Basketball is a great game. Watching Chauncey Billups play basketball is a thing of beauty. Watching the Nuggets smack the Los Angeles Lakers in the mouth along my fellow Denver Stiffs was a delight. Denver’s 126-113 victory left its mark.
Before we tear into the game I would just like to mention the Denver Stiffs watch party at Chopper’s in Cherry Creek. The seating situation at Chopper’s was sort of tricky as the house was packed with Nuggets fans. The atmosphere during the game was that of a playoff contest and the Stiffs that made it out definitely made it a night to remember.
I’d like to thank everyone who was able to make it out to our first event because it was fairly short notice, but nice to meet some of the readers. Thanks to TKnuckle, 5280, Pusherman, BrianD, RPN, Mattress King, Stiffy, Vicki and her Husband, Andrew (not Feinstein) and his throwback Billups jersey and the Saudi Arabian crew who attend CU Denver. I’m sure I’m probably missing a few people and that a few folks may have slipped through the crowded bar … but it was great going nuts at Chopper’s with true Nugget fans. It reminded me of sitting up in the Melo’s Yellows section during the playoffs, loved the rowdiness in the second half.
To the game …
Chauncey Billups started the game hitting his first two three-point attempts and finished the first quarter with four three-pointers and drew a foul and hit 2-3 free throws on another. But the Lakers started out just as hot as a team and couldn’t seem to miss a shot. The Lakers shot 53% in the first half and out-rebounded the Nuggets 24-19. Denver did battle back in the first quarter, after being down 11 points they were able to tie things up at 30-30 heading into the second quarter, but the Lakers grabbed a 64-59 lead going into the half.
As hot as the Lakers seemed to be, the Nuggets were just as hot and actually shot 55% from the field in the first half. The Nuggets seemed a bit reluctant to challenge the Lake Show in the paint and were settling for jumpers and three-pointers. Typically this is a recipe for disaster for the Nuggets, but last night the shots were falling.
Whenever you play on the road you just need to keep within striking distance until the fourth quarter. Denver started to let things slip away just a bit in the third quarter as the Lakers built an 81-72 lead just under 4 minutes left in the period, but then Mr. Big Shot came alive. Billups scored 14 points to end the quarter with two free throws and four consecutive three-pointers. Ty Lawson added a bank shot three as Billups left the hoop hot for everyone else and the Nuggets turned a nine-point deficit into a five-point lead in just four minutes heading into the fourth quarter.
Like the Nuggets usually do at home … the Nuggets came out in the fourth quarter and were firing on all cylinders. Lawson, J.R. Smith, Arron Afflalo, K-Mart (then Nene) and Chris Andersen started the final period and extended Denver’s lead to 106-97 before Billups returned to the floor to help finish off the Lakers.
Denver got buckets early in the fourth thanks to Lawson attacking the rim like a freight train, Nene getting into the paint and then the jump shooting just taking over from there. The Nuggets put on a shooting clinic at the Staples Center last night and when the Lakers faithful started booing the team at about the 3:04 mark things were essentially over. But the final dagger came when Afflalo hit his final three-ball to give the Nuggets a 118-108 lead with just 1:49 left in the game.
The Nuggets improved to 34-16 on the season and got back to .500 on the road (12-12) by snapping the Lakers 8 game home win streak. Meanwhile the Lakers lost for just the fourth time on their home floor (24-4) and fell to 38-13 overall. The Nuggets could have been down 5 games in the loss column had they not won the game … as it stands now, the Nuggets are just 3 games behind the Lakers for the top spot in the West.
And did I mention that Melo didn’t step on the floor in the win? Denver is now 8-4 without their scoring leader … this team can be scary good.
--Kobe Bryant scored 23 points in the first half, but went just 3-10 in the second half and scored just 10 points and turned the ball over four times. He did finish with 33 points, but also tallied 0 assists.
--Pau Gasol continued to dominate inside. The Llama finished with 17 points and 17 rebounds, but shot just 8-17 from the field … it seemed like Gasol had a lot of bunnies that just didn’t fall.
--Joey Graham’s most memorable play came when he tested the mental state of Ron Artest at the 6:15 mark of the third quarter with a hard foul. Replay of Graham’s hard foul under the hoop clearly show Artest form a fist and he even made a slight cock with his right arm … will be interesting to see if Artest gets a fine for the reaction.
