Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Streaks Get Broken - It's Just What Happens

(Boulder-CO) The Denver Nuggets broke two of their most impressive streaks last night after losing to the Pistons, 93-90. The first being their undefeated mark of winning games when entering the fourth quarter with the lead and the second being their season-high, five-game win streak.

In the first half, it was all about Chauncey. Facing his former team for the first time since the November 3rd trade essentially swapped him for Allen Iverson, Chauncey scored 20 points in the first half while handing out three assists. His offensive explosion was capped off by scoring the final eight Denver points in the half which included hanging, hitting, and being fouled by Arron Afflalo plus a 20-foot jumper with twelve seconds remaining to put the Nuggets up by ten, 48-38, at the half.

Much of the Nuggets first half lead was due to their defense. Denver held the Pistons to just 37% shooting through two quarters that included Allen Iverson scoring just three points on just one made field goal. Dahntay Jones, Anthony Carter, and J.R. Smith deserve much of the credit for holding the Answer in check, but the Pistons as a team didn’t do themselves any favors from the free-throw line missing seven of 13 attempts. The starters and reserves for Detroit split the 38 points worth of offensive output 50/50 while Denver’s 48 points were anchored by their starting five and Chauncey’s aforementioned 20 points.

The second half was a complete abandonment of any sort of team basketball and an abomination offensively for the Nuggets. Perhaps it was Chauncey thinking that he could carry the Nuggets offensively by himself or George Karl thinking that by allowing the Nuggets to play without any sort of structured offense they would still be able to win the game, but either way the plan back fired and the Nuggets went to pieces. The jump shots wouldn’t stop and there was no semblance to an NBA offense in the second half. Nene shooting too many outside jumpers left him with a very uncharacteristic 3-7 from the field and if it hadn’t been for Big Brazil hitting nine of his twelve free-throws his 15 points would have been far fewer. Linas Kleiza was a total dud after scoring 21 points in his first start for the injured Carmelo Anthony against the Heat with a stat line that reads 0-6 shooting, just one point, and four rebounds. Kenyon Martin’s outside shooting came back down to earth as he finished just 6-15 from the field for 14 points, and J.R. Smith rounded out the miserable, one-on-one happy, Nuggets with a final line of 3-13 from the field and eleven points. In J.R.’s defense, he didn’t take what I would consider a bad shot the entire game, but nevertheless he couldn’t throw a seashell in the ocean. Furthermore, the Nuggets only handed out six assists in the second half en route to just twelve assists for the game.

I kept asking myself why do the Nuggets play like this? Why do they abandon everything that’s responsible for their winning ways when they know that the only way this team wins is by sharing the basketball?

There were no answers to be had for Denver in the second half, that is unless you’re the Detroit Pistons and you’re led to victory by The Answer, Allen Iverson.

Allen Iverson scored 20 of his team-high 23 points in the second half, including ten in the fourth quarter. All of Iverson’s ten fourth quarter points came in the first seven minutes of the quarter and led the way for Detroit outscoring the Nuggets 32-23 in the money period. It’s hard to say if Allen Iverson’s second half explosion was due to the way the Nuggets ceased playing as a team offensively, but I know the selfish display on the one end didn’t help their cause on the other.

Despite my complete rebuking of Denver’s YMCA offense they still had a chance to win this game down the stretch after Tayshaun Prince’s running jumper gave Detroit their first lead of the game, 87-86, with just 20 ticks remaining in regulation. After trading a pair of made free-throws by Arron Afflalo and Nene, and another two from the charity stripe made good on again by Afflalo after a quick foul. The Nuggets were down by three with just seven second remaining and the ball underneath their own basket. J.R. Smith shook Allen Iverson and went streaking down the left sideline and caught a great over the shoulder inbounds pass that set him up for a last second three-point attempt. The defensive gambler that I outlined AI to be was proven as he very unwisely fouled Smith on his 25-foot shot attempt to tie the game sending him to the line for three free-throws. With a chance to put the game into almost certain overtime, Smith missed the first free-throw and by doing so sealed the win for the Pistons. Arron Afflalo would then make two more free-throws to ice the game for Detroit, 93-90.

Although J.R. had his chance to tie the game for the Nuggets this loss wasn’t his fault. This L gets slapped on the Nuggets as a whole, George Karl included, for allowing themselves to fall into the same selfish trap they always do. No passing, very little screening, and even less defense led to this loss. Chauncey deserves some of the blame because he was fooled into thinking his first half explosion would continue in the second, but only he, J.R. Smith, and Anthony Carter were the only Nuggets to even notch an assist in this contest. Chauncey and J.R. each handed out four dimes, and Carter two, but for the other five Denver players to not even record a single assist combined is deplorable. And for a coach to allow his team to play with that kind of selfishness, over an entire game, is just as bad. This is a game the Nuggets should have won. Hell, it was a game the Nuggets should have won even with as poorly they played in the second half! However, the fact still remains that animals, much like teams in the NBA, with a real shot of living, or of winning an NBA championship, are smart enough to chew their own foot off when it gets caught in in a trap akin to the way the Nuggets fall into selfish stretches of basketball. But, until this team stops doing so, or is smart enough to chew their own proverbial foot off when does it falls into such traps, Denver is going to continue to lose games they could, and should, have been able to win.

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