A game like that deserves a nearly 3,000 word recap, don’t you think?
This late in the season a lot can happen in one day, especially when teams are packed as tightly in the standings as they are in the Western Conference. In a matter of hours we found out Tyson Chandler will be out an additional one to two weeks, the New Orleans Hornets lost at New York, Duncan, Parker and Ginobili were all back on the court together for the first time since the All-Star break and the Denver Nuggets won a thrilling game in Dallas to move into a tie for third in the west and to sweep the Mavericks for the first time in franchise history.
But above all of that, we might have the old Carmelo Anthony. Melo has had some nice games, but overall this season his scoring and efficiency have been a disappointment. In the 12 games following his suspension for refusing to come out of the game against Indiana Melo is averaging 26.8 points a game on 46.5% shooting. What was really encouraging about his 43 point performance, including the game winning layup, was the variety of ways he scored and how he never forced anything.
A big part of Melo’s night was he had his jumper going, but he did not rely solely on his midrange shot to score. The best example of not settling for a jumper came in the first quarter when Melo lost control of the ball and had to retreat back to where he was ever with the top of Dallas’ three point line. When he picked up the ball there was five seconds left on the shot clock. Under those circumstances almost every player in the NBA would dribble up the floor and launch a three with a second or two left on the shot clock. Melo used that to his advantage as even he probably expected to shoot the three as he was dribbling up the floor and he hesitated at the three point line, took another dribble and hesitated again at the elbow. Those two hesitation moves left him with a wide open lane to the rim as everybody on the court, in the stands and at home on the couch expected him to pull up and shoot. Melo ended up at the rim for an uncontested layup as the shot clock hit zero.
Melo also did a great job posting up. In the first quarter alone I counted five possessions where Melo either posted up or backed his man down. The results of those five possessions were two layups, a short fad away, an assist and a missed jumper where he squared and shot from 15 feet. Dallas was trying to play him straight up, but in the second half they began to double him on the catch when possible.
Melo became much more perimeter oriented in the third quarter taking almost exclusively jumpers, but when Dallas switched to zone Melo was working the middle trying to get Barea or Jason Terry trapped against him in the high post. Dallas did a good job defending that, but it opened up the perimeter for open shots by J.R. and Anthony Carter.
George Karl took Carmelo out for a brief rest with 9:00 left in regulation and the Nuggets holding a 88-80 lead. One minute and 52 seconds later Denver had not scored a point and Dallas had cut the lead down to three. J.J. Barea hit another three to tie it on the next possession. With the score tied Carmelo drove to the basket and missed a runner, but corralled the rebound and put it back in with 6:22 left to give the Nuggets the lead back at 90-88. That would be the only basket the Nuggets scored for a seven minute stretch from 10:52 down to 3:52.
The Nuggets found themselves down 93-92 when J.R. Smith nabbed an Antoine Wright miss, passed out to Chauncey and the Nuggets pushed the ball up the floor. Chauncey directed J.R. to swing behind him and fill the right lane. Barea, one of the two guards at the top of the Mavs 2-3 zone, stuck with J.R. up the right sideline and Terry was occupied with Chauncey on the right side of the floor as he brought the ball up. With Barea out of position and Terry guarding Billups Melo was all alone in the middle of the floor. Chauncey passed over to him and he hit a three giving the Nuggets a two point lead. Those three points were the first of eight Melo would score down the stretch.
The teams traded baskets and free throws when in the final minute Melo drove and earned two free throws to put Denver up two. Then Barea hit another three to put Dallas up one with 23.1 seconds left setting Melo up for yet another game winning shot.
With the Nuggets inbounding the ball on the left side Chauncey threw the ball into J.R. and then he ran across a double screen to the right side and J.R. passed it back to him on the right wing. Kenyon set a screen for Melo to free him up to cut towards Chauncey and run a little screen and roll. Melo set the screen on Chauncey’s left and as Chauncey drove to the middle both Mavs stayed with Billups leaving Melo wide open rolling towards the baseline. Chauncey passed to Melo and the Mavs were left scrambling. Melo drive left towards James Singleton who was running at him which used Singleton’s momentum against him and he was unable to change directions and stay with Melo. That left Dirk standing like a statue just hoping that Melo missed and he was not called for a foul. On the play J.R. was also set up for a kick out at the top of the circle, Carter was also wide open on the left baseline and both Carter and Kenyon were ready to crash the boards if Melo happened to miss. It was a nice design by Karl.
