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
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!