Monday, April 9, 2007

Nuggets Stymie Lakers to Clinch Tie-Breaker

(AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
(Boulder-CO) The Denver Nuggets accomplished something tonight that hasn’t happened since the 1993-94 season. With their sixth win in a row, which is the longest winning streak of the season, the Nuggets have won the season series against the Lakers, and by doing so clinched the tie-breaker just in case Denver and the L.A. finish with identical records. Tonight, Denver showed resolve, resiliency, and killer instinct beating the Lakers, 115-111.

In the first quarter, Marcus Camby set the defensive tone for what was going one of his best performances of the year. The Captain came out and returned four Laker shots back to sender and grabbed a handful of rebounds. Offensively, the Nuggets were jumpstarted by Carmelo’s twelve first quarter points which were scored in a variety of fashions. ‘Melo threw a reverse dunk down on Luke Walton, hit a rare three, and was 3-4 from the charity stripe. And the Nuggets’ collective efforts in the quarter put them in the lead by nine points, 32-23.

In the second the Nuggets came out very strong early, but faltered late to allow the Lakers to shave a couple points off their lead and go into the half down by seven, 65-58, largely in part to a 7-2 run in the final minute. The biggest positive at this point was the Nuggets holding Kobe Bryant to nine first half points by flashing different defenders at him and disrupting his rhythm by denying him the ball off the first pass past half-court.

The Lakers would battle back quickly in the third and find themselves down by only two points with a shade over six minutes to play before the Nuggets showed their first bit of true resiliency. From that exact juncture in the game, Denver-70 Los Angeles-68, the Nuggets went on a 12-0 run in the next two minutes and finished the quarter with a ten point lead. Carmelo Anthony would have seven of those twelve with the other five coming by way of an Allen Iverson three and two made free-throws by Eduardo Najera. I felt that this stretch of game was the first of two critical junctures where the Nuggets showed a sense of maturity and calm to go along with a strong sense of resolve that was not seen in earlier stretches of this season.

The second pivotal stretch of game started with 6:50 remaining in the fourth quarter with a Kobe Bryant dunk that pulled the Lakers within seven, 102-95. At this point in the fourth quarter the Nuggets were going cold from the outside while settling for jump shots and I feared a pending letdown as the Lakers were swinging the momentum of the game. And with said momentum the Lakers would eventually take the lead, 105-104, after threes from Maurice Evans and Brain Cook with only 4:20 remaining. But once again the Nuggets' resolve proved true with the game’s outcome in the balance as Steve Blake was cold-blooded with a humungous three-pointer to regain the lead for good.

And once they had regained the lead, the Nuggets showed the type of killer instinct that has been so elusive all season long. It may have came by way of the free-throw line with the Nuggets going 8-12, but what was so refreshing to see was the Nuggets’ ability to limit mistakes and make the necessary hustle plays that won the game. Marcus Camby had a steal, Nene drew a foul on Luke Walton on the offensive boards, and Carmelo Anthony answered the call of duty defending Kobe Bryant down the final stretch. This is how you close out games and the Nuggets couldn’t have picked a better time to be playing their best basketball.

With this win, the Nugget now need to only win one more game to guarantee a playoff birth and bring my ten-game prediction record to a respectable 3-2. Now on to the individual efforts that collectively materialized the big W.

Carmelo Anthony scored a game-high 33 points while pitching in five rebounds, five assists, and two steals. He was an efficient 9-19 from the field and a killer at the free-throw line hitting 12-14. While he was the offensive MVP for the Nuggets, I would have to give the overall game MVP to Marcus Camby. The Captain may have only finished with three points tonight, but he flat-out dominated the glass grabbing 22 rebounds and swatting seven Laker shot attempts. Without him I do not know how the Nuggets would have kept Lamar Odom, Ronnie Turiaf, and Andrew Bynum off the glass.

Off the bench, the Nuggets enjoyed the return presence of Eduardo Najera chipping away here and there to finish with 14 points, nine boards, and three steals. Eddie was a perfect 4-4 from the field and a respectable 6-8 from the charity stripe in his first big chunk of minutes since returning from a tibia contusion nearly ten days ago. I’ve always said that Eduardo is the glue that holds this team together sometimes and tonight he proved to be just that. When the Nuggets were ready to crack and go to pieces… Eddie was there, one way or another.

Tonight was a great win, but the Nuggets need to re-focus before going into Utah for a game that has plenty of distractions, (Adrian Dantley’s number being retired just being one of many), and a hot atmosphere in what should be another playoff-like feel against the bitter rival Utah Jazz.

Six is great, but can the Nuggets make it seven?

Go Nuggets!


Jason said...

I cannot say enough good things about Eddie Najera. Like you said, he is the glue guy on this team. When he is on the court, the defense and offense is active and moving. He single handedly makes that big of a difference. His defensive rotations are always on point, he understands when to cut on offense, and really makes this team click.

But the Nuggets are impressing me of late with their late game prowess. Earlier in the season, they were not able to win close games and now they are finding a way. It is partly their focus on defense, and partly their chemistry on offense.

But...all that said, I still really am worried about this team. All they talked about afterwards was how their defense has been stepping up. And although I agree with that, I wouldn't call giving up 111 points to the Lakers good defense. Far too often they gave up open three pointers and lay ups, as those two areas have been their downfall all year long. Why can't this team seem to understand how to follow scouting reports. You know the only thing Brian Cook can do is shoot three pointers, yet they leave him wide open?

Anyhow, the team needs to overcome these lapses and the inconsistent play. They have been good enough to beat teams like the Lakers, Clippers, and Kings. But...will it be good enough to beat the Spurs in a seven game series?? If they could play 48 minutes (or heck, even 38 minutes) I think they can beat the Spurs, but they cannot get 13 point leads and squander those leads in the 4th like they did last night.

But this was still a great win and I love the chemistry the team is showing lately.

Go Nuggets!!

btalk said...

Nice game summary, the daily rags should do as much! AI, Melo and Cambyman seem to will their way to wins here lately...With Nene, Linas and J.R. always lurking to make big plays, the Nuggs can play different styles now depending on the game situation. The Yak is all but forgotten, but he will play the part of Bowen come playoffs I think.

Nugg Doctor said...

Thanks for the great feedback and comments guys! The Nuggets look great and the playoffs are definately in our future.

Thanks for reading,

The Nugg Doctor

JM said...

The Nuggets are playing some of the best team basketball they have all season. The starting lineup is established, the bench players are consistently producing quality minutes, and even when a player is on the bench because of foul trouble (Nene), someone like Eddie Najera can step up and make the difference.

They played unselfishly, and seem determined to finish this game on top. There was no question in my mind, even when the Lakers took the lead late, that the Nuggets were going to let this one get by.

With this chemistry they have going and their determination to win every game, it speaks volumes for this team. Of the bottom 3 seeds in the Western Conference, Denver is probably the most feared of the bunch.

You think AI was a good acquisition for the regular season? Just wait till the playoffs come. That man is probably one of the best clutch performers in playoff history. That man carried mediocre sixer teams through the playoffs for a decade. Imagine what he will do with Carmelo, Camby, Nene, Smith, and Kleiza (our new "Earl Boykins" as far as intensity and enthusiasm on court is concerned). Bring on the Spurs.