The Nuggets frustration with the Boston Celtics physical style of play finally boiled over at the 2:32 mark of the fourth quarter as Nene was tangled up with Glen Davis, the two exchanged words face-to-face, and Nene went for the all familiar head-butt ... and missed. And the Nuggets missed getting coach George Karl win 1,000 again as they fell 105-89 to the Celtics.
The stories of tonight's game for the Nuggets:
Denver records just 18 team assists and just 5 assists in the second half against the Celtics ...
As I mentioned in the game preview, the Nuggets do not share the ball particularly well on the road and tonight was no different. Sometimes without Carmelo Anthony in the lineup the Nuggets move the ball around better on the offensive end as they try to search for the easiest shots.
Coming into the game the Nuggets were averaging 18.22 assists per game on the road and with just 18 tonight in Boston they fell short of their season average. When Denver was down 19 points in the first quarter (30-11) the team just wasn't moving the ball well. When the Nuggets made a 39-21 run from that point to bring the game within one point (51-50), Denver was sharing the ball, attacking the rim, and playing the successful brand of Nuggets basketball that allows them to beat any team on any night ... with or without Melo.
But it appeared the Nuggets either got sick of working to get inside against a good defensive team (and a tall one) or just got lazy. I think I heard the announcers say towards the end of the game that at one point that Denver was 5-8 from three point land ... if that is true (I didn't track it) then they finished the game just 1-11 from deep. The biggest culprits of falling in love with their three-point shooting tonight were Chauncey Billups and Al Harrington, who combined to go 2-11 from downtown.
Taking rushed three-pointers from a few feet beyond the arc will get J.R. Smith benched, but seems to draw no attention from Karl when Billups is the one doing the shooting. Billups was a forgettable 2-10 from the field tonight and only got to the foul line once and was 0-2 from the charity stripe.
Billups and Lawson did combine for 14 of the team's 18 assists (7 apiece), but only outdid Rajon Rondo (13 assists) by one. The Celtics totalled 26 assists and often over-passed the ball to try to insure the best shots ... although Rondo is clearly trying to maintain his 14.1 season assist average.
Carmelo Anthony misses tonight's game with an inflamed right knee ...
Before the game we found out that Melo has been suffering from a sore right knee that he says has left him with "no explosion." Melo has never had a big vertical, but he does rely on his first-step to blow by his defender to get to the rim and he's been relying heavily on his jumper throughout the season. The ESPN guys announced that Melo will likely undergo an MRI tomorrow on that knee in Toronto. The last thing Denver needs is another injury, but it looks like that is what they have. The Nuggets missed Melo's scoring tonight as they hit some scoring droughts, most notably when they didn't score a bucket in the first four minutes of the fourth quarter (at the 8:02 mark Arron Afflalo buried a couple free throws to finally get Denver their first points of the final period).
Ty Lawson's stat line: 24 points on 9-14 shooting, 6-7 from the free throw line, 7 assists, and 3 steals ...
Lawson played so well in the first half that Karl went with the hot hand to open up the third quarter by starting Lawson for Gary Forbes (and for some reason Al Harrington for Shelden Williams). Lawson checked into the game with Denver down 33-17 and he completely changed the flow of the game. Lawson was in that familiar attack mode that we saw often last season and only glimpses of so far this season. And it was Lawson who got Denver as close as they would get as he hit a nice layup off a killer cross over to cut Boston's lead to just one at 51-50. I don't know why Lawson hasn't been playing aggressive in every game, but he sure is fun to watch when he is earning the Denver Stiffs readers appointed nickname of The Blur. Again, Lawson looks like a much more confident player when he's allowed to play with J.R. or Afflalo as his wing and not Billups, and the Billups/Lawson backcourt saw more time this evening ... why ... wwwwhhhyyyyyy?!?!
For as well as Lawson played, Big Al Harrington played just the opposite. Harrington seemed frustrated on the defensive end and couldn't stop hanging out on the three-point line on the offensive end. I don't mind if Big Al is having an off shooting night, but he's got to know when his shot isn't falling that he needs to do some different. Harrington finished 3-10 shooting for just 7 points, had 6 turnovers, 5 fouls, and zero trips to the foul line. Another frustrating night for Harrington and the Nuggets can't seem to get on the same page as a team as Lawson and Afflalo's good nights were wasted.
Afflalo finished the night 6-10 from the field (2-2 from deep and 2-2 from the foul line) with 16 points and 4 rebounds. Afflalo did rack up 4 fouls and allowed Ray Allen to start the game hot (2-2 with a three and an easy layup) and find his rhythm ... Allen scored a game high 28 points.
Another key player on Denver's 39-21 run after falling behind 30-11 was J.R. ... he hit timely three-pointers and was a reliable scoring option during Denver's run. Smith scored 16 points off the bench, but shot a mediocre 7-18 from the field and didn't make any trips to the foul line. It appeared to me that Smith grew frustrated with the Celtics physical play and was upset by not getting some calls on his drives. Smith is a very emotional player, but I thought he did a decent job of keeping his emotions in check tonight ... I saw a couple times where I thought he was going to blow a gasket, but he didn't.
Lousy national announcers ...
And in case you just breezed through the preview ... I lied about watching Altitude's broadcast. I actually wanted to hear what the national guys were going to talk about and I didn't realize that Jon Barry was Michael Jordan when he played. Barry talked tonight like he must have been the perfect player during his career. I loved watching Barry play with the Nuggets for one season, but after his performance tonight I wouldn't mind if he accidentally super-glued his pie-hole shut.
The Nuggets are now 7-31 all-time in Boston and will have to try to get Karl his 1,000th career win in Toronto Friday night. An interesting stat ... if Karl does get the win in Toronto he'll be the first coach ever to get win 1,000 on the road.
Now if you'll excuse me ... I have to see what sort of magic C.T. has in store on The Challenge: Cutthroat ... wonder if the Nuggets could sign him to a 10-day contract while Birdman Chris Andersen is out ...