With the way the National Football League's commissioner, Roger Goodell, is trending his sport, tonight's game between the Denver Nuggets and Utah Jazz might have qualified for a football game. The Jazz came out of the pile on top with a 113-106 win in a thriller at Pepsi Center.
The biggest problem the Nuggets had tonight, was allowing the Jazz to get the shots they wanted. And too many of those shots were easy ones at the rim. When watching teams carve up the Nuggets' interior defense and transition defense I think of couple of things.
- Why don't teams run more against the Nuggets?
It seems that when teams run against the Nuggets, they are met with little resistance in transition and can easily score against Denver.
- Why doesn't someone send a message with a hard foul?
The Nuggets give up a lot of soft And-1 plays and give up too many concession buckets on fastbreaks. At some point you need to say enough-is-enough and put somebody on their ass.
Well, tonight we saw the Jazz attack the Nuggets in transition whenever the opportunity presented itself. And we also saw J.R. Smith finally say enough-is-enough with a hard foul on my favorite antagonist, Raja Bell.
(Quick side story ... back in December of 2006 I met Bell at The Front Porch in downtown Denver as the Nuggets vs. Suns game was cancelled due to an epic blizzard. I talked to Bell about my stupid fantasy basketball team and how he was killing it for my team because of his great three-point shooting. I told him I had no idea he could shoot from distance so well and he jokingly told me he didn't know it either. I was Bell fan after that.)
Back to the game ... Smith and Bell were having some heated position battling on both ends of the floor and you could tell Smith was growing more frustrated as he felt he was being fouled on drives to the hoop and not getting any calls while the Jazz were able to pick up a few touch fouls on the other end. At one point you could read J.R. lips as he said something like: You're calling everything for them.
At the 6:45 mark of the fourth quarter with the Jazz up 94-89 and on a 2-on-1 fastbreak, Deron Williams (the Nugget killer) fed Bell as he headed into the paint for a layup, Smith was awaiting Bell's arrival and delivered a hard foul that sent Bell to the floor.
The foul didn't allow Bell to get the shot off, which is what a good foul is supposed to do on a fastbreak. And I also didn't think Smith was trying to hurt Bell, but he was taking out some frustration. Williams rushed to his teammates aide by throwing a forearm into J.R.'s back and the Jazz coaches kept their players on the bench as things on the court got a little heated. Smith calmly walked away from Williams and the incident was settled by the refs by giving J.R. a Flagrant-2 even before they looked at the replay and handed out a Technical to Williams for throwing what amounted to a punch with his forearm to Smith's back.
A quick definition of the two different flagrant fouls from NBA.com:
- A flagrant foul-penalty (1) is unnecessary contact committed by a player against an opponent.
- A flagrant foul-penalty (2) is unnecessary and excessive contact committed by a player against an opponent. It is an unsportsmanlike act and the offender is ejected immediately.
On the replay I didn't think the foul deserved the flagrant-2, but it did qualify for a flagrant-1 in today's wimpy NBA. And if people thought that was worth of an ejection then I think those folks need to toughen up.
Anyway, that play seemed to be the boiling point to a game that was getting a little chippy and had a playoff type feel to it. We don't get a lot of games during the regular season where the competition of the moment is propelling both teams to new heights. Nene tied his career high with 28 points on 10-12 shooting (8-8 from the free throw line), while his counterpart Al Jefferson also finished the night with 28 points on 12-20 shooting (4-4 from the foul line).
Williams did his typical damage against the Nuggets pouring in 26 points and 12 assists and Melo did the same by adding 31 points of his own (17-18 from the charity stripe) to go along with 6 rebounds. Williams had missed the Jazz's previous four games, but liked I feared he didn't miss a beat in his 41 minutes. Melo was hammered on plenty of his drives and he should have had more than 18 free throw attempts.
The two Jazz role players that stepped up were Bell (who frustrated Smith and even Melo a bit) with 20 points and C.J. Miles who came off the bench to score 13 points. Melo had his way with starter and rookie Gordon Hayward who finished the night with 0 points on 0-0 shooting and only played nine minutes as he racked up four quick fouls. It was a shame that Hayward kept fouling because Miles plays well against Denver and put in three three-pointers.
