The Nuggets have been playing poorly for two months and most unfortunately, there's no magic switch that will turn them back into the team we saw when they last played in Salt Lake City.
A friend and fellow season ticket holder called me halfway through the third quarter of the Nuggets/Jazz Game 3. Upon answering my phone, he went on an immediate rant about how gutless and cowardly the Nuggets played tonight. After five or so minutes, realizing that I had said nothing yet, he finally asked: "Aren't you upset about this?!!" You see, by the time he had called, I was so beyond upset that I had already fallen into a state of resigned acceptance of this loss. I just knew the Nuggets didn't have it them tonight.
Readers of this site and Nuggets fans worldwide will spend the weekend debating and discussing why the Nuggets lost tonight. And I suppose I could join that conversation. I could tell you that they lost because they dished out a mere 12 assists; an unacceptably low number for a playoff game no less. I could tell you that Carmelo Anthony was too hesitant on offense, allowing the Jazz double teams to find him and disrupting the Nuggets offensive rhythm. I could tell you that making matters worse, Melo was careless with his fouls again and had just four free throw attempts in Game 3, which means he got to the charity stripe twice. Twice?! I could tell you that Kenyon Martin, Nene and Chris Andersen put forth one of the more embarrassing performances by a Nuggets front line in the franchise's playoff history. And that's saying something for a team that was once anchored up front by Danny Schayes and Blair Rasmussen. I could tell you that while Chauncey Billups' 25 points might look good in the box score, he was too shot-happy and didn't look to distribute the ball enough. You know, the point guard's job. I could tell you that interim head coach Adrian Dantley has proven to be incapable of making in-game adjustments. He looks like a genius when the Nuggets can't miss a shot, but otherwise he's over-matched by whomever is on the opposing team's bench. I could tell you that the Jazz have no answer for Ty Lawson, but the coaching staff doesn't seem to realize that. I could tell you that J.R. Smith is about as reliable and accountable as an Afghani president. I could tell you that the Jazz's Deron Williams is the best point guard in the NBA, and he's even better at home. I could tell you that playing inside Energy Solutions Arena is one of the toughest barns in the NBA, and anything short of exceptional execution won't get the job done.
I could tell you all these things, but you don't need me to. Because the details don't matter.
When this incarnation of the Nuggets are at their best - something we saw for much of last season and the following post-season, and much of this season until about two months ago - the details never mattered. Those Nuggets won games by routinely owning the energy of the games played. And for two consecutive playoff games, against a team that fields 10 players who are either second round picks or weren't drafted at all no less, the Nuggets have ceded the energy to their opposition.
Back to my opening thoughts above. My concern at this point is that not only can't the Nuggets locate that magic light switch that could return them to their swarming, high energy, up-tempo, fearless, intense selves that we know they have in them somewhere (oh where oh where did my "Thuggets" go?!), but that that switch never existed in the first place. How many times in sports have we seen teams limp their way into the post-season only to get swallowed up by a team with more fight and drive? In fact, we just saw this last season when the Hornets fumbled and stumbled into the playoffs where our Nuggets eradicated them easily. Could this year's Nuggets be akin to last year's Hornets?
On NBATV's "Game Time" tonight, hosts Rick Kamla and Eric Snow remained convinced that the Nuggets/Jazz series is going seven games. Maybe they weren't watching the same game we were. While I believe the Nuggets could win Game 4 at Utah on Sunday night, nothing I've seen from the last two games has convinced me that they can.
I hope and pray that the Nuggets prove us wrong. That they win Game 4 and regain home court advantage in this series. They may very well do so, but it won't be because of some miracle adjustment or magic switch flipped. They have to do it themselves.
Non-Stiff of the Night
-Paul Millsap: Jazz fans must now be happy that GM Kevin O'Connor matched Portland's offseason contract offer to Millsap. The undersized, backup power forward made 11 of his 14 shot attempts and pulled down 19 rebounds...off the bench.
Stiff(s) of the Night
-Kenyon Martin, Nene and Chris Andersen: The Nuggets front line combined for 15 points (on 3-for-15 shooting) and 24 rebounds while giving up 49 points (on 21-for-38 shooting) and 32 rebounds to Carlos Boozer, Paul Millsap and Kyrylo Fesenko. Boozer and Millsap in particular had their way with the Nuggets big men for the second consecutive game.
Photo courtesy of AP: Steve C. Wilson