Almost. Almost pulled out a complete victory. They almost pulled away in the second half. Too bad almost doesn't count.
Everything was trending up until a fourth quarter collapse handed the Brooklyn Nets the 102-96 win at home. The game was close throughout with Denver not even playing their best ball. Ty Lawson (29 points, 9 assists) carried them in the first half, scoring 18 points and generally making Jarrett Jack look foolish by going under screens (Lawson was 4-8 from three) and confused by trying to fight through them (10-20 from the field).
The third quarter saw Arron Afflalo (11 points, 9 rebounds) and an energized Kenneth Faried (20 points, 14 rebounds) give Denver their first lead since midway through the first quarter. Lawson chipped in nine more points and the Nuggets defense kept Denver in control until some questionable decision on the court and from the coaching staff midway into the fourth fumbled the game away.
Late Game Meltdown
How did the Nuggets go from a 85-78 lead to a 97-89 deficit in a matter of seven minutes? Generally? Stupidity. Specifically? Let me count the ways:
- For whatever reason Brian Shaw decided that Kenneth Faried should sit for those entire seven minutes. Let me point that Faried only played 32 minutes, had 16 points and 12 rebounds when he left the game, was outworking every Nets player, save the immortal Mason Plumlee, and was replaced by Wilson Chandler (who was worse at his role tonight than Ben Affleck was at his in Daredevil).
- Wilson Chandler (11 points, 5-17 from the field) couldn't hit the broad side of a barn (0-5 in the quarter) off a bevy of open attempts.
- Ty Lawson sat for too long in the fourth quarter. We clamor at how many minutes he plays, but in close games like this, you can't afford to sit him for five minutes including two full timeouts when you are clearly letting the game slip away.
- Does anyone want to put a body on Mason Plumlee (19 points, 13 rebounds, 5 offensive)? He's probably out-hustling the Nuggets in who can shower and get to the press conference the fastest. Jusuf Nurkic was getting turned around on offense and defense in the fourth. It got so bad, that Shaw assumed J.J. Hickson was the answer and put him out on the floor.
- Hickson, who is a rebounding specialist, was present when the Nets outrebounded the Nuggets 7-1 in the four minutes he was out on the floor. Two of those were offensive rebounds that the Nets scored on the second try. Note that Nuggets won the rebounding battle 51-39.
- I'm not done with Hickson. Not only did those two offensive rebounds led to baskets, but they came directly behind one of the most terrible attempts at a floater I have ever seen and a lose ball foul from Hickson.
- Oh and Ty Lawson? He was 1-2 in the quarter with his last shot attempt a three with 0:19 left and the game decided.
Turnovers, Three Pointers, and Paint Play
I thought the Nuggets would get out and run more, given the advanced age and slowed play of their opponents. One team did that, but it wasn't as straight-forward as it seems.
Denver had 26 fastbreak points, a healthy number that would win them the game on most nights. It gets them to the rim and prevents them from firing form outside too much (they are ranked 28th in three point percentage). When you turn the ball over like Denver did tonight (18) and shoot as many threes as they did (7-25), then you're giving your opponent way to many chances to take the game away from you.
The Nets converted those turnovers into 24 points, leading to easy baskets at the rim (60 points in the paint). It was bad enough that Plumlee and Co. seemed to be grabbing, deflecting, and tipping every loose ball back to their own team, but Joe Johnson (27 points) and Jarrett Jack (17 points, 8 assists) were going post crazy for easy buckets.
With Denver's smaller backcourt, that was already a problem. Gift wrapping them possessions, with foolish passes and long threes off an isolation without a lick of care for dribble penetration gives a 21st ranked offense an easy boost.
The Nuggets defense (holding the 19th ranked Nets to 26% shooting from three) was solid enough to win. They did well collectively on the boards, and they played Plumlee well enough to not place the blame on their rebound. It's just outside of Faried where was the play from their bigs at? Hickson and Nurkic looked lost and/or tired and Timofey Mozgov seemed like he was bothered by a combination of Plumlee's activity and the cut he suffered over his left eye in the last game against the Hornets.
This was a visibly frustrating loss for the Nuggets. Even though Chandler was cold, Hickson was Hickson, Nurkic was lost, and no one showed up behind Lawson and Faried, the Nuggets had this game in hand late.
Shaw deserves some of the blame as well. This slow collapse could be seen coming as the game progressed during that seven-minute stretch. Hickson, attempting to do too much threw away a few possessions. The Nuggets called three timeouts in that time period and Shaw's substitutions were very questionable.
Why not ride the play of Faried and Lawson, the players that got you the lead, when the team's play faltered? It's not like they had a commanding lead. When Jack and Johnson subbed back in at the 9:37 mark why didn't Lawson come back in then?
There are more questions than answers as is the norm with this team at the moment. It's unfortunate that the Nuggets couldn't grab this win as they are in the midst of a stretch of six games where five of the six are against sub-.500 opponents (the other is at home against Toronto). They better pick it up, as January is going to be much harder and things could look a lot worse very soon.