Before every Denver Nuggets game, the PA announcer should recite a modified line from William Shakespear's Richard III, "Now is the quarter of our discontent." I picture Rocky limping across half-court hunched forward on crutches in royal regalia. The first quarter, too often, puts Denver in a precarious situation not even one of the league's best benches can overcome. Tonight's Pepsi Center crowed was once again submitted to another sub par first quarter performance. The eight point first quarter deficit ultimately matched the difference in the final score, 89-81, as the Golden State Warriors leaped over Denver into the top eight in the Western Conference.
David Lee lead all scorers with 28 points and 10 rebounds. Steph Curry had a quiet 14 points and 7 assists. Andre Iguodala added 12 points, 6 rebounds and 3 turnovers. Ty Lawson lead all Denver scores with 16 points, however he scored none of them in the fourth quarter. Andre Miller lead the bench with 14 points and 8 assists. Timofey Mozgov finished with 14 points and 11 rebounds.
After calling timeout down 12-4 with eight minutes to go in the first quarter, I was bemoaning my obligation to intently witness another disappointing Nuggets performance. My mood quickly changed when the Denver defense stepped up, spurring a 17-6 run in the second quarter. Denver was poking loose balls, hustling after rebounds, and even (gasp!) making free throws. Golden State went 0-6 from behind the charity stripe in the first half. Lee had his way in the paint, scoring 18 first half points, but his Warrior teammates remained quiet. Curry accumulated four first half fouls, but Denver did not take advantage of the final few first half minutes after Curry went to the bench, as Golden State lead 47-43 going into halftime.
In the middle of the third period, Curry missed a wide open shot at the top of the key as the Warriors went cold. Lawson followed immediately with a game tying three pointer. Wilson Chandler scored the next three points, nailing a corner triple and completing a 10-0 run, giving Denver their first lead, 55-52.
The Denver interior defense continued to impress with a steal and a block on the first two Warrior possessions of the fourth quarter. But in the end, the negatives of the offense outweighed the positives of the defense.
Missed dunks (4) and poor fast break play prevented Denver from breaking open a lead of more than five points. Anthony Randolph was called for a charge, Nate Robinson settled for a ridiculously long three pointer, and a late decision to pass by Jordan Hamilton are a few examples of fast break futility from the Nuggets. Fortunately, the Nuggets intense defense created several fast break opportunities, allowing the miscues to be minimized. Yet while the Denver half-court defense thrived, the Denver half-court offense struggled, especially in the fourth quarter. Lawson deferred too often and several Nuggets settled for jump shots over attacking the basket, that is, when Denver didn't just turn the ball over.
After coming up empty on three straight opportunities down 83-80, the Nuggets were forced to foul. The Dubs iced the game from the line while Denver let an opportunity to take down a respected opponent slip through their fingers.
If the Nuggets can consistently turn up the defensive pressure on teams, specifically out of the gate, this team can recover from their current four game losing streak. Coach Shaw came from an Indiana Pacers team whose success blossomed from their tenacious defense. Tonight could be the tipping point for this young Nuggets's defense. If it is, it could buy their bumbling offense more time to figure things out.