“We knew we had to bang with them,” said Kosta Koufos.

This was a good old fashioned slugfest tonight at the Pepsi Center. Kosta Koufos again led the way for the Nuggets with an incredible 18 points and 16 rebounds. We’ve seen his game come a long way this season and he’s proving Karl right for starting him and trusting him. Koufos was the only “big” man late tonight and he came up with some impressive boards against Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph.

Each team took turns imposing their will on the game both offensively and defensively. The Nuggets were able to turn up the pace in spurts and the Grizzlies were really able to bog things down during the third quarter. The Nuggets found themselves down 66-58 at the start of the fourth quarter and Karl took it upon himself to guide the team with a positive vibe.

“I thought it was a good test for us,” said George Karl. “Our response to not knowing how we were going to win against a good team in a pressure situation. I said at the beginning of the fourth quarter: This is good for us guys. This is really good to find out what we have to do, how we have to do it.”

Consider from the preview of tonight's game:

The Grizzlies have only allowed one opponent to reach 100-points or more against them in their last 15 games — the Kings scored 101 on them, but Memphis got 108 on Feb. 12th. That’s 12 straight games of less than 98 points and eight out of 15 games where opponents couldn’t muster more than 88 points against them, and one win where the final score was 76-72 (vs. the Nets in Brooklyn on Feb. 24th).

This game was played mainly at Memphis' slow-down pace — each team won two quarters — but Denver was able to flip their poor third quarter performance — where they were outscored 19-10 — on its head with a 29-14 outburst in the final quarter.

In the first three games, the Nuggets had won eight out of 12 quarters. In the first half tonight, Denver won the first (23-18) and lost the second (29-25). The Grizzlies were able to erase a 46-37 lead with 2:25 to go in the second quarter with an 10-2 run (48-47, Nuggets). Denver turned the ball over 8 times in the first half – the Grizzlies did a better job there with just 4 turnovers.

The two teams combined to shoot just 1-9 from deep in the half as Denver was 0-4 to start. The game was being played on the block and in the paint. Memphis didn't shoot the ball very well, 19-47, but they got on the glass for 11 offensive boards to Denver's 10. Two teams that have to hustle to make up for deficiencies did just that.

To begin the third quarter, Memphis began to impose their will on the game. Taking a 54-48 lead on a 17-2 run with their gritty defense and ball moving offense. Tayshaun Prince has been rejuvenated (11 points and 4 rebounds tonight) with this team and head coach Lionel Hollins pointed out pregame that it was nice to be able to plug a veteran into the team like they did with Shane Battier a few seasons ago. Prince hit a key three during that stretch (1-4 on the night from deep) and just gives their offense a nice sense of balance.

Mike Conley and Ty Lawson each had poor showings. Conley finished 4-13 on the night for 11 points – he was also just 1-4 from deep, but his one make tied the game at 75-75 in the fourth. Lawson had just 8 points 4-12 shooting and finished with just 4 assists. Denver was able to overcome Lawson’s mediocre showing with the strong play of Andre Iguodala as the playmaker. Iggy scored just 8 points, but he added 7 rebounds and 7 assists to go along with his strong defensive play.

Danilo Gallinari also had a pedestrian night on the offensive end for most of the game. Gallo hit two big shots late and one of them was Denver’s only three-pointer on the night (1-12 from deep as a team). Gallo finished with 15 points on 5-11 shooting and was 4-4 from the foul line – while he didn’t have a bad game, he also could have been a little more demanding in his 35+ minutes.

The Nuggets got 30 points from their bench, led by Corey Brewer’s 11 points and Andre Miller’s 10. Wilson Chandler was just 2-9 on the night for 5 points and was hesitant on the three-ball after going 0-3 from deep on the night. Chandler also got caught on the break a couple times and turned the ball over, credit Memphis’ transition defense there. WC had a crowd pleasing dunk in the final minute of the first half in heavy traffic:

<iframe width=”560″ height=”315″ src=”http://www.youtube.com/embed/4gqm-RaHLtc” frameborder=”0″ allowfullscreen></iframe>

Marlowe’s catch-phrase work needs help!

Speaking of the crowd – they provided a playoff atmosphere tonight. Just before tipoff there were a lot of empty seats and a lackadaisical reaction to what was going on in front of them, but things changed in the second half. The sloppy play of the Nuggets, coupled with some perceived bad calls got the crowd ready to erupt. The fourth quarter saw the crowd living-and-dying with every big play. Great environment down the stretch.

Karl continued his pattern of subbing Miller and Chandler for offense and defense in the final minutes and it proved good for him. Karl is a mad-scientist and I don't always agree with his lineups, but there is something to be said for how his team is responding to his requests.

The Nuggets are now 3-1 against Memphis and own the tiebreaker – all four of those games we've seen the Nuggets have to adjust to find ways to be successful against a lockdown defense. I know the Grizzlies have an excellent defense, but they are even more impressive in person.

This would make for a great playoff series, but I'd rather see it in the Western Conference Finals than in the first round.

Great game. Great finish for the Nuggets.

Views you can use:

-Iggy's fine assist to Koufos to make it 84-80 may have been a break for the Nuggets. Check out Iggy's foot on the replay: click here.

-Seeing Gasol play out on the perimeter on offense is crazy. The guy can read defenses very well and really helps direct the offense. Defensively he moves like a forward or a guard, not like a big bruiser – although he is physical too.

JaVale McGee played just 11:58 tonight and was getting abused by Randolph inside for rebounds. McGee did have a very nice offensive board and putback on a Brewer miss – he read the miss before it left Brewer’s hand and raced across the paint to get the ball and an easy bucket. McGee … what to do with McGee …


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