he has murdered some of their games.
- The battle of Nene vs. Amar'e was awesome to watch. Like I noted above, Nene got the best of Amar'e in the first half and got Amar'e to shove him out of bounds with some extra zest to it, but he could not Nowitzki Nene like Kenyon Martin was able to in the playoffs back in 2009. Shortly after that Amar'e foul, Nene had a dunk and the ball flew through the cylinder and popped Stoudemire in the face ... a little justice.
- The one-time centerpiece of trade rumors with the Nuggets and Knicks revolved around a package with Anthony Randolph. The 21 year-old Randolph hasn't stepped on the floor for the Knicks since they lost in Denver. Now that the Knics are winners of 13 of their last 14 will Randolph see the court again in a Knicks uniform?
- The three most discussed New York guys in a Nuggets and Knicks trade lately have been Fields, Chandler, and Gallo ... those three guys look like very important pieces as to how far the Knicks will go this season. Would their fans be happy swapping all three guys for Melo? I doubt it.
- Glad to see Lawson looking for his offense tonight. Forbes was also attacking with the limited minutes he saw (12 minutes). I would have liked to see Karl play his hot hands a little more today ... even Harrington sat in crunch time and was having a nice game going 6-8 from the field.