Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Nuggets Unravel and Lose Again

(Boulder-CO) Let me tell you one thing I know about the San Antonio Spurs. If you don’t slam the door shut when you have the chance they will most likely sneak in the backdoor and rob you blind before you even know what happened. And that is exactly what happened in game four; a game that should have been won by the Nuggets, but instead serves as the backbreaker for Denver and the franchise’s hopes of advancing to the second round.

For starters, I have to say that this was the most electric atmosphere I have ever been a part of in my young event attending history. The picture you see at the top of this post is the Pepsi Center during the starting five’s introduction. What was great about the energy flowing through the Pepsi Center was that it instantly ignited the Nuggets to an early lead at the conclusion of the first quarter, 27-20. Carmelo started off hot with eleven points and Nene added eight as the Nuggets were in command.

The second period began, and while the Spurs did find some rhythm, the Nuggets still one-upped their quarterly output, 23-22, and extended their lead to eight at the break. I was thinking up to this point that the Nuggets were sound in their execution, the Spurs were being limited to one shot, and things were looking optimistic as Carmelo was hitting his outside jumper. The only real problem that I saw in the Nuggets’ game plan was that Steve Blake was struggling to keep Tony Parker in front of him and out of the paint.

If Stevie B were to be the Nuggets only problem I think Denver would have been able to pull out the victory, but as the third quarter began, Denver’s defensive agenda seemingly went out the window as the Spurs scored 20 of their 25 points on either shots from inside eight feet or from beyond the three-point line. Defensive rotations were late, the interior defense was soft, and why in the world George Karl would try and defend Manu Ginobili with Eduardo Najera is a decision that baffles me still as I am writing this article. Eduardo obviously doesn’t have the foot speed to cover to slippery Ginobili on the perimeter, and despite having size on the Flopper, Manu repeatedly sliced up the Nuggets interior line of defense as he dimed teammates for numerous lay-ups. I personally would have dusted off Yakhouba Diawara for a few minutes and told the rookie that I needed him for one reason, and one reason only, and that would have been defending Ginobili, but I digress.

The Nuggets were still clinging to a six-point advantage going into the money period and my gut was telling me that as long as we could defend the three-point arch Denver would be able to trade baskets with the Spurs and tie the series at two apiece. Unfortunately, the Nuggets were about to put up one of their famous twelve minute disappearing acts.

In the fourth, the Nuggets were badly outplayed, and I hate to say this, but also just as badly out-coached by Popovich and his crew. The once ten-point advantage the Nuggets had built would be slowly chipped away by the likely San Antonio suspects hitting from long range and poorly timed turnovers by the Nuggets. Denver also missed six three-point attempts, at least half of which were taken with the lead still intact, and committed far too many fouls which put the Spurs on the line where they made 8-11.

The exact moment where I felt the game was lost for the Nuggets wasn’t when Robert Horry hit yet another clutch three-pointer from the corner, but rather when Steve Blake penetrated down to the baseline and picked-up his dribble, (a cardinal sin for any point guard to do when his team is depending on him to keep the ball out of danger), and threw an ill-advised pass that was swiped by the Flopper leading to a fast break and Bruce Bowen gliding in for the go-ahead dunk. The slam took all the life out of the Pepsi Center and was truly the straw that broke the camels back before “Big Shot” Bob nailed the coffin shut. San Antonio had done what they have been doing for the last ten years and made the big plays in the big moments and snatched game three, 96-89.

The disappearing act that I mentioned before meant Denver only managed to score 16 points in the deciding quarter of play to the Spurs’ 29, (which was also their top offensive quarter of the game), and I hate to say it, but the untimely offensive breakdown probably seals the Nuggets fate as the Spurs now hold a commanding 3-1 series lead with two of the possible next three games in San Antonio.

Marcus Camby recorded his 15th postseason double-double of his career with ten points, 17 rebounds, and four blocked shots, Carmelo Anthony led all scorers with 29 points, six rebounds, and three assists, and Allen Iverson continued his shooting woes on 9-25 from the field good for 22 points; all of which were in vain because the Nuggets once again didn’t get it done when the opportunity was there.

As a side note, and not merely to add insult to the injury, the Nuggets bench was once again outscored 32-8 by the five deep Coach Popovich called upon. Talk about stepping up! Now it looks like the Nuggets will be stepping out of the first round again and what is most embarrassing is how it could be in one-hit wonder style again for the fourth time in as many years.


Nugg Doctor said...


I am really sorry but I accidentally rejected your last comment. I really want to get a good thread going on this post so if you dont mind please re-submit the comment and let's get some chatter going on in here.

Thanks for reading,

The Nugg Doctor

Nugg Doctor said...

