Was it too much partying in New York last night?
Was it a lack of Stiffs karma delivered by tonight's Stiffs Night Out?
Was it too much Carmelo Anthony and J.R. Smith?
Regardless of the reasons, the Denver Nuggets weren't able to follow up on last season's thrilling double overtime victory at New York and ceded tonight's game to the Knicks 112-106 thanks largely to a lackluster fourth quarter and a solid game from Melo.
As pointed out by Scott Hastings during the Altitude broadcast, the Nuggets were able to turn an 88-80 early fourth quarter lead into a 97-90 mid-fourth quarter deficit. And they did it in typical Nuggets style: giving up three three-pointers, not making their own long range shot attempts (finishing the game with just five made three-pointers) and turning the ball over a few times (for 16 total by game's end). And even though the Nuggets cut the Knicks lead down to only four twice within the last two minutes, they fumbled away (literally and figuratively) whatever chances they had of winning the game.
Watching this one among our fellow Stiffs at Jake's Food & Spirits, we walked out collectively depressed. It would have been oh, so sweet to watch the Nuggets deliver back-to-back road victories at Indiana and New York. Instead, we're going to wonder about the game that might have been.
From the opening tip, it seemed like Melo was insistent on being aggressive against his former team and head coach. This was probably the result of hard feelings from the crushing double overtime loss of a season ago combined with him being restless resulting from a lacerated finger that cost him from playing for a few days. And even though (at least) half of the fouls that Melo drew were total bullshit, he should be credited for getting to the free throw line for 16 attempts. Remember when we used to complain daily about Melo not getting to the line enough as a Nugget? Well, he did so plenty of times against his former team tonight.
And equally important, Melo made the Knicks last three field goals to seal New York's victory (even though he missed his last two attempts). #7 was also aided by another former Nugget - J.R. Smith - who nailed a dagger three-pointer with 3:45 to go in the game.
The Nuggets, meanwhile, played pretty well up to that 88-80 part of the game and then just fell apart. Ty Lawson disappeared (again) and had a late game turnover (again) that cost the Nuggets whatever small chance they had of pulling off a late upset. Say what you want about Lawson's backup - Andre Miller - but at least he's consistent. With Lawson, we have literally no idea what we're going to get out of our expensive point guard on any given night. And with a quarter of the season over, Lawson's erratic play (from game to game and, in tonight's case - within a game) has to be worrisome for the Nuggets coaches and management.
Danilo Gallinari - who had a great game going leading up to the fourth quarter - disappeared as well. Gallo's bad fourth quarter was highlighted by a wide left airball three-pointer that had "I partied with my Italian friends at all my old Manhattan stomping grounds until four o'clock in the morning" written all over it. And put another way, when Corey Brewer has the most consistent night of all the players on the roster, a loss is probably on the horizon.
One aspect of this game that also did the Nuggets in was their shoddy offensive rebounding (five total - an unacceptably low number) while giving up 13 to the Knicks. Knicks' center Tyson Chandler produced a solid performance - 15 points, 12 rebounds (six offensive), two blocks - while the Nuggets bigs were collectively mediocre. I don't remember either Kenneth Faried of JaVale McGee doing anything substantive in the second half.
So there you have it - another fourth quarter giveaway, another crappy night from three-point range, another disappearing act from Ty Lawson and poor defensive of their opponent's three-point shooting.
Are you starting to see a trend here?
Non-Stiffs of the Game
-Carmelo Anthony and Jason Kidd: Melo's 34 points and 16 free throw attempts will get a lot of attention, but I thought Kidd's 17 points, four rebounds, seven rebounds and 3-4 shooting from three-point range was equally impressive. The 39 year old Kidd has seemed to have a calming, positive effect on this Knicks team and his presence alone could mean a conference finals appearance for New York.
Stiff of the Game
-Ty Lawson: If you only read the box score, you're say I was crazy to call Lawson the Stiff of the Game (after all, 23 points on 7-15 shooting to go along with six assists should be nothing to sneer at). But Lawson had one of the best first halves of his career followed up immediately by one of the worst second halves I've ever seen from. Lawson not only vanished offensively, but his inexcusable turnover with 25 seconds remaining sealed a victory for the Knicks.
My colleague Colin Neilson had a great point about our Nuggets as this game started slipping away in the fourth quarter. Yes, the Nuggets have had a brutal schedule to open the season and maybe we shouldn't be alarmed by them playing .500 basketball. But if this team isn't 10 games over .500 by the end of January, it looks like the Knicks will get a lot farther than the Nuggets when the playoffs start in April.