Will you all forgive me? As I am sure most of you know I said repeatedly that the Denver Nuggets had no chance to win this game. Turns out they had a slight chance. The only person I did see who said that the Nuggets would win this game was Nate over at my old stomping grounds Pickaxe and Roll.
I was right about one thing though. I said if Denver did somehow pull this one out it would be all about their defense. Well, Denver played some of their best defense of the season holding the Lakers to 29.8% shooting and a season low 79 points. Both teams combined to shoot 5-42 from behind the arc and the second half was flat out ugly as the two teams combined to shoot 27-84, which equates to 32.1%.
So after three such terrible defensive games how on earth did they manage to turn things around? As I think I wrote somewhere the issue was as much mental as physical. Great defensive teams know how who is supposed to be where at all times. They are a step ahead of the offense. Tonight he Nuggets played that style of defense.
They hounded Kobe all over the floor, but they did not ignore the other members of the team. Los Angeles had very few open shots and I do not recall any uncontested shots under the basket. It may have been the most consistently strong defense from start to finish of any single game this season. Even when they had nights as they did against Orlando, the Magic missed a lot of open shots. That is not to say the Lakers did not miss a few here and there to, but most of their 66 misses came as a result of being challenged.
Kobe traditionally torches the Nuggets, but not tonight. Dahntay Jones, J.R. Smith and Carmelo deserve a lot of credit for pressuring Kobe into mostly jumpers. Kobe only got into the lane on five or six occasions. Almost all of his shots came from 16 feet out or further and he ended up shooting 10-31. He did score 29 points, but it was a very quiet 29, but more importantly a very inefficient 29.
Dahntay Jones held Kobe to 2-11 shooting plus 5-6 from the line. He was very physical drawing a double technical on the two of them early in the game.
I thought J.R. Smith played perhaps the best defense of his career tonight. Kobe shot 4-13 against him and did not get to the line on J.R.
Kobe experienced one hot streak and it was when Carmelo was covering him. Kobe made four of his five shots against Melo and I thought the comment by Scott Hastings that Kobe’s competitive fire was stoked by Melo trying to get up in his business.
Kobe went 1-1 from the field against Chauncey, but 0-2 from the line and he shot 0-1 against Kenyon.
In the past the primary defender on Kobe whenever he was in the game was Anthony Carter. Carter only found himself on Kobe a few possessions and Kobe did not attempt a shot against him, but he did get to the line twice making three of four free throw attempts.
(I missed a free throw in there that he made instead of missed, but I am not going to go through the game again to figure out which one it was.)
Another key to the game was that the Lakers did not run very much pick and roll action and when they did the screener rarely rolled. D.J. Mbenga was the only screener who would roll after every ball screen and needless to say they were not exactly looking for him. The handful of times they did run the pick and roll the Nugget bigs did a good job of hedging and recovering.
Instead of going through individual defensive possessions, you can all look for a film room segment to document the Nuggets effort on D.
Looking at the flow of the game itself Denver came out hoisting jumpers in the third quarter and they saw their six point halftime lead disappear quickly. The final straw seemed to be when Dahntay Jones attempted an 18 footer with about 16 seconds left on the shot clock. After that Chauncey started going to the basket and J.R. Smith came in soon after. Billups got to the line and made a couple of baskets in the lane. He also drained a three and that shot seemed to give the Nuggets the boost of confidence they needed. He scored the first nine points of the third quarter and kept the Nuggets in the game.
Denver was successful on offense when they were patient and worked the ball inside. J.R. Smith did a great job of penetrating and either finishing or getting a teammate a good scoring opportunity. He shot very poorly, and too often, from behind the arc, but the Lakers had no answer for him when he drove. He finished the game having attempted a season high ten free throws and even though he only had two assists he made passes that got his teammates to the line at least three times.
Even with the play of Chauncey and J.R. the player of the game was without a doubt Birdzilla. Chris Andersen was incredibly active and had a good matchup in Pau Gasol. He played very good man to man defense and was a big reason why the Lakers shot such a low percentage erasing seven shots on his own. Birdman also did a good job of finishing around the rim and he has perfected the little dippity doo finish on the opposite side of the rim. Perhaps the most impressive part of Birdman’s night is not only did he play the entire fourth quarter, he entered the game with 6:11 left in the third quarter and did not come out once after that. Karl knew who was buttering his toast tonight.
This win helps erase some of the sting from the losses to the Bulls and Bucks and hopefully it gives the Nuggets some momentum heading into their quick roadie to Indianapolis and Detroit. Plus I am sure they had my posts up on the whiteboard in the locker room before the game and took great pleasure in proving me wrong. Congratulations to them, they deserve it.
Additional Game 59 Nuggets
Mindboggling Game Stats
Pace Factor: 92.0 – Just a tad slower than the typical Nuggets home game.
Defensive Efficiency: 85.9 – Tied for the third best single game mark of the season, but this one was against the number one team in terms of offensive efficiency in the NBA.
Offensive Efficiency: 97.8 – Bad, but not atrocious. Well, OK, it was kind of atrocious.