Actually, I have it right here.

Here is what Stumbleweed had to say, "To add to my last post, I agree that we were definitely out-coached. I have no idea why George put Eddie on Manu, why he put Eddie on Duncan most of the time (hello, he's almost 6 inches shorter!), and why he put Camby on Horry... Those matchups don't make any sense to me in terms of size, skill, or shot selection (i.e. why have Marcus cover Horry, who primarily shoots jumpers and isn't generally an offensive presence until the last 30 seconds?)...

Just confusing stuff. At this point, I would've been trying anything to win. Shit, put Yak and Reggie (if he had been able to attend the game) in the game and see what happens. I dunno -- our superstars got completely stagnant and none of the bench regulars were contributing anything but bonehead plays (JR's the only one with a somewhat decent-looking stat line, and he shot terribly).

And it sucks watching so many guys standing around when we're running our half court 'offense'. Just painful to watch -- we really need to develop an actual gameplan this off-season (thanks, George!), because the running game isn't always there (unless you're Golden State and supremely committed to it) and AI functions much better when he's not running full-speed down the court and passing in the air.

And seeing us not close out on shooters all year has really gotten to me (and apparently the rest of the fans I was sitting with last night) -- that's just inexcusable. We'll put a half-hearted hand up and jog at them, but it seems like we're always 2 steps slow and it doesn't end up mattering at all. Just frustrating to watchm especially against a team that is good enough to convert most open looks. Speaking of, that's the other thing that kills me about this team -- when we're open, it seems like shots never go down. JR will make contested threes a few feet behind the line, but miss wide-open looks... and he's not the only one. Melo seems like the only guy who can consistently knock down an open mid-range jumper

At least we made our free throws this game."

C'mon Nuggets fans, there has been over a hundred of you reading so far and I want to know what is on your minds!

Thanks for reading,

The Nugg Doctor

btalk said...

The plain and simple truth is that A.I. stunk!!! Too bad he hasn't had the series he's capable of and the Nuggs were hoping for. When all is said and done, once again, Defense wins playoff games. Ball movement, which the Spurs have and the Nuggs do not, exposes the defense whether it's good or bad. In other words, the Spurs, once again are the better team...that's team as in playing as a unit on both ends of the floor.

You know you're in trouble when you are hoping, that's right hoping, that J.R. can play a big time all around game, that Melo and AI won't go in to thier black hole mentality, that your slower guys can somehow stop penetration enough to not constantly be caught in long distance rotations the Spurs will feast on, and lastly, that after the game fans aren't left to ask why Karl didn't at least give guys like Yak a shot.

On the bright side, the Nuggs did show heart and hustle. I'm hoping they can at least win the next game to avoid the one and done talk for another year. As far as being outcoached...I'm really not sure about that. I'm only speaking as a former high school coach here, but..Great veteran players who make plays make you look real good, I've been there. Great veteran players who don't make plays, mixed with guys not quite ready for prime time make you look real stupid...I've been there too!

Nugg Doctor said...

Well put, Btalk.

I would have to agree from a standpoint that when you have veteran leadership on the floor the job of making sure everyone in the game is on the same page becomes a lot easier (and a coach look a lot smarter:).

Tony Parker has outplayed Steve Blake so badly it isn't even funny and it has been one of the major differences in the series.

Thanks for reading,

The Nugg Doctor

ThaAnswer said...

First and foremost, don't give up everyone. We're down 3-1, and yes we're playing the Spurs, but we've been supporting them all year. Our chances may be slim but we can still win this series *straight face* Like AI said, if we don't think we can we, we shouldn't even board the plane for San Antonio.
Now about last nights game, I truly thought for nearly the entire game we were gonna take game 4. If our Nuggets just could have clicked a little earlier in the season, and somehow we could have reached 4th or 5th seed, it would have been great. Playing a team like the Spurs in the second round instead of the first would have done wonders for the young guys experience wise. Unfortunetly, thats not the case.
AI didn't have a great game, but still showed quality leadership they wouldn't have had otherwise. he made (and missed) some important shots as well.
It seems like Melo has been the only consistant force throughout the series (besides the FOUR offensive fouls, supposedly) so I can't fully understand why we aren't force feeding him the ball 90% of the time. It works!!!
And I've said this all year, but Steve Blake needs to wear one size smaller shoes, he's been stepping on the 3 pt line ALL YEAR and it truly bit us in this one.
Camby did a great job on Duncan 1 on 1, which makes it hard to understand keeping Nene on TD the whole time, especially when Duncan was dropping in consecutive shots.
If we don't walk into AT&T Center thinking we're already finished, I think we can take game 5. I personally can't wait for Wednesday.

