The Denver Nuggets did what I thought was impossible. They led me to think they actually had a shot at beating the Utah Jazz in Salt Lake City. The Nuggets played an incredible 18 minutes to start the game, but the Jazz were not having it. I have watched the turning point of the game, when the Nuggets took their 17 point lead at 47-30, a few times and there was no substitution or strategic master stroke. The Jazz basically took back the paint. Denver had been dominating the lane on both ends of the floor for most of the game, but just like that Utah started taking the ball to the basket and the Nuggets started taking jumpers.
With 10:38 left in the third quarter C.J. Miles made two free throws to cut the Nuggets lead down to six, 47-41. At that point former point guard Mark Jackson, the color commentator on the ESPN broadcast, proclaimed that it was Chauncey Billup’s job to step up and be a difference maker. He was exactly right. As the point guard Chauncey has the ball in his hands and the command of the offense. He knew the Jazz had scored 11 straight points and the Nuggets were in danger of losing control of the game. How did he respond? Take the ball to the rim? Get the ball to Melo in the post? Run a set to get some motion in the offense and force the defense to actually defend the whole court?
With all of those options and the Nuggets in need of a bucket Chauncey brought the ball up the floor, dribbled on the left wing for a few seconds, dribbled towards the middle of the floor off a pick by Nene and launched a 23 foot jumper, with both feet on the three point line, that was so strongly challenged by Deron Williams that he had to shoot the ball almost straight up in the air.
I think the Nuggets deserve credit for fighting back and actually temporarily regaining the lead. They could have completely folded and I think we all knew what the result of the game would be early in the third quarter when the Jazz completed their run.
I think there are two big positives that can come out of this game. First of all, J.R. Smith is proving that he deserves to start with his play at both ends of the floor. He did an incredible job of taking the ball to the rim and his defense continues to improve. The other positive that hopefully will come from the game is Renaldo Balkman proving to George Karl that he deserves to be on the floor.
The Nuggets are still a half a game ahead of the Jazz and they have by far the easier schedule between the two. As well as the Jazz are playing I think the division is still the Nuggets to lose. As long as they beat the weaker teams on the schedule and split the tough ones they should finish ahead of Utah and Portland.
Additional Game 63 Nuggets
- I thought the officiating in the first half was fine and in the second half was fine, but the problem was that there was almost no correlation between how the first half was officiated and how the second half was officiated. The first half was rough and tumble and the second every little bit of contact drew a whistle.
- Only Jazz fans boo every call against their team in a quarter when the Jazz shoot 17 free throws.
- Chauncey clearly looked slow and I think he is at the point in his career where he cannot play 40 minutes on back to back nights. The good news is in the playoffs there are no back to back games. He was clearly outclassed by Deron Williams, but the way Williams is playing I do not think you can hold it against Chauncey.
- Melo may have only ended up with six second half points, but I liked the way he played in the first half. He was derailed by foul trouble in the second half and that was a big reason why Denver struggled to score.
Mindboggling Game Stats
Pace Factor: 88.8
Defensive Efficiency: 109.2 – Not bad, plus they held the Jazz to 42.7% shooting.
Offensive Efficiency: 102.4 – The 8:50 stretch spanning the end of the second quarter and he first half of the third quarter where the Nuggets only managed to score five points drove their efficiency into the ground.
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