Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Pressure to Win Fuels Nuggets

(AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)
(Boulder-CO) On the tail end of back-to-back games against the Suns, the Nuggets, faced with immense pressure after blowing a 22-point lead the night before in Phoenix, blacked out the Suns, 126-120, at Pepsi Center. It took nine players scoring and the ability to keep the Suns at bay by five to ten points from the jump, but after the Nuggets lost the lead momentarily in the fourth quarter it is of my opinion that the pressure to win fueled this team to victory.

In the first half, Denver once again played very well against a very good Suns ball club. The Nuggets posted 36 points in the first quarter and another 34 in the second while holding the Suns at the aforementioned distance of five points, 70-65, at the break. In my opinion, a five point lead at halftime for these Nuggets is actually better for the overall mindset of the team than a 25 point lead. My reasoning is big leads usually lead to a lack of intensity from the Nuggets and a big comeback from their opposition. With only a five point lead, the Nuggets were still feeling the need to come out with a sustained attack in the second half.

After intermission, the Nuggets started to round things out offensively. Sure, the Dynamic Duo scored a combined 56 points (Iverson led all scorers with 31), but it was the bench that stepped up to make sure the Nuggets had enough to subdue the Suns. Led by J.R. Smith’s 17, the Denver bench (Eduardo Najera, Linas Kleiza, Smith and Nene) combined for 38 points to outscore the Phoenix bench by four and give the Nuggets that much needed lift.

High drama came in the fourth quarter as the Nuggets lost the lead they had been nursing all night long with just over three minutes remaining after Steve Nash hit a pair of free-throws to put the Suns up by one, 113-112. So, with the final three minutes to play the Nuggets were once again under immense pressure to win. Surely back-to-back losses would have been disastrous to their playoff hopes in this tight of a playoff race with Dallas and Golden State and the Nuggets needed to find a way, any way, to win.

And right on cue, Marcus Camby hit a free-throw line extend jump shot, over the outstretched hand of Shaq, with the shot clock running down to tie the game at 116 and the Nuggets never looked back. To strong chants of defense from the Mile High faithful, the Nugget went on a 10-4 run to put away the Suns and once again put themselves right back into the playoffs.

Carmelo Anthony and Kenyon Martin each grabbed eight rebounds and K-Mart added 18 points on yet another efficient 6-9 shooting. Anthony Carter led the march of dimes for Denver with ten assists while being credited for six steals, Marcus Camby added a team-high eleven rebounds, and both Linas and Eduardo were 2-3 from the land of plenty. And on the Nene watch, Big Brazil recorded another ten minutes of very meaningful playing time while being effective with four points, five rebounds, and two assists.

As I mentioned before, this win puts the Nuggets back into the playoff scenery with the eighth seed thanks to the Warriors losing to the Spurs last night, 116-92. The win also puts the Nuggets only a half game back of the Mavericks in the seventh seed with Dallas and Golden State set to duel tonight in a game that means only good things for the Nuggets seeing how someone in the hunt is going to take the L and fall back a half game (hopefully it’s Dallas because that more directly benefits the Nuggets).
Up next for the crew is a couple days of rest before a three-game set that could solidify their position in the playoffs. It all starts on Saturday when the Sacramento Kings come to town followed by two bunny road games that need to be taken seriously against the Sonics and Clippers. And barring any slippage (the Sac-town game is the only one that worries me, especially with the way Kevin Martin has been playng), I think the Nuggets are going to still hold their own destiny down the regular season home stretch.

Go Nuggets!


Zach said...

I don't want to be negative because a win over Phoenix is a significant accomplishment.

However, I feel our play in the fourth quarter was atrocious.

How many times were the Suns going to burn us with the Shaq/Amare screen and roll before Karl would call time out?

Why were our wing defenders crashing into the paint leaving the Suns wide open 3s? They aren't going to get a soft layup with Camby in the game, but they will bury the wide open 3s.

How many times will Melo, AI, or JR go after a steal, not get it, and then stay out of the play and watch the opposing team go 5 on 4.

Towards the end of the game Melo misses the second free throw, instead of getting back and picking up his man he floats back on D and the Suns get a wide open 3. Thankfully the Suns missed but who was Melo playing defense on then?

The offense was pretty poor as well in the fourth. Relying on Camby to hit 18 foot jump shots with 1 sec on the shot clock is not a good idea.

I have no idea why JR wasn't allowed to set up the offense.

Watching AI run screen and rolls with Camby and Martin where neither one of them cut to the basket is not a good offense.

AI is amazing but he needs to play off of JR or AC. When he dominates the ball the rest of the offense stagnates. He can go for 30 every game but we are better if he gets 18 and everyone else is getting shots. When our guys are getting shots they play better defense.

It was a good win over a great team but I think the win was due to the age/fatigue of the Suns, as well as Raja being an idiot and getting tossed.

Go Nuggets, lets take care of the next 3 "gimmies"

Gargantuan Vermillion said...

I really like the way K-Mart has been playing. I think he may be close to being all the way back.

In a way, I'm glad he's got that monster contract, because it's doubtful the Nuggets will be able to unload him ... although how that bollixes up their ability to retain what I think is the core of Melo, AI, Camby, Nene, and JR, I don't know.

Thanks for the blog. It's hard getting any decent analysis of the Nuggets out here in Nebraska.