ThaAnswer said...

Stumbleweed...I have to agree. Anyone who saw that picture of Melo, with his head down in the locker room alone. It looked like his life was over. Hope that feeling doesn't carry into Wed night

Daniel said...

I agree on the whole veteran thing wholeheartedly. I think the difference in the series has mostly been the bench situation, and not because of fatigue (or, at least, not too much...). Watching the game, it just seems like Kleiza and J.R. are not ready. They were awesome at times during the regular season, but you could even see it then. They both celebrated too much, like kids giggling about finally showing they had it in them, while pouring in points against not-so-great teams in a pressure-free environment. Now, they look frozen, hoping not to make a mistake and taking threes only because that's their job and they are expected to, not because they are sure they will put three more points on the board and can't wait to do it on the way to a win. That's how Melo, AI, and Camby -- even Nene -- are playing. Like heavyweights. You can see it in their eyes; they seem to be saying, like all great playoff-tested players, "Give us your best shot, we'll give you ours, and we plan on being the ones standing." I love that about those guys. But that same exact quality is missing from J.R. and Kleiza, and only experience can bring it out. Ask Robert f-ing Horry, or Michael Finley. (In fact, just thinking about this reminds me of how Carmelo looked the first two years he was in the playoffs ... last year was sort of an in-between year). That's the difference, in my eyes. All of the Spurs players taking shots have the same look I just described seeing in the Nuggs big guns, whereas too many Nuggets' shots are coming from guys without it. Hopefully, things can come together, but if not, then at least next year the younger guys will have this experience to look back on.

Another problem, in my opinion, is that I found myself agreeing with K-Mart as he was quoted in the Denver Post article. I feel like DJ, Reggie, and Yak might have been able to help, just by playing some D and bringing energy. Part of the problem last night seemed to be that Nene and Camby didn't want to risk a foul to put Duncan on the line (where he's horrendous), and Evans and others could have solved that problem. Of course, they would have to be given strict orders not to get too creative with the ball (i.e. not even THINK about shooting or making more than an easy pass).

Thanks for the posts, ND. I've been reading all season but haven't posted. Just thought I'd get into the discussion a little and let you know your work is appreciated.

Nugg Doctor said...

Thanks for chiming in, Daniel, and very well said. The difference is polish. Overall, in our benches, in our game plan (Nuggs still haven't scored a hundred in the series), and in our execution.

Thanks for reading,

The Nugg Doctor

drumdance said...

Great analysis. One thing you didn't mention is that San Antonio made their comeback run when Carmelo was on the bench with four fouls. Underscores once again how critical he is to their success.

San Antonio's defense is truly impressive. There's no shame in struggling against them. That said, I wish they'd fed them a steadier diet of Nene. Dude was 7-9 for 18. He should be the one daring the refs to give him 4 offensive fouls -- one on one against Duncan. If he could develop a 12-18 ft jumper, he'd be Karl Malone. Maybe next year...

The other thing about San Antonio is how patient they are. They always make the extra pass, and they're willing to give up rebounds in favor of preventing the fast break.

Jason said...

Nugg Doctor, I know this comment is a little late in coming, but my internet access is limited right now. Thanks again for your awesome coverage of our team.

As has been mentioned, the biggest difference in this series has been the production of the players 4-10 on both teams. San Antonio can go 10 deep with all their bench guys able to contribute. Denver has been going 8 deep (once again, another Karl mistake) and guys 4-8 are not getting it done.

In other words, if you compare our big three (Melo, AI, and Nene) vs. their big three (Flopper, Whiner Duncan, and Parker) we would win this series easily. Our big three has outplayed their big three.

However, other than Marcus Camby and Eddie Najera, no other player has really played remotely good. Blake (as you mentioned) has been badly outplayed and this series really exposed Denver's need for a point guard in the off season. I love Blake, but not for 35 minutes per game. But Kleiza and JR have been non-existent.

However, I will say this about the whole benching thing with JR - KARL IS AN IDIOT!!! Their could not be a worse way to handle that situation than how he did it. Fine, Karl is dead on that JR has been making mistakes, and maybe Karl is justified in not playing him in game 5. Just don't bring it to the media!! What is the point in that. Also, any good coach would realize that if a players confidence is down, you don't step all over him like he is with JR. I think one of the reasons Kleiza and JR are struggling is because Karl has them walking on eggshells, worried to make a mistake. Let's be fair, AI has made plenty of mistakes, but he is not being pulled from games. I truly think those two are not playing loose because Karl has them on such close watch that it is hard for them to feel free on the court.

Anyhow, Denver is done again, which really stinks.