Denver had a shot to tie the game late as they made a little rally and were down 107-104 when Miles bricked a three in the corner in front of the Jazz bench, but Utah was able to corral the long rebound. With just 1:43 left in the game I thought it was over. Williams lost the ball on the next possession and the Nuggets were working to tie the game as Melo found Afflalo in the corner. The shot went up and it looked good, but didn't hit true ... Afflalo hits plenty of big shots, but I'm still waiting for him to hit a big one late.
The Nuggets defense once again let them down as they gave up 32 and 31 points in the third and fourth quarters. Denver was outscored in three of the games four quarters. It was one of those games where you knew the Nuggets were not going to be able to win if they got down by six or seven points heading into the final period because each quarter had been so close that a lopsided quarter in the Nuggets' favor wasn't going to happen. The defense let in too many easy buckets and let the Jazz players' confidence built too much.
Short memories are in order once again as Denver plays in Minnesota Saturday night.
-The Jazz started the game with 5 fouls in 5 minutes and the Nuggets benefitted at the foul line going 11-13 in the first quarter. Afflalo was being especially aggressive, but he wasn't being rewarded with any calls. You'd think a guy who doesn't complain much and plays the right way would get a fair shake ...
-Late in the game Jefferson was hitting shot-after-shot, so George Karl brought Kenyon Martin back into the game. Jefferson hit a miraculous fade away from the baseline as he was falling out of bounds and somehow buried it. The next three times he got the ball in the post he passed out once and the shot was missed and missed two other shots as K-Mart wasn't allowing him to go to his right at all. Jefferson hit one more shot to clinch the win where Billups fouled him from behind ... had Billups not touched him Nene might have gotten a charge call on the play. Doh!
-The game was on ESPN and Altitude. At the 8:45 mark of the second quater when Al Harrington was called for charging as rookie Jeremy Evans had both feet in the semi-circle restricted zone and the call should have been an automatic block, ESPN announcer Hubie Brown agreed with the call and praised Evans. Brown may have gone blind back in the 1980's or 1970's even ... so I changed to my boys Scotty Hastings and Chris Marlowe on Altitude.
-The Nuggets second unit struggled at times in this game. When the second unit struggles you can usually see why ... because Lawson isn't attacking and pushing the pace. When Ty gives the ball up after crossing halfcourt on a walkup ... things don't turn out great for Denver. Just as I was making that note Lawson came out of a timeout and hit three shots in a row, all layups.
-Like Andrew pointed out after the Blazers win Wednesday night, K-Mart is Denver best catalyst for the fastbreak off outlet passes. He was looking to push the pace against the Jazz off rebounds and even did it himself one time when no outlet was available. I will always be a fan of Kenyon and his game ... missed jumpers and all. K-Mart and Melo also like to work a little two-on-two game and have nice passing chemistry with each other. They linked up tonight for a couple assists to each other and in previous games we've seen them work the back-door alley-oop.
-Lawson had a giant brace and ice pack on his left knee in the second half. I wasn't sure if he was going to play in the second half, but he came in right on time and looked fine. I hadn't noticed him icing his knee like that before, but he has been dealing with that left knee sprain for a few weeks.
-I think one reason Karl doesn't take timeouts is because the Nuggets get slaughtered coming out of them. Tonight the Jazz went on a 11-2 after a timeout in the third quarter that gave them a 73-68 lead. From there Utah pushed that run to 20-11 to end the quarter ... aka ballgame.
-I don't think I can call Chris Andersen the Birdman anymore. Andersen looks like just another big body out there nowadays. At the 10:06 mark of the fourth quarter Andersen lost a jumpball to 6'8'' Hayward ... I don't think the rookie is known as a high-flyer like his teammate Evans is. What has happened to Andersen and where is Melvin Ely or Shelden Williams? You know things are bad when you're calling for Ely or Williams, but they are both servicable big men.
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