The Nuggets had a 17-point lead with 3:48 left in the third-quarter (86-69) ... from that point the Grizzlies outscored Denver 47-22 and won the game 116-108. It was almost as if the Nuggets thought the game ended after three. Denver was out-rebounded in the second-half 25-10 (how is that possible) and outscored in the fourth-quarter 34-18.
Tonight's game wasn't even a tale of two-halves as much as it was a tale of the final quarter and a 1/4. I can hardly even wrap my mind around this loss. As the game was progressing the 1983 Tom Cruise film "All the Right Moves" would have been an appropriate title for this contest.
The Nuggets were moving the ball well, They had 14 assists in the first-half and four more by the 8:07 mark of the third-quarter. Carmelo Anthony had two of them with pretty passes to Nene (for a layup) and Kenyon Martin (for a dunk and missed free-throw on the And-1 attempt). But for the rest of the game the Nuggets had a total of 4 assists. Just four freaking passes that led straight to buckets.
The Nuggets had a very balanced first-half scoring attack as nine players had at least two points, seven of them had at least five points and three guys had scored in double-figures (Melo with 15 pts, Nene with 10 and J.R. with 10).
About the only thing the Nuggets were not doing in the first-half was getting to the free throw line. Denver, league leaders in free throw attempts per game, was only 7-8 from the charity stripe in the first-half and finished the game just 15-21 from freebieland. On the flipside the Grizzlies were 9-12 from the charity stripe in the first-half and 17-20 in the second-half to finish the game 26-32 from freebieland. The Nuggets were Nuggeted by the Grizzlies tonight from the foul line.
Denver did a great job against Zach Randolph throughout much of the game as he had just 1-point up until the 1:46 mark of the third-quarter off a technical defensive three-second violation. At the 1:46 mark he hit 1-2 free throws and then exploded for an additional 12-points from that point. It could be argued that most of Randolph's offensive-rebounds should result in fouls on the big man, but he does a great job of being tricky inside and burned the Nuggets for a total of 5 offensive rebounds on his 16 total boards.
Denver did such a great job on Randolph, but once again let lesser players have their way with them. Darrell Arthur led the bench with 12-points in the first-half and had 12 more points in the second-half to set a new career high with 24 points (8-10 from the foul line). Arthur has been such a beast this season that he averages a whopping total of 8.3 points per game in roughly 20 minutes per game. He played 31 key minutes tonight and looked like an all-star with a nice shooting touch (8-11 from the floor).
The Grizzlies energy guy off the bench, Tony Allen, is referred to as a defensive specialist ... that's nice talk for a guy who has to give maximum defensive effort to get burn in the NBA. Tonight he frustrated the Nuggets on the defensive end and that led to 17 points of his own. He scores a grand total of 6.6 points per game on the season and should remind Nuggets fans of one Dahntay Jones.
The Nuggets treated the ball as if it were their baby in the first half and committed just 5 turnovers. They decided to double-up on that amount in the second-half for good measure and recorded 10 turnovers to get over their season average of 14.1 by 0.9 with 15 turnovers on the night. Watching Billups (6 turnovers) and Afflalo force the ball in to Melo in the high-post and having Rudy Gay get steal-after-steal at key points in the contest was very frustrating. When the Nuggets lose momentum they often turn to the iso-Anthony offense.
Denver built their lead off of great ball movement and active defense. They lost the lead by going to their usual selfish road offense and matador defense. The Nuggets have been unable to build anything off of big wins this season. It looked like Denver had learned something after their great win against the Mavericks as they played inspired ball for 2 and 3/4 quarters of the game tonight. But what people may forget is that in that fantastic win versus Dallas, was that the Nuggets coughed up an 18-point and never should have had to comeback from 9-points down late in game in the first place.
I don't know how the Nuggets coaches or players didn't hit the panic button as the lead was dwindled down to eight points to start the fourth quarter (90-82). Or maybe they did realize they lost the momentum and instead of trying to play the right way they answered the call with the wrong phone.
I can't help but to turn back to being out-rebounded 25-10 in the second-half. The Nuggets once again used their lineup of one true big man surrounded by guards and either Melo or Al Harrington for long stretches of the second-half. Chris Andersen and Nene cannot be counted on to pull down rebounds by themselves and yet George Karl refuses to give them any help. J.R. Smith is a fine rebounder for a guard/forward, but I would think Shelden Williams could benefit from some minutes that K-Mart is not able to play (due to limitations of his recovering knee).
One could argue that Nene is Denver's only useful all-around big man. Birdman and K-Mart both have their offensive limitations and Birdman has never proven to be more than a 15-20 minute a night energy player. Memphis has the luxury of having the monster Marc Gasol on their roster. Gasol allows the Grizzlies to rotate Randolph and Arthur at power forward and their bigger lineups help them on the glass. Memphis is a middle of the road rebounding team as they rank 18th overall with 41.11 boards per game. The Nuggets rank 16th with 41.15 rpg and have been doing that well with a handicapped squad. The Nuggets have been strapped with injuries early in the season and Karl continues to handicap the team by playing small-ball this season with a healthy roster. Small-ball has never won in the playoffs, so the Nuggets are just setting themselves up for disaster later on in the real-season ... the post-season.
Losses like the one tonight are the most frustrating kind. Not being able to build off of big wins has been a big problem for the Nuggets. Denver is good enough to be a few games over .500, but the team has been unable to make a move in the standings this season and frustrations like tonight will continue to happen with this roster and with this rotation.
Off to Houston later tonight for a game tomorrow against the Rockets ...
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