First of all, congratulations to the Los Angeles Lakers. They are truly the best team in the Western Conference and I think have a great chance at becoming the 2009 NBA champions.
While we are all disappointed in the outcome of the Western Conference Finals the Denver Nuggets have given us a very memorable year of basketball. There will be plenty of time to discuss what went wrong in game six and what needs to be different next season for this team to be a champion. For tonight let’s just appreciate the accomplishments of this team.
Thank you to the players, coaches, front office and ownership for all the hard work over the past few months and few years that has gone in to making the Denver Nuggets the second best team in the Western Conference.
I have no idea what the future holds, but it certainly seems that this team can have an incredible future. As Carmelo Anthony said in the postgame press conference this is a beginning not an ending. I cannot wait to see what the 2009-10 season has in store for this franchise.
I would also like to thank those of you who take the time to read and comment on this blog. Without you this is just a quadi psychotic diary. The fact that you choose to spend your time reading what I have to say means a lot to me and I will always do my best to make this a website worth visiting.
Game 6 Live Blog at Forum Blue and Gold
This is it. I have had a lot of people ask me if I think the Denver Nuggets can win a game seven from the Staples Center. While I do not love their chances of winning that game, they first have to earn the right to play a game seven by beating the Los Angeles Lakers in game six at the Pepsi Center.
As George Karl said today there are not many adjustments to make and any alteration is bound to be a slight one. At this point both teams know each other inside and out. It comes down to execution.
Denver will be looking for bounce back games from players like Chauncey Billups, J.R. Smith and Nene while the Lakers will be hoping they can get another exceptional effort from Lamar Odom.
A few minor changes that I would like to see is better execution of the trap the Nuggets like to spring on the sideline off the screen and roll. The two trapping players need to smother the ball handler. In game five they allowed themselves to be spread out and provided too much room to locate an open teammate. Also, the positioning needs to be better from the other three players to cut off any pass that can lead to an immediate scoring opportunity.
I would like to see Melo post up more often. If the Lakers double him, it will open the lanes for players to cut to the rim. If he is not doubled, he is a quick dribble from getting to the rim. No matter what the Nuggets will need better movement off the ball than they established in game five.
Do not force the three ball. Players like Chauncey, J.R. and Kleiza all need to shoot a couple of threes, but if it is not falling, try something else. I can live with a 1-4 or 1-5. I cannot live with another 1-10.
Play with controlled desperation. I do not think Denver will suffer from a lack of effort tonight, but they cannot afford to lose their focus as they have been wont to do from time to time this series.
As you would expect I think the Nuggets will win tonight. There is certainly a chance that the Lakers will relax ever so slightly knowing they have an ace in their pocket that is home court for game seven.
Take this with you: The Nuggets have lost seven straight close out games tying the all time record held by the Hawks (1968-78) and Hornets (1993-2002). That sounds bad, but let me spin it for you. It is not easy to set any all time record so I suspect Denver will end that string tonight.
Also, Carmelo turns 25 today. If he is as aggressive tonight as he was in the fourth quarter of game five I think it will be a memorable occasion. I wonder if Rocky will manage to throw another cake at a Lakers fan to commemorate the moment.
It is game day for the first do or die contest of the 2009 playoffs for the Denver Nuggets so why not throw out some links to get everyone in the mood?
There has been a lot of talk about officiating following game five. Bill Simmons lambasted the NBA in this article for making a potentially great product merely good. John Hollinger added his two cents. Lakers Blog also has a good post on the topic complete with a link to this article by Charlie Rosen on FoxSports.com.
A video from Bryan Roy discussing game six with OC Register columnist Jeff Miller. Both like the Nuggets’ chances.
Andrew at Denver Stiffs has some news from Chris Tomasson that Karl envisions J.R. Smith as the starter at shooting guard next season. Is it true or just a negotiating tactic to drive the price of Dahntay Jones’ next contract down?
At least one man thinks Anthony Carter was the thirtieth best player in Miami Heat History ahead of such talents as Billy Owens, Gary Payton, Harold “Baby Jordan” Miner and Alan Ogg (hat tip to TrueHoop for the link). No word on if that is because his agent’s inability to trigger his player option on the final year of his contract ultimately led to an NBA championship (the mishap gave them enough money to sign Lamar Odom who was part of the package traded for Shaq).
Apparently actor/singer Tyrese Gibson altered the words of the National Anthem prior to game five in Los Angeles. Probably the first time the fans in Staples Center have ever booed at the mention of the Lakers (hat tip to Lakers Blog for the link). How dare this guy try to give me a reason not to see Transformers 2!
Nuggets Nugetz is all about the playoff ‘stache.
Look for another live blog tonight featuring Kurt from Forum Blue and Gold and of course one of the top ten Nuggets bloggers in all of creation.
I am not sure if you can stomach this or not, but I put together some clips of the Denver Nuggets’ fourth quarter “offense” from game five. In my game recap I wrote about how their offense became very one-on-one oriented. There was practically no ball movement or attempt to force the defense to react to anything other than a quick pick and roll or a drive.
