Everything was fantastic about the first half. I felt that everyone on the roster played within their own respective games and within the flow of the game itself with the results being a sweet symphony of basketball purity. That’s honestly the best way I can describe the first half without highlighting everyone’s individually unique contribution. Just imagine each Nugget doing what they do best all at the right instances. Carmelo grabbed five rebounds and was 8-13 with 16 points to lead all scorers at the half. Nene got off to a quick start with twelve points and four rebounds despite picking up two very quick fouls in the first quarter. Anthony Carter came in off the bench and led Denver in the passing department with four assists, no turnovers, and an open court steal from Chris Paul that led to an easy flush for Linas Kleiza .
The Nuggets led, 58-40, at the break and much of that lead was built on the defensive end. Denver forced five New Orleans turnovers and capitalized on them for twelve points in the first half. The Nuggets had also done a great job on Chris Paul in pick and roll situations despite Paul finishing the half with eleven points. Denver basically forced Paul to be a one-man band offensively and with his teammates involvement limited it denied the Hornets any rhythm. CP3 had just three assists in the first half as no Hornet beside Hilton Armstrong scored more than six points while collectively New Orleans was 1-11 from the three-point arch.
Denver then jumped all over the Hornets in the early goings of the third quarter and opened up 26-point lead, 77-51, with just under six minutes remaining and clocked off the job. What transpired following George Karl’s full timeout at the 5:52 mark in the third quarter was just plain ridiculous. The Nuggets flat lined over the next 8:16 seconds while being outscored 29-6! Everyone wanted to be a superstar. Everyone took shots they shouldn’t take. Everyone slouched on defense. Everyone thought the game was over - Coach George Karl included. Karl didn’t call one timeout as what was once a 26-point lead was whittled down to just three points one agonizing possession at a time while playing everyone but Linas Kleiza, who after scoring nine points in the first half was never even looked at again for the rest of the game for reasons unbeknownst to anyone with even a quasi -respectable understanding of the game of basketball.
Thank God Karl had the good sense to replace Carmelo Anthony with J.R. Smith with 1:09 remaining in the third quarter. Carmelo was doing nothing for the team and Smith resuscitated the Nuggets with nine of Denver’s first eleven points in the fourth quarter following the monumental collapse that let the Hornets back into the game. Without Smith taking control of the Nuggets offensively I doubt Denver would have been able to hold on and win this game. The Denver body language before J.R. came in and injected some swagger back into them was defeated.
The Hornets had outscored the Nuggets 49-22 in the second half to take the lead, 100-99, after James Posey hit a 3-pointer with 1:10 remaining. Carmelo Anthony then resurfaced and connected on a slashing finger roll to give the Nuggets back a one-point lead of which they luckily didn’t relinquish after a loose-ball foul on Hilton Armstrong put Chauncey Billups at the free-throw line to hit his sixth and seventh foul shots giving the Nuggets a 103-100 lead with 38.7 seconds left. Denver regrouped for one last stand defensively and after David West’s only offensive rebound of the game was squandered by a James Posey miss Nene grabbed what should have been the last rebound the Nuggets needed. Unfortunately, Nene missed both free-throws after a quick foul by Hilton Armstrong, but Chauncey Billups came up with a clutch loose ball after an errantly thrown outlet pass by Armstrong caught an unexpected David West by surprise for the straw that broke New Orleans’ back. Chris Paul was left with no choice but the foul Billups who made his eighth and ninth free-throw of the game to ice the victory for Denver, 105-100.
All five Nugget starters finished in double digit scoring, led by Carmelo Anthony’s 22 points and team-high seven rebounds. After scoring twelve points in the first half, Nene was next to nonexistent in the second scoring just two points and snatching only two rebounds.
J.R. Smith finished with 17 points, four rebounds, and three assists without a turnover. Chauncey Billups added 14 points, including a perfect 9-9 from the free-throw line, and six assists.
Up next in this seven-game home stand are the Indiana Pacers on Monday followed by the Miami Heat on Wednesday night. Indiana is the only team in the next six games that isn’t above .500. So, by the end of this homestand Denver will have played 41 games and we should have a real good assessment of how the Nuggets stack up against quality opponents.