Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Denver Runs Indiana Out of Town

The Denver Nuggets continue to streak with their, 135-115, win over the Pacers matching their season-high four consecutive win mark with five more games remaining in this seven game home stand.

The first quarter was another example of superb Nuggets basketball. Quick passing and crisp off ball cuts paved the way for the Nuggets handing out twelve assists on their 13 made field goals in the first twelve minutes. Carmelo recorded six assists while Nene finished three traditional three-point plays as the Nuggets led by as many 17 points with under a minute remaining in the first before a late Pacer run trimmed the lead to 14, 40-26, at the end of one. The 40 first quarter points on 61% shooting tied a season-high for points scored in the first quarter set against Minnesota earlier this year and included a perfect 14-14 from the free-throw line.

I also felt that the Nugget defense looked rejuvenated as Denver did a good job of allowing the Pacers just one shot on rim before cleansing the boards. Four Nuggets (Jones, Nene, Anthony, and Andersen) each grabbed two rebounds apiece while Kenyon Martin led the way with three boards in the first quarter.

The second quarter was a different story. After holding the Pacers to 26 points in the first, the Nugget defense just collapsed. Indiana torched the Nuggets for 42 points in the second while they couldn’t buy a whistle down on the other end. The Pacers out shot the Nuggets 17-5 in free-throw attempts in the second quarter after not shooting a free-throw in the first. The most direct beneficiary of this was Danny Granger. He did half of his 18-point damage in the second quarter from the charity stripe on a perfect 9-9. from the line He would finish the half with a game-high 26 points after a modest eight point first quarter. Troy Murphy also hurt the Nuggets from the three-point line. The former Notre Dame standout missed his first two three’s in the first quarter, but then hit three of five attempts in the second to finish the half with 15 points.

Offensively, the Nuggets were able to sustain the 42-point Indiana outburst because the Pacers defense was almost as bad. Denver countered with 34 points of their own and J.R. Smith’s 372nd made three-pointer at 2:21 in the quarter put him into fourth place all-time in Nuggets franchise history for three’s made in a career. Smith passed the great Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf’s 371 mark for that place in Nuggets history with Nick Van Excel in third place with 425.

Also of note is how the opportunity for J.R. to make that three materialized. In what could be the block of the year so far, Dahntay Jones climbed the ladder about three or four steps higher than Jarrett Jack can even imagine and hung in mid-air before spiking Jack’s lay-up attempt directly to the floor. It was an incredible example of the rule stating the defensive player has the right to his position straight up to the ceiling of the arena as Jones completely shut the top on Jarrett Jack’s convertible.

And had it not been for Indiana’s horrendous defense I don’t think the Nuggets would have been leading, 74-70, at the break. Denver’s 74 points set new season-high for points scored in a half, but even with the lead at the midway point the Nuggets defense would have to improve for the team to win.

The second half was a completely different story from the first as the Nuggets tightened the defensive clamps to limit the pacers to just 17 made field goals while outscoring them 61-45. But tonight's win didn't come without a spirited fight by the Pacers With 11:10 minutes to play in regulation, the Pacers were within three, 99-96, before Denver went on a 36-19 run led by Chauncey Billups scoring 13 of his 24 points in the final quarter en route to blowing the Pacers out. Indiana, after battling back from down by 20-points in the first half, once again found themselves down by as many as 23 before conceding, 135-115.

The Nugget box score is gaudy to say the least as the 135 points scored set a new season-high for points scored in a game breaking the old record of 132 points set against the Raptors that prompted the firing of Sam Mitchell. Kenyon Martin scored a team-high 25 points, including a three-pointer that brought him to 8-15 from beyond the arch on the year, to go along with seven rebounds, three assists, and two blocks. Chauncey Billups added 24 points, eleven assists, four rebounds, and a steal. Billups was also a perfect 8-8 from the free-throw line and an economical 4-7 from downtown as the Nuggets stayed perfect (8-0) when he reaches double figures in assists.

He wasn’t the only one sharing.

Carmelo Anthony set a season-high mark of nine assists and finished with 21 points and six rebounds, and Nene rounded out the starters with 18 points on 7-8 shooting to fit nicely with a game-high three blocks. Anthony Carter handed out seven assists off the bench as the Nuggets handed out an unselfish 38 dimes collectively. The Nuggets also dominated the Pacers on the glass, 49-36, with ten different Nuggets grabbing at least two rebounds led by the Birdman with nine caroms.

This was a great win for a couple of different reasons. First, the Nuggets were up early, then allowed the Pacers to get back in the game, but found away to put them back to bed. In the past two games the Nuggets have sprinted out to similar big leads but have had to claw their way to victory in dramatic fashion down the stretch. Tonight, they closed things out and made things easy on themselves. The next reason why I like this win is it showcased a lot of unselfish play. I truly believe that this season could become something special if the Nuggets play for each other first while letting the stats fall where they may. The 38 assists are one way to highlight this, but it was the way that Denver played defense in the second half that showed true unselfishness. Guys were stepping up for one another, the hedging on pick and roll was consistent, and the 41 defensive rebounds prove the Nuggets were boxing out Pacers - not spaces. That’s a testament to a great team defensive effort as the 45 points they held Indiana to in the second half reinforce.

Up next for the Nuggets is a look at the current NBA scoring leader, Dwayne Wade, and the vastly improved Miami Heat on Wednesday night. With the win, the Nuggets improved to 24-12 on the season, match a season-high four-game win streak, and stay undefeated (18-0) when ahead entering the fourth quarter.

Go Nuggets!

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