The Denver Nuggets have answered. With their backs against the wall they chose to fight and Denver came out swinging tonight against the New Orleans Hornets. The Nuggets utilized a consistently solid defensive effort to a 101-88 victory in New Orleans. It is the Nuggets first road win against a team with a winning record since February 18 and the first time they have defeated one of the other top nine teams in the west since beating the Mavs on December 15.
With Peja Stojakovic and Tyson Chandler out George Karl chose to implement an aggressive trapping defense designed to keep Chris Paul out of the lane on the pick and roll. Things started out a little rough as the Hornets scored two layups in their first three possessions due to the attention the Nuggets were giving Paul. I was concerned that they would struggle attempting to execute a defense they had not utilized very infrequently and never for long stretches.
The Nuggets did a good job of adjusting on the fly and the Hornets easy looks slowly became few and far between. As we have pointed out in the past an aggressive scheme provides the impetus to play with energy while a lazier scheme, such as switching screens, saps the intensity from a team and leads to sloppy disinterested defense. By trapping and forcing him towards the midcourt Denver was able to disrupt the Hornets offense on the way to claiming a 28-21 lead at the end of the first quarter. line the Nuggets were able to force Chris Paul into committing six turnovers and thanks to the harassing defense applied by Dahntay Jones, Chauncey Billups and to a lesser extent Anthony Carter Paul struggled to get anything going on offense.
Paul did take advantage of ten trips to the free throw line, a couple of which were quite dubious, to record 19 points and he was credited with 13 assists, but he finished a game worst -19.
Offensively Carmelo had a couple of dominant stretches. He started the game off making six of his first eight shots and scored 13 points in the first nine minutes of the game. It was good to see Melo step up and hit some shots. He helped set the tone for Denver on offense and let them know that even without Nene they can put points on the board.
Strangely enough the Hornets clawed back in the game in the second quarter with Chris Paul on the bench. It was the second time in three games where Denver has allowed Antonio Daniels to make a run while Paul was sitting on the sidelines. Both teams went small to start the second quarter with Balkman playing power forward for Denver and James Posey played the four for New Orleans. It was the only stretch of the game where New Orleans made any shots. When Daniels made a three just over four minutes into the quarter the Nuggets’ lead had vanished and the game was tied at 33.
The third quarter played out the same as the first with Carmelo scoring eight straight points and twelve in the quarter as the Nuggets once again took control. Denver entered the fourth quarter up nine points, but with the sting of the loss in Phoenix still fresh in my mind and the memory of how the Hornets erased a first quarter lead quickly in the second I was far from confident.
Fortunately Denver did not suffer from the same problem. They came out of the break on fire hitting their first six shots and doubling their nine point advantage. At that point it became clear New Orleans simply did not have the firepower to keep up. Paul was at least somewhat contained, David West was playing terribly and no one else was stepping up to fill the void. When Chris Paul was walking the ball up the court with just over six minutes left in the game and Denver up 18 I knew the Hornets did not have any fight left in them.
While tonight’s victory was far from a perfect win, it was the best effort the Nuggets had put forth from start to finish in a long time. Fans always seem to call for their teams to play with desperation, but such a request is highly disingenuous. Think about the times you have been desperate, and I am not talking about in seventh grade when you wanted to touch the hot girl’s booby. I am talking about when you are out of money and payday is nor for another four days or when you are in a store and suddenly realize you are not 100% sure where your kid is. Now imagine your boss asks you to put some desperation into the project you are working on. Is the adrenaline rush and fear in your gut anywhere near the same level? True desperation cannot be conjured from thin air. Monday night Phoenix was desperate (and fortunately they were still desperate tonight as they beat the Jazz) and tonight the Nuggets were the desperate team.
Now we move from fight or flight to a prove it game. They showed us some fight, now they have to prove to us that it was not a fluke as they must once again play without Nene on the road against a team chasing them in the standings.
Additional Game 72 Nuggets
Mindboggling Game Stats
Pace Factor: 87.4
Defensive Efficiency: 100.7 – Solid.
Offensive Efficiency: 115.6 – Pretty efficient considering they were without their highest percentage shooter.