Truly, the one that got away

I know this loss sucked, but believe me there is a silver screen and roll lining in it. As you were watching this game, how many times did you say to yourself, “Wow, the Nuggets are better than the Lakers!” I’m setting the over/under at 5 …

So, I survived the jellyfish stings my friends! Otherwise this recap would not be possible as I promised to end myself Seven Pounds style if the Lakers were given open threes. I can think of two threes that hurt the most and they were both Derek Fisher daggers. The first, to end the first half (55-54 Lakers) and again late in the fourth quarter (again with KMart closing out on him waaay to late) to make it 97-96 Lakers. Those 6 points proved to be the difference last night and were both mirror images of one another … fool me once … you know the rest.

You have to decide right now if you are a 20% person or if you are an 80% person. ESPN flashed the stat that the team who wins game one in the conference finals, goes on to win the series roughly 80% of the time.

If Denver would have come out like last season and lost the opening game 128-114 then I’d be an 80% person for sure. But Denver made a ton of mistakes last night and only lost the game by two points. So, count me among the 20% variety.

Let’s get the bad out of the way first …

The Bad:

-George Karl played the part of the fool. He went against his own mantra and played a guy for a short period of time by giving Linas Kleiza 7 minutes of burn. Karl also went away from the bigger/quicker/stronger Dahntay Jones (16 minutes / +3) in favor of the smaller/slower/weaker Anthony Carter (15 minutes / -7 and one costly turnover.) Karl also reverted back to benching J.R. Smith as soon as the youngster looked to be in trouble on the floor. I think J.R. has earned the right to play himself out of a funk, but Karl disagreed and went to his favorite AC on Kobe matchup … I’m sure Kobe appreciated that.

-More than anything the thing that sticks out to me is how Denver finished the last 6 minutes of the game. The Nuggets were outscored 20-12 in that final stretch and frankly, they had been closing out games very well up until last night. Kobe Bryant scored 12 points over the final six minutes and was 8-8 from the foul line and the Lakers were 10-10 as a team in that same stretch. Letting a team get 10 of their final 20 points from the charity stripe is a total gut punch.

-Free Throw Shooting. For some reason I figured Denver would shoot better than average from the foul line. Boy was I wrong. Denver finished 23-35 from the line … good for only 65.7% aka a D! Since I’m grading I’ll give Denver an F. The Nuggets shot 11 more free throws than the Lakers, but only finished +3 in the freebies department. Had I stuck to my original plan of chopping off a finger for every miss … I would have to of gotten creative with that last chop …

-The defensive boards were not corralled by the Nuggets. Of the possible 47 defensive rebounds Denver only grabbed 30 of them. The Lakers recorded 17 offensive boards or 36.1%.

-J.R. Smith was not the J.R. Smith we have all come to love. The kid struggled all night to get his rhythm going. He played 25 minutes, going 2-7 from the floor (2-5 from distance, 2-6 from the foul line) for 8 points, he also grabbed 5 rebounds and handed out three assists. J.R. has 3 turnovers (two of which he threw the ball out of bounds to Justin Timberlake and Jack Nicholson) and committed 5 fouls. He’ll have to bounce back and I hope he can do so after bruising his knee at the end of the game.

-30 point quarters … Denver only gave up two 30 point quarters last night, but it cost them the game. In the 2nd the Lakers got 32 points and in the 4th they got 31 … Denver must continue to keep L.A. from getting 30+ quarters.

-Chauncey Billups. So hard to knock Billups for not having a perfect game, but he went 5-13 from the field (2-5 from deep, 6-9 f.t.) for 18 points. He handed out 8 assists and grabbed 5 rebounds. His uncharacteristic 0-3 performance from the foul line to start the game really just is an anomaly, but it was enough to stick out (especially in a close game.) I’m sure CB7 is beating himself up about as well.

The Good …

As much as watching a game slip away can hurt … there are plenty of things Denver did well and lots to remain encouraged about. I knew going in that Denver belonged in this series and I feel validated after watching the first game that the Nuggets can indeed win this series.

-I think we can all put to rest the, “Can Melo score on the Lakers?” question. Melo opened things up 7-8 and scored 16 points in the opening period on his way to a 14-20 (4-5 from deep, 7-8 f.t.) night from the floor for 39 points. Melo also contributed 6 rebounds, 4 assists, and 1 block. His star status is as bright as ever. It’s too bad that performance was wasted, but it’s good to know Melo is up for this challenge.

-The Quick start. Denver needed to prove they were not rusty and they looked like the much fresher and crisper team to start things. The Nuggets climbed out to a 13 point lead and finished the first quarter up 31-23. Denver was firing on just about all cylinders early. The defense was aggressive, while the offense was working a beautiful inside/midrange game. Denver shot a blistering 63.6% in the first, recorded 11 assists, and got L.A. to commit 4 turnovers.

-The Bigs. I was called all sorts of things for saying the Power Forward matchup and Center matchup was even. Denver is basically using Kenyon Martin, Nene, and Chris Andersen. L.A. is using Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum, and Lamar Odom. Game one stats from the combined bigs:

Points Tot. Reb O-Reb Assists Steals Blks TO Fouls
Denver’s Bigs









L.A.’s Bigs









While’s L.A.’s bigs did a better job on the boards, Denver’s outscored them … to me I think Denver’s bigs had more of an impact on the game, but L.A. still gets the win.

-The defense. It was great to see Denver hold L.A. to 23 points in the first quarter and 19 in the third quarter. The defense was active all night and rotating all over the place. Fronting Pau can prove dangerous as he is able to get on the offensive boards pretty frequently, but I’ll take that over him getting 2-foot baby hooks all night. Denver was allowed to get pretty physical as the refs are now accustomed to how they have been playing this post-season and that is a good sign.

-Ball movement. Denver recorded 24 assists as a team and often passed up loosely contested shots, to get wide open looks. I think the unselfish play is here to stay and that’ll benefit Denver as this series wears on.

-Nene was aggressive. Nene had been pretty hesitant against big centers and particularly against Andrew Bynum for some reason. But last night Nene played with the fire we are all used to seeing. He finished 6-9 from the floor and got himself into foul trouble (eventually fouling out), but he had a nice night scoring 14 points. The Predator should get more touches inside and Billups must work him into the offense a bit more. Nene should average 12+ shots this series from here out. When Nene tries to go to work in the post he can get frustrated and try to just bull into his defender, but last night he was moving well and finishing plays with authority. If he continues to play like he did last night, then Denver must get him more involved. By doing so not only will he score points, but L.A.’s bigs will be in foul trouble again.

-KMart had his offense and defense going. Pau was frustrated last night. On a couple plays he let it known that he should have gotten the ball down low. You have to give Kenyon credit for some of that frustration as he played Pau-Pau very tough. Just like I mentioned in my preview … KMart provided some pop on the offensive end going 7-14 from the floor and scoring 15 points. His laser runners seem like they should fall every single time and he was connecting last night. His offense will continue to be key all the way through.

Nobody was expecting this series to be a sweep and Game 1 was NOT a must win game … no matter what Phil Jackson’s record is when his teams win the first game. You can have all the historical crap you want to … Denver is not going to go away or shy away from this soft Lakers team. I saw all I needed to see last night to know that Denver will continue to have success throughout this series.

The Lakers were the ones who ended up stealing Game 1 from Denver. The Nuggets must now look back on the one that got away and adjust in time for Thursday’s Game 2. And if my dating record proves to be true … you are much better off letting some go. It’ll make you stronger and make you want to find that winning combination that much more.


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