After game two I was giddy with the possibility that Carmelo might have turned a corner. He accumulated nine assists and I was hoping it was a sign that Carmelo was going to stop forcing his way through double teams and start finding the cracks in the defense.
Game three came and went and I did not mention anything about whether or not I thought Melo had proven the nine assist game a fluke or if he had truly learned from five seasons of post season failure.
After watching game two I have to say that findings are inconclusive.
Carmelo started the game forcing three straight jumpers, none of which were close, and it looked like the old Carmelo had returned. However, he quickly realized his shot was not falling and began attacking the basket. The Hornets appeared to eschew the immediate hard trap for more of a soft double pre-rotating so that the help defenders were already in place.
Having the help defender lay off closed off some of the passing lanes Melo took advantage of, but the result was Melo was able to get into the lane almost at will. He did struggle to finish from time to time as the Hornets did a good job of meeting him at the rim and going straight up to avoid fouling.
After his initial barrage of jumpers over the first four and a half minutes Mel only took six more the remainder of the game. It was the first time all series the Hornets allowed him to penetrate. It will be interesting to see tonight how the Hornets play him if they stick with the soft double or trap right away although I would expect them to mix it up as the game progresses.
Melo did finish the game with five assists even though he was able to be more aggressive with the drive. However the Nuggets needed a sixth assist from him in order to pull out a win as his pass in the final seconds to Kenyon Martin was tipped away.
So did the light go off in Melo’s head before or during game two? I would have to say I remain encouraged that after the first few minutes he did not force outside shots, nor did he force passes when they were not there. He took what the defense gave him and that is what good offensive players do. The key tonight will be for Melo to recognize how the Hornets are defending him from possession to possession and adjust accordingly.
Of course, it would also be nice when he does drive to complete the play and hit the shot.
I have to admit I am a little worried about the return of the elbow contusion. It really bothered him earlier in the season and he reached the point where he basically could not score. If it gets that bad, Denver will be in some serious trouble.
As far as the rest of the Nuggets, game four will be another test of their collective will. The scary Chris Paul arrived in game three and I suspect he will be on the court for game four as well.
Watching game three it was pretty clear the Hornets exceeded the Nuggets’ intensity for the first time. Now that the Hornets have a sense of hope their intensity will burn even hotter, which in turn will make the Nuggets job even more difficult.
As Andrew at Denver Stiffs pointed out it seems that in most playoff series that end after five games the losing team tends to win game three at home. I agree that certainly seems to be the case. Of course, we do not know if this will be a five, six or seven game series. After tonight we will have a much better idea. Should the Nuggets win, I think they win game five to close out the series. If they lose tonight, this thing is going seven games.
Take this with you: I do not think we can count on Nene to provide any offense whatsoever right now. He certainly looks slow and when he makes a move he has been using all season to score and the defense is able to stay with him, it baffles him. As a result his confidence has disappeared. Nene’s four shots were the third lowest total of the season. It looks like the Nuggets are going to have to win this series without him.
If the Nuggets are going to give themselves a good chance to advance as far as they can they need to win the next two games and hopefully earn Melo and Nene some time to rest.