You got the feeling from the Denver Nuggets' post-game commentary in Sunday night's contest in Houston that they felt they had let a great game slip through their fingers in an overtime loss. And you'd be hard-pressed to argue after they let a 14 point lead slip away in the final few minutes.
As hoped, the Nuggets came out in tonight's home-court re-match with a bit of a chip on their shoulder, and took it out on a depleted Houston Rockets frontcourt (Dwight Howard out again tonight, and the Nuggets took better advantage than they had in Houston). Both Kenneth Faried and Timofey Mozgov lit it up down low, with 10 and eight points in the quarter, respectively, plus a bevy of stops and rebounds between them. Even Jan Vesely and Anthony Randolph got in on the action on the block, and Denver's pressure had them up on the Rockets by 19 with about three minutes remaining in the quarter. Unfortunately, your Nugs had a bit of flashback at the end of the period, and gave the Rockets a 7-0 run to wrap up the quarter, with the Nuggets closing out up by 12.
Sunday night, the second quarter was Denver's "meltdown" frame, losing that quarter by 22 points. Tonight, Denver gave up another big quarter, allowing Houston 40 points... but at least keeping pace with 38 of their own. I didn't see the flashing sign that said "defense optional", but apparently all of the players could see it clearly. The Nuggets went into halftime up by 10.
The third quarter brought a close back and forth game, at least through the first nine minutes. Denver has clearly struggled without injured point guard Ty Lawson in games, but Aaron Brooks has performed admirably in his stead. Where the Nuggets really seem to slip of late is when they've been forced to play without a true point guard, and that has been true when they've subbed in for Brooks as well. Fortunately tonight, Randy Foye decided momentarily to do less distributing and have a little heat check on his streaky three-point shooting. Foye caught fire in the quarter, finishing with four in that frame alone, and was the key to extending Denver's lead back to 17. Well, Foye and a late-quarter injury to James Harden.
Kevin McHale called "no mas" early in the fourth, subbing in liberally a couple of minutes into the quarter. You thought that would be the game, as long as the Nuggets could maintain their composure... But it's never so easy with this season's Nougats (we got a little soft at the end), and Houston's subs made it interesting late, going on a 13-0 run, and netting three after miraculous three to pull within four at one point with only two minutes left in the game. Fortunately, order was restored to the universe, tacos were acquired and we secured a winning home record for the 11th season in a row. The good guys wrap it up, 123-116.
Randy Foye was the answer to several Nuggets prayers tonight, finishing with 30 points and 15 assists on 10 of 17 shooting from the floor, including six of 10 beyond the arc. Foye has had his up and down moments this year, but he's shown a lot of heart and guts all season, playing hurt, undermanned, and a hell of a lot more minutes than he anticipated. Somehow, he's always handled himself with class and dignity. His run at Dale Ellis' 3-point mark for makes in a Nuggets season is close at hand, and I, for one, hope he nabs it. Kenneth Faried had another stellar night, with 23 points and nine rebounds on an efficient 11 of 17 shooting. Timofey Mozgov added 22 points on a MozGod night, and would have had more if not for a knee injury late. Let's hope Mozzie is able to play out the last few games of the season in the midst of Denver's walking wounded.
Tough to pick on Anthony Randolph much more than he already has been this season, but he was pretty lost in his limited time on the floor tonight. Two points in five minutes was at least a good sign that Brian Shaw also recognized he would not be getting much from AR15 tonight.
Getting close to wrapping up the season, boys and girls. Did we have any fun tripping up the Rocket's four-seed hopes?