The Nuggets were able to pull out a big win in a game that never quite lived up to its billing due to a combination of poor shooting by the Jazz and a herky jerky flow. The Jazz were playing hard, but they simply could not get anything going. Their offense, with their talent and sound system, should be difficult to defend at home, on the road or in outer space, but it was as effective as a sponge dam.
The Nuggets claimed that they would implement a plethora of defensive schemes to defend Deron Williams and the pick and roll and they lived up to their word. They did everything from trapping to rotating a wall of defenders to switching and everything else in between. For a team that has struggled to be on the same page together even under the best of circumstances Denver did a great job of working together and communicating to each other how they would defend each pick and roll sequence.
The key to Denver’s defense was their ability to keep Williams out of the lane, at least as much as can be expected. That forced the Jazz to play a much more perimeter oriented game and they held the Jazz to only 38 points in the paint, one of their lowest totals of the season. The Nuggets really did play solid team defense and even though they seemed to give up a few too many open perimeter shots, we need to remember that was the side effect of the overall plan.
I thought early on the Jazz were hurt by their inability to build up more than an 11 point lead in the first quarter. Apart from a nice pick and roll between Melo and Kenyon and a drive by Kenyon to start the game the Nuggets were just abysmal on offense. The Jazz were not much better though as they failed to capitalize on some easy shots around the rim that could have given them a 16 or 18 point lead. The eleven point bulge they did established ended up being well within J.R. Smith’s striking range.
Smith took his first shot with 1:24 left in the first quarter and Denver down 22-11. Within the next 2:31 J.R. had dumped in 11 points, plus an assist, and the game was tied at 26. What J.R. did for the Nuggets cannot be understated. Without J.R.’s explosion who knows how long it takes for the Nuggets to get their act together on offense. It was their 43 points over the final 13:24 of the first half that won the game and J.R. scored 21 of those points and assisted on another eight.
The other key to the Nuggets offensive surge was Carmelo. Melo entered the game playing as well on offense as he had in a long time, but he missed his first five shots. From that point on he began attacking the rim and ended making nine of his final 20 attempts. Even when he failed to finish a couple of drives in the third quarter he kept driving and it paid off. Melo even had success driving past the Jazz’s attempts to double him. Almost every time Melo caught the ball in the post Utah doubled him immediately. On a couple of occasions Melo actually drove past the defender who was coming to double him. He also continued his solid passing with his third straight game with at least four assists.
The Jazz offense came alive in the second half, but it was not because the Nuggets let Williams run wild. The supporting cast came to life led by C.J. Miles and his 12 points. That is the risk you take when you focus so strongly on one player, but if a player like C.J. Miles beats you, such is life.
Down the stretch Williams tried to take the game over scoring 11 points in the final six minutes of the game, but it was too little too late. I have no idea why Williams was not more aggressive before that. Part of his passiveness was due to the Nuggets throwing a lot of bodies at him, but great players do not let themselves get taken out of the game like that. Utah looked like a juggernaut in February as Williams was throwing up 30 point game after 30 point game. Last night he only took 12 shots while Carlos Boozer took 23.
Nevertheless, it was a good win for Denver. As inconsistent as they have been on defense over the past nine days the Nuggets have contained the two best point guards in the league (Paul in New Orleans and Williams last night) and shown a pretty good ability to guard the pick and roll.
Is it possible that the only obstacles standing in the Denver Nuggets’ way of finishing the regular season with the second seed in the Western Conference are the Clippers, Timberwolves, Thunder and Kings? Should Denver do that they will force the Spurs or Rockets to finish the season with only one more loss in order to catch them.
Additional Game 76 Nuggets
“Tonight, (being in the zone) was different than any other time, because normally it’s catch-and-shoot, but tonight it was off-the-dribble 3s,” Smith said. “It was unbelievable. I was shocked with myself with some of the shots.”
Mindboggling Game Stats
Pace Factor: 102.6 – The pace actually became faster in the second half which is rare.
Defensive Efficiency: 101.3 – Denver posted a 101.2 against the Knicks, but this defensive performance was much more stout. The Jazz have a team field goal percentage for ht season of 47.5%. The Nuggets held them to 36.6%.
Offensive Efficiency: 111.1 – Right in line with their season average.