First off, I apologize for the recap not being up last night, but by the time I got back to the homestead it was already well into this morning. Please forgive me just this once.
Now, the game itself was phenomenal. The late start had the Pepsi Center buzzing reminiscent to game six in last year’s playoffs. In the first quarter, Denver overcame an eleven point deficit to finish tied at the end of twelve minutes. Carmelo was struggling. He was too cute with the basketball around the rim which gave the officiating crew every reason to not reward him with free-throw opportunities on possible fouls and he was just not taking the ball to the rack with the kind of determination to finish at the rim warranted by this kind of game atmosphere. There wasn’t going to be anything easy against the Spurs and the Nuggets had to fight hard for everything they wanted. Give credit to the Spurs veteran defense in this regard because it was their commitment to the defensive end that resulted in an eight point lead going into the half via a 28-20 second quarter.
Often times throughout my organized basketball career I have heard a coach say at halftime that the first five minutes of the second half are going to dictate how this game plays out. My high school coach was famous for making a speech that went a little bit like this, “Boys, we’ve proven we can dance around the ring with them. Now it’s a matter of whether or not you believe in yourselves enough to go out there and put their lights out.” He usually would continue, “They’re just ball players in different get-ups. Ask yourselves, do you want to win tonight or do you want to lose tonight? You’ll let me know in the first five minutes.”
And after the first five minutes of the third quarter, it was apparent that the Nuggets had decided to win. They had taken their lumps in the second quarter due to a defensive mindset being applied by the Spurs, chose to acknowledge that defense was the key to this game’s outcome, and pasted the Spurs with a 34-19 third quarter. Kenyon Martin played excellent defense on Tim Duncan. So did Eduardo Najera. Camby shut almost everything down on the weak side. The Nuggets collectively rotated as a unit, not just helping out the man who was beat, but also making a note of helping out the man who is helping out. And that’s what we like to call, “Help, recover, and recover again- defense”.
The Spurs were obviously disheveled by the new and improved Denver Nuggets defense and as the defense did its job the offense came alive. Led by Carmelo’s new found toughness around the rim and a renewed confidence in his jump shot, Anthony (who only scored eight points in the first half) scored the first seven Denver points in the second half on his way to a 14-point third quarter.
The Nuggets also figured out the Spurs primary offensive game plan. Work the ball strong side to Duncan with pick and roll sets with either Ginobili or Parker, and if the play doesn’t develop, the weak side positioned big man sets a screen to free open a three-point shooter in the swing side corner. San Antonio must have ran this set over twenty times in the second half, and with the combination of Kenyon Martin, Eduardo Najera, and Marcus Camby all working together down low, AC, AI, ‘Melo, and J.R. Smith all fighting hard over the first screen in the pick and roll, and over the swing side screen down low the Spurs offense sputtered. In fact, the Spurs sputtered all but to a stop as San Antonio scored a measly 42 points in route to getting drummed throughout the fourth quarter by a margin of 8-10 points, and for the half 63 to the aforementioned 42.
I’ve mentioned how good Najera was on defense in his 25 minutes of quality burn, but his biggest impact may have been as the Nuggets’ third scoring option. Eduardo was patient cutting to the basket and by timing up his slash, post-penetration, by either Iverson or Anthony he found himself, numerous times, the recipient of a slick dime and an uncontested lay-up. See, Eduardo waited for his man to commit to helping out the man beaten by penetration before he would slip towards the basket. By doing so, he not only keeps his man away from his penetrating teammate initially, but he also sets a trap on the defense and gives the man who penetrates an outlet to pass to if and when the help commits. Implementing the fundamentals, Edaurdo finished tonight’s game with 19 points on 8-10 shooting, six rebounds, two assists, and a pair of steals. Bravo, El Grande de Chihuahua. Bravo.
Another Nugget that put in a great overall effort was J.R. Smith .There were a couple of “J.R.” moments in the first half, but in the end Smith played good help-recover-recover defense, man-to-man defense, and efficient offense. Smith scored 15 points on 6-10 shooting (3-5 from long range), ripped three steals, and handed out two assists. And there was no trey bigger than his fourth quarter dagger with under 90 seconds remaining that gave the Nuggets a, 107-94, advantage.
Carmelo and AI combined for 54 points, with AI’s 29 leading all scorers. The Answer dished out nine assists and ‘Melo snatched eight rebounds. Camby grabbed a game-high 13 rebounds while scoring eight points and Kenyon Martin, despite not having a huge game statistically, was as instrumental of a piece as anyone finishing with eight points, five rebounds, and a steal.
This game proved something to me. The old axiom says, “Adversity doesn’t give character, it reveals it.” Tonight against the Jazz, and after last night’s game, it would appear as if the Nuggets do have a strong character. They can play good defense if they choose to and they can beat anyone this league puts in front of them. Now it’s time to juke and jive on the Jazz!