Saturday, December 27, 2008
(Boulder-CO) The Denver Nuggets never cease to amaze me. On some nights they just won't share the ball; on others sharing is all that matters. And then there is last night's 15-three "feel good" performance in a grinch of a win over the 76ers, 105-101.
In the first half it was basically a one-man show. J.R. Smith, coming off a dismal six point performance against the Blazers, scored 15 first half points in 16 minutes of burn. He only turned the ball over once, handed out an assist, recorded a steal, and grabbed a rebound as he was the pulse of the Nuggets through two quarters. Also on the EKG were Chauncey Billups and Dahntay Jones, each with nine points, but it was Smith's three-point shooting that was keeping the Nuggets in the game and it would be the Denver three-point shooting that would eventually spoil Philadelphia's trip to the Mile High City.
After trailing by only three at the half, the Nuggets completely came out and stunk up the Pepsi Center through the first eight minutes of the third quarter. Denver fell behind, 74-57, after the 76ers blew the game wide open with a 22-8 run to start the second half before seven straight Chauncey Billups points brought the game back within a manageable margin, 79-68, entering the fourth quarter.
Tired, disinterested, and all but ready to concede are the adjectives I would use to describe the overall feeling being non-verbally communicated by the Denver Nuggets entering the fourth quarter. Chauncey had cut Philly's lead to under ten points close to the end of the third, but after Marreese Speights' dunk with 26 seconds remaining before the fourth was flushed through the net it seemed like the Nuggets were right about to have their Christmas spoiled.
But wait... Denver found that last gift hiding under the tree!
One, two, three-three's a plenty! Four, five, six-three's a party! The Denver Nuggets connected on six three-pointers broken up by two Nene free-throws to open up the fourth quarter and trimmed the 76er lead to just four points, 92-88, with five minutes remaining! Then, while the Pepsi Center held its collective breath, J.R. Smith connected on his seventh three of the game to put the Nuggets in the lead, 96-95, with only 2:38 on the game clock. Seven lead changes later, Kenyon Martin received a Chauncey Billups pass at the top of the key and blasted off for the go-ahead dunk on Samuel Dalembert that had the Nuggets Nation rejoicing in glee. Andre Miller, perhaps a touch bah humbug, was hit with a technical foul for a Denver free-throw which Chauncey Billups redeemed like a gift card, and after Chucky Atkins cashed in on two free-throws Christmas was saved in the final moments in Denver akin to the way the Grinch saved it for all those who live in Whoville!
J.R. Smith's performance was truly a gift. The Prodigy scored a game-high 27 points, including seven three-pointers, on 10-20 from the field. Without his special touch from long distance there is no way the Nuggets start to believe that they could have won this game, let alone following in his footsteps to actually do so. With his example to follow, Chauncey Billups added 26 points, including a perfect 14-14 from the charity stripe, and ten assists to keep the Nuggets an unblemished 7-0 when he reaches double figure assists and Nene's 13 points, including 7-8 from the stripe, and twelve rebounds were instrumental in the Denver victory.
Chucky Atkins and Linas Kleiza also got into the three-point festivities with two trey's apiece.
The Nuggets were also an unheard of 24-25 from the free-throw line while making a season-high 15 three-point field goals.
The four game outlook for the 19-11 Nuggets starts with a Sunday morning game in the Mecca of basketball, New York City, when Denver takes on the Knicks. Carmelo is supposed to play (never one to miss the big stage of Madison Square Garden) before the Nuggets play three more road games at Atlanta, Toronto, and Oklahoma City. The Nuggets now hold a one-game lead over the Portland Trailblazers for the top spot in the Northwest Division with the Utah Jazz still lurking just a half game back.