--The Nuggets shot 15-22 from beyond the arc or 68% … that probably wont ever happen again this season, but it was fun to watch. My three-point contest article came just at the right time eh? Luck of the draw.
--Chauncey Billups: 40 minutes, a career-high 39 points, 4 rebounds and 8 assists. 12-20 shooting, 9-13 from three-point land (career high in made threes) and 6-8 from the foul line. It seems crazy that Billups has never scored 40+ points in a game … especially since he was much more athletic when he was younger. Acquiring Billups was the perfect trade and the absolute right player to bring to this team. Billups’ mental makeup just continues to impress me and his shooting is just … … he’s the Battleship King. Billups’ 21 points in the third quarter were the second most ever scored against the Lakers in one quarter … the most … 23 points by Wilt Chamberlain when he was with the 76ers in Feb. of 1966.
--K-Mart: 38 minutes, 11 points, 12 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 block on 5-16 shooting (1-3 from the foul line). Martin didn’t shoot the ball particularly well, but he hit some key shots in this game and pulled down some big boards. When Kenyon almost had a put-back dunk in the fourth quarter the roof was ready to be blown off at Chopper’s. K-Mart had a tough draw with the Lakers’ bigs, but like he always does he hung tough and battled.
--Arron Afflalo: 35 minutes, 11 points, 1 rebound, 2 assists on 4-7 shooting, 2-3 from deep, 1-2 from the foul line. Afflalo hit the dagger shot for the Nuggets and played tough defense on one of the most difficult covers in the league on Kobe. I watched Afflalo on a few defensive plays and he moves and predicts where his man is going quite well. He’s such a smart player and just keeps his effort levels very high.
--J.R. Smith: 35 minutes, 27 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists on 11-17 shooting, 3-4 from deep and 2-2 from the foul line. Swish had 16 points in the final period and just was a very efficient player tonight. It’s always a good sign when Smith has 13 more two-point attempts than his three-point shots. J.R. got to the rim when he wanted to and came up with some nice rebounds. Swish’s hot hand in the final period was fun to watch. Just big shot after big shot that the L.A. crowd even began to marvel at.
--Nene: 31 minutes, 14 points, 4 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 block and 6 fouls on 6-10 shooting and 2-3 from the foul line. Nene has typically been intimidated by the size of the Lakers and has been timid inside against Andrew Bynum. But last night Nene was very aggressive and was attacking the rim and getting where he wanted to go. It was too bad the refs fouled him out on two phantom calls because he was having a nice offensive game.
--Chris Andersen: 26 minutes, 7 points, 15 rebounds, 2 blocks, 1 assist on 3-4 shooting (1-1 from the foul line) and 1 missing bottle of hair gel. Lisa Salters reported that Bird forgot his hair gel and perhaps he should leave it at home for the duration. Bird’s boyish hairdo lent itself to a high-energy performance. Bird had himself a monster slam early and it looked weird with his non-gelled hair, but I’m a fan.
--Ty Lawson: 19 minutes, 13 points, 1 rebound, 3 assists on 5-6 shooting, 1-1 from deep and 2-2 from the foul line. Lawson was a menace and the Lakers didn’t have an answer for him. His freight train drives resulted in some pretty layups and if he starts getting some calls on his wild, but controlled drives he’ll be an And1 machine. Lawsome’s confidence was apparent and he gives Denver the biggest X-Factor in a series with the Lakers.
--Joey Graham: 15 minutes, 4 points, 2 assists on 2-4 shooting. Like I mentioned … Graham’s hard foul on Artest and then his willingness to stand right in front of Ron-Ron showed Joey has balls. The guy is built like a bull and it’s fun to watch him fly to the rim, I just with it would happen more often.
That was a hell of a win by the Nuggets in L.A., their most impressive performance of the season as far as I’m concerned. The Lakers length will be an issue in any game with Denver, but the Nuggets can combat that with aggressive offense and aggressive defense. Denver also has that swagger that they are better than anyone and that’s a dangerous thing to possess.
The Nuggets have now defeated the Lakers this season by 26 and 13 points.
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Photo courtesy of: Francis Specker