I really liked the Nuggets intensity on the defensive end in the first five minutes of the first quarter. Dahntay Jones came up with a nice steal on the perimeter and took the cookies from Rudy Gay coast-to-coast for an easy deuce. That play set the tone for a great quarter overall defensively despite the offense getting out to a very slow start and the Nuggets trailing, 25-24, after one. J.R. Smith, although he was whistle for a loose ball foul, deserves a lot of credit defensively. I thought he really played smart, and under control basketball despite O.J. Mayo scoring twelve points in the first quarter to J.R.’s eleven. And what made the quarter a “moral victory” for me was how the Nuggets came back from down eight, 20-12, after fighting some bad calls and bad bounces of the ball to finish the quarter out on a 12-5 run heading into the second quarter.
Once the second got underway, the Nuggets really struggled breaking the Memphis full court pressure turning the ball over three times in the first two minutes. The easy points off those turnovers turned into a seven point lead, 31-24, for the Grizzlies before Chauncey gave a disheveled Nuggets offense a calming three to get the Nuggets on the scoreboard after starting the second quarter scoreless through the first two minutes. Nene then sustained the Nuggets with six straight points before Denver took control of this game with a 20-point flurry that included Chauncey Billups scoring his 12,000th point as a pro to close out the half up by nine, 54-45. J.R. Smith and Linas Kleiza led the offensive charge for the Nuggets at the break with 15 and eleven points, respectively, and Kenyon Martin and Chauncey Billups each added eight more. One area the Nuggets could easily improve on in the second half were all the turnovers that were more or less avoidable with just more cautious basketball. Denver turned the ball over eleven times in the first half, but luckily the Nuggets escaped unscathed as the Grizzlies were only able to capitalize on said miscues for eight points.
As for the Grizzlies, they might as well have gone into hibernation in the second quarter. After putting up 25 in the first, Memphis could only muster 20 points in the second while shooting a tepid 33% from the field for the half. O.J Mayo didn’t score in the second quarter after hitting for a dozen in the first and had it not been for Darius Miles scoring all ten of the Grizzlies first ten points in the second things could have been much worse for the Memphis at halftime.
Nene picked up his fourth foul with nine minutes to play in the third and was banished to the bench for the remainder of the quarter, but his feathered friend, The Birdman, came in a did a great job in extended minutes. He didn’t allow Marc Gasol to get to a favorable position on the low block, played disciplined defense not buying any of Gasol’s head fakes, and sealed off well when the ball went on rim. With that being said, the quarter would belong to Chauncey Billups on the offensive end. Mr. Big Shot scored the Nuggets’ first 14 points of the second half before Chris Andersen’s free-throw make broke what was a one-man show that when on for the better part of eight minutes. The Birdman’s free-throw ballooned the Nuggets’ lead to 16 points, 69-53, with four minutes remaining before the Nuggets went scoreless on their next four possessions and connected on just 1-6 of their shot attempts to close out the quarter. This funky stretch of discombobulated offense where everyone just stood around flat-footed allowed the Grizzlies to close out the half on a 15-6 run which left the door cracked for the Grizzlies entering the fourth quarter down by just seven, 75-68.
The fourth quarter started the same way as third as Chauncey Billups connected on his fourth three-pointer of the game. Nene then found Andersen on a nifty bounce pass in the paint that gave the Bird enough room to spread his wings for a slam to give the Nuggets a nine-point lead with ten minutes to play. Back-to-back heady defensively plays by Anthony Carter kept the Nuggets ahead by nine before Hakim Warrik tightened the score back down to six with the hoop and the harm on the next Memphis possession. Kyle Lowry’s short jumper cut things to four with under seven minutes, but Kenyon’s Martin’s steal which led to Linas Kleiza getting flagrantly fouled by Lowry gave the Nuggets two free-throws and the ball. The Nuggets extended their lead back to six after LK made good on both free-throws, but an offensive foul called on J.R. Smith for a hook on the baseline left me a bit unsatisfied. Thankfully, Kenyon Martin went to a fundamentally sound, left-handed hook on the next offensive possession to put the Nuggets back into the lead by eight and then Denver was on top by ten after Nene’s jumper from the right baseline with under six minutes left in regulation.
The Denver lead had been earned during this defining stretch on the defensive end of the floor. The Nuggets continued to block shots, a fantastic steal by J.R. Smith on one possession in particular sticks out, and the team rotating very efficiently as they held the Grizzlies scoreless for more than five minutes after Kyle Lowry’s jumper that cut their lead to four led to an eventual 15-point Denver blowout, 100-85. Chauncey Billups scoring 16 points in the third quarter paced him to a team-high 29 points. Mr. Big Shot was also a perfect 9-9 from the charity stripe and filled up the stat sheet with four rebounds, four steals, three assists, and two blocked shots. J.R. Smith also played a superb all-around game scoring 20 points, nabbing five boards, and two assists, blocks, and steals.
Linas Kleiza continued his scoring surge since ‘Melo went down with 16 points tonight and seven rebounds while Kenyon Martin’s double-double of twelve points and ten rebounds rounded out a great overall game by all the Nugget bigs. Chris Andersen blocked five shots while the Nuggets collectively swatted 15 shots in total.
27 turnovers were a real Achilles heal for the Nuggets in this good-bad-ugly win and the Nuggets will definitely not be as fortunate to over come that number of miscues tomorrow night against the Hornets. It is very rare to be -13 in assists to turnovers overall and still win a game in today’s NBA. And for those of you keeping track, the Nuggets are now 17-2 when Chauncey Billups scores 20 or more points and improve to 29-12 since Joe Dumars made my dreams come true!