The Mavs had two chances to tie it and one of them was a pretty good open look by Dirk, but he missed and that left Wright to throw up a desperation 17 foot fade away over Chris Andersen which clanged off the rim and bounced to Melo.
Melo made one of two, possibly missing the second on purpose to allow the clock to run out as the Mavs struggled to fire off a full court shot instead of being allowed to take the ball out and organize a final play (although they were out of timeouts).
The game was not all about offense though. After a shaky first half defending the high screen by Dirk Denver came up with a much better scheme and they really locked down on. The difficult thing about guarding Nowitzki on that high screen is if you trap the ball handler it leaves him wide open, but if you switch he has a guard on him and he simply backs him down and shoots over him.
The Nuggets did mostly switching on him in the first half, but in the second they were much more sound. They trapped the ball handler, but pre-rotated a big up to cover Dirk so he could not receive the pass back. From there the big who trapped the dribbler rotated to cover the player the other big left. They executed it nicely and really took Dirk out of the game. Dirk only scored two points over the final seventeen minutes of the contest.
The Nuggets did indeed finish the three game road trip 2-1 and they won both games without Nene. Now they have probably the easiest remaining schedule of all the teams they are jockeying for position with. They seem have solidified their grip on the Northwest and even if they lose all three games to over .500 teams on the schedule as long as they knock off the six weaker squads they will finish with a 53-29 record. That would force Portland to finish 8-2 and the Jazz 9-2 in order to catch Denver for the division lead. Portland has games remaining against Utah, at Houston, at San Antonio, against the Lakers and then Denver on the last day of the season. Utah must still face Phoenix, play at Portland, at Denver, at New Orleans, at Dallas, at San Antonio and at the Lakers. Four of those games are back to backs and Utah has been terrible in those situations this season.
Before we right Denver into the top spot in the Northwest Division in pen remember the last time Denver was in such a nice position they let their lead slip away with losses to teams like Indiana and Sacramento. However, as Andrew at Denver Stiffs pointed out a few days ago, the Nuggets tend to close seasons out very well. Regular seasons that is.
Additional Game 73 Nuggets
- After Melo hit his three in transition with 3:19 left neither team was able to score for almost two minutes until Barea made another three from the corner with 1:27 left in the game after J.R. left him to double Dirk. J.R. responded by nailing a deep three from the left side just seconds later. That is a shot that J.R. has been criticized for in the past by George Karl. It was a low percentage shot early in the offense, but J.R. was hot and it went in. I guess there is a fine line between disrespecting the game, which Karl accused J.R. of doing in the playoffs two seasons ago against the Spurs resulting in his benching, and being clutch. There was a big difference between the two shots as the attempt in the Spurs game was in the closing seconds and J.R. broke off a play to do it, but I cannot imagine Karl was thrilled when he saw J.R. start in shooting motion last night.
- Carmelo was only credited with one assist, but he made several good passes. On one occasion he hit Petro cutting through the lane. Petro missed the shot, but the pass and cut opened the lane up for Kenyon who followed Petro and slammed the miss home. On another occasion Melo was doubled on the right sideline and he skipped the ball across to J.R. on the left wing. Smith pump faked J.J. Barea who flew past took one dribble in and drained a 19 foot jumper. Once again no assist, but it was another pass that led directly to a hoop.
- The prettiest play of the night was in the middle of the third quarter. Barea ran the high screen with Dirk, Kenyon and Chauncey trapped Barea and pushed him almost out to half court. Petro ran out and covered Dirk removing that option. Barea decided to throw a thirty foot pass to Singleton along the right sideline. Melo picked it off going the other way and when he was confronted by Dirk he bounced the ball to the right and he ran around Dirk to the left. He then capped it off by swishing a jumper from the elbow. It was a great instinctive play and showed how much fun Melo was having.