As you watch these clips take note of two things, how few passes were made and how aggressive Carmelo Anthony was.
As ugly as that was I really liked the way Melo went at the basket and tried to carry the team to victory, but he needs to be more patient and more willing to set up his teammates. Let the ball move from one side of the floor to the other to uproot the defense. As I mention in the video most of the time when Carmelo drove, no one was cutting and providing him with an option to pass, but there is one example of a drive where Melo takes a difficult shot even though Nene is available at the rim, but Carmelo takes the shot anyway.
I think this game represents another step in Carmelo’s playoff development. He wants to be a great player and has learned enough to drive and play tenacious, but he has not yet learned that even great players have to rely on their teammates.
LeBron James had that amazing finish against the Detroit Pistons in 2007 where he scored the final 25 points for the Cavs and we thought that was just the beginning of the amazing things he would do at the end of big games. I think there is a reason he has not done something like that since. He still has the ball in his hands during crunch time, but if a teammate is in a better position to score than he is, he makes the pass.
Of course I am disappointed in the results of game five, but I have a hard time being upset at Melo for how he played. He did what we have been asking him to do for years and that is to ignore the jumper and drive. It was another small step in his transformation from a playoff bust to a MVP caliber force who is capable of getting his team to the NBA Finals. At the age of 24 I think he is finally on that track.
The Denver Nuggets suffered a heart breaking 103-94 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers in game five of the Western Conference Finals, the question we will not know for a another couple of days is if it was a back breaking loss as well.
The sad thing is it was Denver’s game to lose. After going up 71-64 and 7:23 remaining in the third quarter Denver crumbled like a week old muffin.
The Nuggets would only score 23 more points over the final 19:23. Conversely during that span the Lakers poured in 39 points flipping a seven point deficit into a nine point victory. Denver was able to maintain their seven point lead for a couple more minutes, but turned the ball over on four straight possessions over 1:20 allowing the Lakers to tie the game at 73. Denver would never recover.
Los Angeles, lead by the team play of Kobe Bryant and the determination of Lamar Odom, played with a great deal of intensity on defense and unselfishness on offense. The Nuggets on the other hand struggled with their communication on defense, a big point of emphasis in training camp, and turned more and more individualistic on offense.
The one Nuggets player who tried to will Denver to a victory was Carmelo Anthony. He did his best to carry the team on his shoulders as he ferociously attacked the rim over and over in the fourth quarter, but only had a gaggle of missed shots, a few free throws and some bumps and bruises to show for it.
The biggest problem with Melo’s attacking style was the Nuggets did nothing to set it up. Instead of getting Melo the ball off of a reversal and forcing the defense to try to stop him after getting out of formation from ball movement Denver just fed Melo the ball and forced him to go into the teeth of the defense.
The Lakers deserve credit for doing a great job of packing the paint and the referees were allowing contact in the lane, but Denver made it possible with their unimaginative offense.
At the other end of the floor the Lakers were doing all the things Denver was not and as a result they earned much easier looks.
The Nuggets displayed some defensive incompetence as well from time to time. It was not uncommon to see a Laker player standing alone awaiting a pass for an easy shot. The final example of that incompetence came with just over a minute remaining and Denver down 96-91. Chauncey doubled Pau in the post which required J.R. to rotate to Fisher and Kleiza onto Kobe. Kobe drove a step past Kleiza and Carmelo came over to help. At that point Kleiza retreated over to Ariza, but Melo expecting LK to stay with Kobe backed off as well. This left Kobe wide open for a dagger three, but instead of taking the shot he fired a diagonal pass across the court to Odom. Chauncey had switched onto Odom in all the rotating that took place, but was caught staring at Kobe as he rose for his shot. By the end of the sequence neither Chauncey nor Melo were guarding anyone, but Kleiza was partly to blame as well. The Lakers did not do anything complicated it was just another example of poor or no communication on defense.
However, my biggest question for game one is where was Chauncey? Billups had nine points in the first nine minutes. It appeared we were in for one of his big games, but he completely disappeared in the second half and finished with a mere 12 points.
Chauncey’s second half numbers read like this: 1-3 shooting, all three point attempts, one rebound, three assists, two steals, two turnovers and two fouls. Three points and three assists with two turnovers in what may prove to be the biggest half of the Nuggets’ NBA franchise history. Shannon Brown deserves credit for the defense he played on Chauncey, but a player like Billups cannot disappear in this setting with so much on the line.
Chauncey did deal with a little bit of foul trouble as he was called for his second foul with 2:23 left in the first quarter and had to come out of the game. Chauncey typically plays the entire first quarter so that change in routine may have affected him. Plus that second foul was on a play where he was aggressively attacking the basket on a 2-1 fast break. Chauncey brought his right knee up to jump as is typical, but when he made contact with Trevor Ariza and his knee got caught up on Ariza’s chest. The contact made it look like Chauncey lead with his knee when all he was doing was jumping in a very natural motion. I understand why the call was made, but it was unfortunate nonetheless.
