In their first game coming out of the All-Star break the Denver Nuggets failed to show up for the first seven minutes of the game, then once they decided to start playing they still appeared to sleep walk through the rest of the first half. Lucky for them the way they played in the second half made it pretty easy to forgive them for their sorry play in the first half.
The Nuggets also owe the Sixers some thanks as well because there is no way Philly should have only been up by ten at the half. As bad as the Nuggets were the Sixers were not much better exhibiting some truly hideous offense over the first 24 minutes. Philly dominated the paint, but missed numerous shots from close in. By my count in the play by play they missed eight layups in the first half alone and I think Philly had several more tip attempts that rimmed out as well.
Do not get me wrong, Denver was terrible offensively in the first half. They did not score their sixth point until Melo made a layup with only 3:35 left in the first quarter. The Nuggets’ putrid play was due to their perimeter mindset, not an inability to make layups.
I think we all hoped to see the Nuggets crank up their effort and they clearly were not out of the game down only ten, but to see the ferocity they took the floor with was shocking to everyone. It was especially shocking to the 76ers and their stunned fans. The Nuggets began attacking the rim starting off the half with three consecutive layups off of the high pick and roll by Chauncey and Nene. In fact the Nuggets went on to make nine layups in the third quarter and were awarded free throws on a couple of occasions when they were fouled to prevent an easy lay in. For some reason those shots that rattle out when you are playing one pass and shoot perimeter ball seem to find the net when they are a result of a more free flowing unselfish offense. Thanks to their renewed sense of purpose on offense Denver was able to take the lead just two and a half minutes into the third quarter and produced a 24-4 run to start the second half.
Chauncey was clearly the catalyst and it was one of the first times this season where he triggered a second half spurt from largely getting to the rim instead of catching fire from the perimeter. After Chauncey scored 13 of the Nuggets’ 24 points to start the half Philly began to focus on him almost exclusively on defense. They assigned Willie Green to shadow Chauncey wherever he went. Green denied Billups the inbounds pass and when Chauncey would get the ball and drive off a screen the 76ers were trapping him relentlessly.
Carmelo and J.R. Smith were able to handle the ball and the Sixers’ strategy did not derail the Nuggets right away, but they did hold Denver to only two points over the final two minutes of the third quarter to get back to within three.
Despite the Nuggets’ offensive explosion in the second half you could make a strong argument that they won this game on defense. Even early in the game they were playing solidly and it was only after the first few minutes of offensive futility that their defense took a corresponding turn for the worse. In the second half the Sixers were hurt by the injury suffered by Andre Miller, but Denver really closed off the driving lanes, packed the lane, fought for rebounds and dared the Sixers to be them from the perimeter. Philly knew that they could not win the game by shooting jumpers and so they tried to stick the ball inside, which played directly into the strength of the Nuggets defense. The result was a lot of contested shots being taken from tough angles and with little space to operate.
The Nuggets now have two very winnable games in Chicago and Milwaukee to close out the eight road games they have had in February. At this point they are in second place in the Western Conference a full game ahead of the Spurs, which is actually two games due to the fact the Nuggets own the tie breaker against San Antonio, and with off days between both remaining games a 7-1 elongated road trip is a necessity.
Additional Game 54 Nuggets
Mindboggling Game Stats
Pace Factor: 96.8
Defensive Efficiency: 92.0 – The third straight sub 100 game for the Nuggets. They also held Philly to 32.6% shooting. They are starting to resemble the team that was winning with defense earlier in the season. The Nuggets now once again have a better defensive efficiency with Billups than during the four games they played without him. It has been a month and a half or so since we could say that.
Offensive Efficiency: 104.4 – Considering they only had five points more than eight minutes into the game that is pretty good.