Thursday, November 27, 2008

Clippers Clipped - J.R. Smith Benched

(AP Photo/Gus Ruelas)

(Boulder-CO) In the spirit of everything I'm thankful for today (the Nuggets, 106-105, win over the Clippers last night being one of them) I'm going to keep all the things that drove me crazy last night like the really bad defense in the second and fourth quarters, the unexplainable benching of J.R. Smith, and all 19 Denver turnovers to a minimum and just focus on the positives of the Nuggets 10th win of the year.

It was really nice to Marcus Camby dishing out hugs to all his old mates and Coach George Karl before the game. Despite being sold garage sale style his summer, I still have a soft spot for The Captain after six years of holding the Nuggets down in the middle.

In the first quarter, the Nuggets looked strong on the offensive revival of Carmelo Anthony. 'Melo scored ten first quarter points and led the way for Denver outscoring L.A. 32-22 in the first, but that's right about when things started to slide for the Nuggets. Once the second period started, Denver completely self-destructed in more ways than one. Defensively, the Nuggets reserves were terrible and, surprisingly, J.R. Smith never took off his warm-ups. I kept waiting and waiting for Karl to look to his best offensive weapon off the bench as the lead was slipping away, but it never happened. And even more aggravating than watching the Nuggets struggle offensively as the Clippers erased the ten-point lead the Denver starters opened up in the first was how the broadcasting crew for Altitude either didn't or wouldn't divulge as to why Smith was banished.

The story was there and no one chose to cover it. Why wasn't J.R. Smith playing? The saga would continue to drive me crazy for the rest of the game as my imagination ran wild with every possible scenario, but for the broadcast crew to completely ignore the story left me with one conclusion: J.R. and the coaching staff must have had an incident. It's too easy to say, “J.R. Smith suffered this or that injury in practice and is questionable for tonight", or , "J.R. Smith has the flu", but because mum was the word something had to have happened and the TV crew must have been told to keep it close to the vest.

More to come on this as I sleuth around the scene...

The Nuggets started the second half up by one a point and with the reserves on the bench which allowed the starters to open up a 13-point lead in thanks to great defense. Denver, led by another seven points by Carmelo Anthony, outscored L.A. 21-9 in the first 11:30 of the quarter before allowing the Clippers to close the third with a 7-2 run in the final 30 seconds of the third.

Enter the fourth quarter.

The same team that just manhandled their opposition 23-16 in the previous 12 minutes was about to have another defensive lapse capped off by the Clippers pulling even at 103 with a 17-7 run capped by Eric Gordon's fourth made trey with 1:35 to play. Perhaps sensing the urgency of the game slipping away, George Karl called timeout and diagramed the ball to go to his star, Carmelo Anthony. 'Melo received the ball on the wing and after a couple of ball fakes let go of a 14-foot jumper that gave the Nuggets the lead, 105-103. With just over a minute to play, Clippers' stand-in Coach Kim Hughes chose not to call timeout to draw up a set play and on the ensuing possession Baron Davis missed a contested lay-up that was rebounded by Anthony Carter. Needing a defensive stop, the Clippers slipped up and fouled Kenyon Martin with Denver in the penalty. Kenyon missed the front end of the one-and-one, but made good on the second to give the Nuggets a three-point lead. At this point, Coach Hughes then decided to draw up a play with 42 second remaining that fruited a Zach Randolph lay-up with 34 ticks still on the game clock and the Clippers down by one.

Clinging to the slimmest of margins, Denver ran off as much of the remaining clock as possible before an Anthony Carter three was put on rim and the carom was snared by our old friend Marcus Camby with just nine seconds to play. The Clippers didn't have anymore timeouts and the ball was quickly put in Baron Davis' hands for a chance to win the game. Davis drove towards the left wing before becoming completely blanketed defensively and dishing to a wide open Marcus Camby at the top of the three-point arch for L.A.'s buzzer beating chance.

With the ball slowly back spinning its way towards the rim I thought to myself, "Marcus Camby is going to hit this shot as some kind of payback for the Nuggets trading him for next to nothing", and to say I was ecstatic when the ball drew iron unkind would be an understatement. Had the attempt been from the top of the key, Marcus' favorite shot, who knows what might have happened, but the extra distance and the unexpected dish from Baron Davis left Marcus a little bit out of his comfort zone and the Nuggets, despite playing poorly for extended stretches, had managed to dodge a bullet and win, 106-105.

The Nuggets were led by Carmelo Anthony breaking out of his recent scoring slump to finish with his third straight double-double of 30 points and eleven boards. An area of note for 'Melo continues to be his efficiency at the free-throw line this season as he is shooting over 80% overall and cashing in 14 of 16 attempts against the Clippers. The Nuggets are also shooting and making the most free-throws league-wide and in tonight's game created a large disparity at the line by finishing 36-43 in comparison to L.A.'s 21-29 at the charity stripe. Four other Nuggets made it to double digits in scoring with Nene and Kenyon Martin each scoring with 17 points, and reserves Linas Kleiza adding 15 and Anthony Carter finishing with 13 points and six assists.

With the win, the Nuggets are now 10-5 overall, 9-2 since acquiring Chauncey Billups, are sitting at the top of the Northwest Division with a half game lead on both Utah and Portland, and that‘s a lot to be thankful for! Up next for the Nuggets is a Thanksgiving match-up tonight with Chris Paul and the Hornets back at the Pepsi Center.

Happy Thanksgiving and Go Nuggets!

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