- The Mavs have n offensive set where the pass the ball to Dampier on the wing and he is asked enter the ball into Dirk in the post. He did OK, but was called for traveling on one occasion. Is he really the guy you want doing that?
- Speaking of Dampier he did not have much of an impact on the game. He did grab four offensive boards, but on two occasions he dribble the ball out and I do not think he made a put back shot on any of them.
- Marlowe called Dahntay Jones “surprisingly effective” from three point range. He has made eight all season. He has been effective the same way Kenyon was early in the season. At this point though I think we all dread seeing Kenyon line up a long bomb.
- Linas Kleiza has played less than eight minutes a game over the past three contests. You can look for that to increase as Denver plays some lesser teams as I think Karl will try to give him minutes to break out of his slump again.
- The Mavs played a lot of zone and it really stymied the Nuggets, especially in the fourth. The Nuggets were stuck on the perimeter and everything was a jumper. I think they missed Nene’s post presence in that regard.
- Watching the way they cut and run through their offense it was plain to see Dallas runs their offense much quicker than Denver. Many of the Nuggets cuts are jogs and apart from Birdman, they rarely rush to set a screen.
- Anthony Carter has become pretty adept at throwing alley oop passed off of baseline inbounds plays. He threw another nice one to Birdman for an easy tip in.
- The last play of the first half was beautiful. The Nuggets had a chance to force a fast break, but Kenyon pulled it back out with 12 seconds left preventing them from potentially making a mistake and giving the Mavs the ball back. Chauncey wanted to get it to Melo in the post, but with Drik on him he drove and forced the help to come. That allowed Melo to come open on the baseline. He received the pass from Billups and laid it in at the buzzer.
- There was a possession with about four minutes left in the third quarter where Birdman blocked three shots (somehow he was only credited for one the entire game, but the third one did come after the shot clock had expired. They clearly fired the team up, but none of the three blocks when to Nuggets. Instead of at least trying to deflect the ball to a teammate, he was surrounded by blue jerseys, he sent them back as hard as he could giving the Mavs extra chances. The third one after the buzzer he blocked out of bounds so Dallas would have had another chance had the shot clock not expired.
- I honestly think player shoot better by earning shots. What I mean by that is a three is more likely to go in when you are not forcing it. Sometimes it is the difference between shooting it off a swing pass than off the dribble or without moving the ball first. Earlier I mentioned a play where Melo skipped the ball across the court to J.R. who passed up the three to step in and hit a splashed a 19 footer. Well, two possessions later J.R. received another pass on the same spot on the floor and as soon as he caught it I knew it was going in. He earned the three by not forcing it earlier. I am sure that is a bunch of crap, but I believe it.
- The big shot that started the Mavs comeback came at 8:47 of the fourth with the Nuggets up 88-80. Barea brought the ball up the court and no one even thought about guarding him. He was Carter’s man an dI have no idea where AC was. Barea calmly hits the three cutting the lead to five. Less than two minutes later the game was tied.
- The three second vilation on J.R. with 2:07 left in the game was just horrible. He jumped into the lane and landed right before the shot clock changed to four the whistle blew right after the clock switched to two. Plus a shot was going up. It was the fastest three second call I have ever seen.
- I will say something about the refs. Scott Hastings was going nuts at the fact the Mavs shot so many more free throws than Denver, but they earned most of them. There is no rule that both teams need to shoot roughly the same number of free throws. If one team is more aggressive than the other, it is not the referees’ problem.
- I loved the game Chauncey played. He tried to hit a couple of Mr. Big Shot threes in the middle of the fourth, but realized his shot was not falling while Melo and J.R. were scorching the nets. Chauncey did not attempt a shot over the final 4:43. He just played defense and passed the ball.
Mindboggling Game Stats
Pace Factor: 84.5 – Very slow thanks to the Mavs’ 20 offensive boards and relatively slow developing half court sets.
Defensive Efficiency: 119.5 – The Mavs only shot 35.6%, but the snagged the aforementioned 20 offensive boards and only turned the ball over four times. The four turnovers were a season low surpassing the eight that the Nuggets forced in Sacramento during game 64.
Offensive Efficiency: 121.9 – Thank you 56.0% shooting!
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