For the NBA haters out there who claim you don't have to watch an NBA game until the fourth quarter, tonight's contest gave you another example to point to. Perhaps predictably, the Nuggets came out sluggish in the first half, presumably got an earful from head coach George Karl at halftime and put forth a solid, although weak on defensive rebounding, effort in the second half that ultimately led to an overtime win. Karl must have gotten the troops riled up at halftime, because Nuggets assistant coach Larry Mangino emphatically "guaranteed" a better, more energetic second half during his halftime interview with Altitude's Maya Starks.
It just so happened that the energy was prevalent on the offensive end of the floor only, with one glaring exception: J.R. Smith. If you didn't watch the game and only read the box score, you'll assume that J.R. had another off night offensively, as he shot just 4-13 from the floor and missed all seven of his three-point attempts. What you wouldn't know is that J.R. made three of the biggest defensive plays of the game, including two huge steals in crunch time in addition to drawing an offensive foul that killed a two-on-one Kings fast break earlier in the game, a play that Altitude's Chris Marlowe correctly pointed out "was the best defensive play of J.R.'s career." And sure to make the "best of" reel for the season was J.R.'s thunderous, emphatic, spectacular 180-degree dunk on the Kings' Omri Casspi (pictured above). It was as if J.R. was unleashing weeks of frustration on the rookie. I suspect Casspi's competition in Israel didn't prepare him for a dunk like that (I've played basketball for years with Israelis, by the way...crafty, smart, dead eye shooters...but no hops).
I won't accept (nor is anyone giving me) one morsel of credit for re-awakening J.R. a week ago after publishing my "J.R.'s nine lives may be up" column in reaction to the suspension that never happened. I was late to join the "we should trade J.R. now!" bandwagon that had been building up on this site and elsewhere, and then was followed by a number of people in the "mainstream" Denver sports media who vehemently called for J.R.'s departure soon after my column went up.
But whether it was the media pressure, Karl himself, perhaps the Nuggets organization, his teammates, whomever, it doesn't really matter. The bottom line is someone got to J.R. Smith soon after we called him out here and his last four performances - including during the Nuggets blowout loss at Oklahoma City - have been well rounded, solid outings. I'm still not sold on any team winning a championship when J.R. Smith is one of the top five players on the squad, but if J.R. can sustain this level of production perhaps I can change my mind. We'll let this play out.
Back to tonight's game...
Nate and I were talking midway through the third quarter about our upcoming Denver Stiffs event this Friday (that's a tease...more info to come shortly...but here's a suggestion: get your Friday night schedule open now!) and I was about five minutes behind the live action. The Nuggets were just starting to make their third-quarter run, and I joked with Nate that I can probably turn my TV off knowing exactly how the game would play out.
Cue the third quarter come back. Check.
Cue the Nuggets going ahead in the fourth quarter. Check.
Cue the Nuggets taking careless jump shots after taking the lead rather than pounding it inside to seal the victory. Check.
Cue the (vastly inferior) opposing team getting easy looks around the rim and tying the game. Check.
Cue the Nuggets winning anyway but making everyone stay at Pepsi Center longer than they really wanted to. Check.
As my uncle Marty said to me after the game: "the Nuggets must be pretty good if they can play like that and win anyway."
Let's move on to worrying about the Suns, Lakers and Jazz this week because there's no sense in trying to figure out why the Kings almost won at Pepsi Center tonight. Simply put, the Kings had the Nuggets number this year and fortunately, we don't have to play them again. (I can't believe I'm saying this about the Kings.)
Non-Stiff of the Night
-Kenyon Martin: Just another night at the office for "The Real K-Mart" whose 24/12 performances are starting to feel normal. The only thing that pisses me off when watching K-Mart is that I wasn't smart enough to pick him up off waivers in my fantasy league when Melo went down!
-Jon Brockman: I know my fellow Stiffs are sick of me bringing up Brockman, but an 11/11 with four offensive boards? I'm just sayin'. We even learned about his new nickname: the Brockness Monster (which Marlowe attributed accurately to the Lock Ness Monster and then inaccurately said resides in "Ireland"...it's Scotland, Marlowe, everyone knows that).
Stiff of the Night
-Kevin Martin: "The Other K-Mart" lived up to my pre-game scouting report flagging him as a King Stiff. 5-17 shooting and an awkward attempt to draw a foul on "The Real K-Mart" at the end of overtime was further proof that the Kings likely aren't thrilled about mini K-Mart's audacious contract.
Photo courtesy of AP Photos: David Zalubowski