Sunday, March 23, 2008

Next Stop: Graceland!

(Boulder-CO) The Denver Nuggets defeated the Toronto Raptors, 109-100, to pull even on this road trip at 2-2 through four games with the decisive fifth game in Memphis tomorrow. And on an even brighter side of things, the Nuggets are now only one game back of Golden State for the final playoff spot and may, once again, hold their own fate in their own hands.

The Nuggets were a two-headed monster against the Raptors. Carmelo Anthony and Allen Iverson combined for 69 points, nine rebounds, and eight assists. AI took the lion’s share of the points (36) and assists (6) while Carmelo took the majority of the boards (7). The two also played a combined 79 minutes of which the Nuggets needed every one of.

Denver didn’t play its best first half. The first quarter left them down to the Raptors who were getting far too many easy scoring opportunities and as a result scalded the Nuggets for 54 points while holding Denver to 46 in the first 24 minutes. Credit Denver for making the appropriate changes on defense and being able to button things down in the second quarter by only allowing 19 points, but after giving up 35 in the first their effort reeked of not being ready to play.

Chalk the sluggish start up to a heavy Easter brunch because Denver managed to sustain that kind of defensive effort in the third quarter as they pulled the game within two, 73-71, entering the money period. And that’s when the Nuggets, while still playing with the throttle half choked, may have made the choice to start taking things back into their own hands. Denver exterminated the Raptors like a meteor shower of epic proportions with a 38-point quarter to win the game by nine as if they had held the lead since the opening tip.

There’s a million different ways you can try and decipher how the Nuggets won, but the one that I can most clearly point to is how Denver secured the defensive end, and then rode the efforts of the Dynamic Duo. The Nugget gave up way too many points to start this game, and after making the necessary adjustments exposed the Raptors for the shooting team they are. And as we all know, teams that rely on shooting the ball well on a nightly basis are teams that can be knocked off their stride with a certain ease compared to a team that relies on, say defense, which is much harder to rattle.

I want to mention another Nugget who was also instrumental in this win. Kenyon Martin’s lean stat line deserves mention because his impact was far greater than ten points and six rebounds. K-Mart didn’t exactly have the biggest night offensively, but his defensive effort on Chris Bosh, especially in crunch time, was huge. Kenyon held Bosh to only four points, all off free-throws, in the fourth quarter and came up with a crucial block and quite possibly the game-sealing steal with just over a minute and a half remaining in the game.

So, let’s recap how the situation stands as of the evening of Easter. Amazingly, the Nuggets are now only a game behind Golden State and may be back in the driver’s seat with two head-to-head match-ups with the Warriors still on the schedule. Now, they still have to conduct business from here on out, starting with Memphis tomorrow night, but things are all of a sudden looking a lot better, albeit a smidgen, for NBA playoff hopes in the Mile High City.

Here’s to hoping we don’t come out like a fat, alcoholic, barbiturate abusing Elvis Presley in Graceland tomorrow night! (with no disrespect intended to the King personally)

Go Nuggets!

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