Bring on the Mavericks.
It may not have been as impressive as a 58 point beat down, but the Denver Nuggets still cruised to their third relatively easy win at home with a 107-86 series clinching victory.
There are plenty of excuses for the New Orleans Hornets, mostly surrounding the health of Chris Paul and Tyson Chandler, who was held out of game five with a bad ankle. Excuses aside Denver was clearly the best team and a healthy Hornets’ squad would still have had to deal with the defense the Nuggets brought for most of five games.
We have seen Denver play pressure defense from time to time during the regular season, but never for entire games and never for multiple games in a row. This team has come alive in the playoffs and they are playing defense that I feel confident saying has never been seen in Denver. Maybe someone from the ABA days can correct me, but the exceptional teams of the mid 1980’s never locked down like this team has.
That being said, the Nuggets defense was solid, but not spectacular in the first half and a good chunk of the third quarter. They were switching a lot of screens and I lost count of how many times Nene was stuck guarding Chris Paul one on one. Still Denver was playing hard and did not let the game get out of hand. As we have seen so often this season they ratcheted up the defensive pressure down the stretch in the third quarter.
Denver struggled to gain any momentum throughout the game as neither team was able to take control. The game was tied at 62 when Melo, stuck guarding Hilton Armstrong in the post, tricked Rasual Butler into attempting a lob pass. Carmelo quickly spun and tipped the pass away triggering a fast break that Dahntay Jones finished at the other end with a nice layup at the 5:15 mark. Both teams failed to score for the next few possessions until Chauncey hit one of his patented dribble up threes with 3:34 left.
The next trip down Shawn Marks set a high screen for Chris Paul and Jones stayed with Marks on the switch. However, he noticed Paul blew by Nene and darted towards the rim hoping to stop a wide open layup. Dahntay recovered in time to not only challenge the shot, but he actually blocked the attempt that morphed from an open shot to a hopeless flailing effort by Paul and it all happened in a fraction of a second.
During the dead ball Jones was replaced by J.R. Smith. Smith was able to challenge Posey on a post up and Denver took the ball back up the floor. Smith hung back in the middle of the floor as Chauncey dribbled up the right side of the court. Melo busted his butt up the left side of the floor and earned position on the right block against Peja. Seeing this Posey sagged down to double Melo in order to prevent him from getting the ball. As a result no one noticed J.R. setting up about 28 feet from the hoop. Chauncey made a crisp pass to J.R. who splashed the three putting Denver up eight.
New Orleans called a timeout to try to calm things down. One of the small stories of the series was how timeouts rarely had much of an effect in stopping the Nuggets. Late in games one and two, early in game three and throughout game four Byron Scott called timeouts in an attempt to slow the Nuggets’ momentum and those timeouts were generally ineffective in doing so. Denver came out of the timeout fired up and after Chris Andersen and Chauncey trapped Chris Paul and forced him well beyond the three point line he passed across the floor to Posey who lost control and turned the ball over.
Chauncey brought the ball up the floor and covered by Paul probed here and there to see if he could get in the lane. Paul did not leave any easy openings so Billups turned to back him down. All along J.R. was once again spotted up in the middle of the floor about eight feet or so beyond the three point line. As Chauncey turned his back to Paul Kenyon darted to the top of the circle to seal off Butler. The funny thing was as he was running to set the screen he was pointing with his thumb over his shoulder to J.R. informing Billups that he was about to ensure J.R. could get another three. Chauncey made a crisp pass and J.R. nailed it putting the Nuggets up 11.
New Orleans would never be that close again as Denver scored on their last six possessions of the third quarter (starting with Chauncey’s walk up three) and they also converted on their first four possessions of the fourth quarter.
So there you have it Nuggets fans. Denver dominated this series and won easier than even the most optimistic fan thought possible. The Nuggets averaged 24.2 more points per game that the Hornets and I believe have proven themselves a team to be taken seriously for as long as they remain active in the playoffs.
Look for additional nuggets tomorrow, but if you still thirst for more of my thoughts on game five, including a bit on Melo’s maturation, you will enjoy box seven of the Daily Dime (although I recommend checking out the other nine boxes too).
Mindboggling Game Stats
Pace Factor: Game Five – 88.9 | Series – 88.5
Defensive Efficiency: Game Five – 96.7 | Series – 95.1
Offensive Efficiency: Game Five – 120.3 | Series – 122.4
Before I sign off for the night I would also like to thank Niall Doherty and Ryan Schwan from Hornets 24/7 for the insight they provided throughout the series. They run a great blog and they proved to be a class act on top of everything else as Niall sent me a very gracious email following the game.
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