If there is good news out of the game five loss it is that Denver still has two opportunities to prove they are the better team and deserve to be in the finals. As long as the Nuggets win at home in game six they can earn a game seven where even though the home team typically wins, anything is possible.
Additional WCF Game 5 Nuggets
Next Gasol misses the free throw, but instead of stepping back into Lamar Odom to get as much space for the rebound as possible, Chris Andersen just steps forward into the lane. The ball comes off to Birdman’s side, but Odom is able to grab the carom because of those extra few inches Andersen surrendered by stepping into the lane on the shot. Birdman does manage to block Odom’s first attempt, but Odom stays with it and converts his next attempt. The Lakers have cut the Nuggets five point lead down to one in just 13 seconds.
The Nuggets now have the ball with 46.9 seconds left. They can either hold the ball and ensure Los Angeles only gets one more shot or they can try to go two for one which would require a shot between 35 and 30 seconds remaining in the quarter. Carmelo opts for neither one of those options and shoots with 38 seconds left. He is fouled and makes both free throws.
Now Los Angeles can pull off the two for one as long as they get a shot off within six or seven seconds. Kobe had been absolutely killing Denver in the two for one department with his ability to shoot the pull up three. J.R. Smith does a great job of hounding Kobe on the inbounds forcing the pass in to Walton. When Kobe does get the ball AC comes up and coerces Bryant into passing up the floor to Fisher. Fisher drives in and takes a jumper with 31 seconds left, perfect timing for a two for one opportunity, but the shot rims out. Kenyon cannot control the ball cleanly and he falls down in the lane. His solution is to call a timeout. It was the first of two timeouts that Denver called to avoid a jump ball situation and they could have used both of those timeouts in the fourth quarter.
I am sure you all remember what happened next. The Nuggets are set to inbound the ball from the side just a few feet from the baseline. This time J.R. Smith is throwing the ball in with Vujacic covering him. Instead of blanketing J.R. Sasha spins just as Smith receives the ball from the referee and jumps Chauncey who is making his cut to receive the pass. With Billups blanketed Kleiza has to run in from half court to give Smith another option to pass to. Kleiza is being pressured by Odom who is running with him a half a step behind. J.R. puts the pass in the only place Kleiza can get to it without Odom tipping it or stealing it. Kleiza, running full speed ahead, cannot control the ball with his left hand and it bounces out of bounds. Denver had an entire timeout to figure out how to get the ball inbounds and all they did was say J.R. you pass to Chauncey. I have no idea how you cannot have a second option readily available. You cannot blame Kleiza or J.R. Linas did a good job of recognizing that Smith needed someone to bail him out and J.R. made the best pass possible into a small window. If a player did anything wrong it was Kleiza trying to one hand the catch when he probably could have reached out with both hands, but it was clear absolutely no attention was given to the task of inbounding the ball during the timeout.
Los Angeles now has the ability to run the clock down as there is barely more than a second difference between the game clock and shot clock. Kobe dribbles the clock down before driving down the left side of the lane. He picks the left side knowing that the right side is congested with Odom, Gasol and Fisher. A drive to his left will allow him to either get to the rim or suck in the defense and pass to Vujacic in the left corner for an open three. As Kobe drives the defense does collapse. It collapses completely. All five Nuggets are within probably a four foot radius. J.R. Smith, who was guarding Vujacic in the left corner ended up on the right side of the lane. As the self proclaimed Machine goes into his shooting motion there is not a single Nugget player within 18 feet of him. J.R. must realize that both bigs will be there to help on the penetration and he cannot just abandon a shooter, no matter how cold he has been, in the corner.
It was that one last breakdown that allowed the Lakers to tie the game at 56 after scoring seven points in the final minute of the half. The game management and clock management from the players on the floor and the coaches on the bench was nonexistent and the attention to detail was completely lacking. At worst in that situation Denver should have gone into halftime with a four point lead.
Mindboggling Game Stats
Pace Factor: 93.3 – Just about average for the series.
Defensive Efficiency: 110.3 – Again not terrible, but a lot of little breakdowns kept Denver from winning this game with their defense.
Offensive Efficiency: 100.7 – Worst rating of the playoffs for Denver besting, or worsting, the previous low of 106.4 from game three in New Orleans.
With so much on the line tonight we are going all out to document the action. Kurt Helin from Forum Blue and Gold and yours truly will be running a tag team live blog right here on Roundball Mining Company for game five of the Western Conference Finals.
Will Carmelo bounce back from two disappointing performances in Denver? Can Denver continue to overcome the Lakers’ size in the lane or will the Lakers repeat their dominance from game one? Is J.R. Smith about to catch fire and go on one of his incredible hot streaks? Can Kobe keep carrying the Lakers game after game? Will L.A. get Pau the ball? Will Andrew Bynum start playing like he is the biggest dude on the court like he did in the fourth quarter of game four? What will Dahntay Jones do for his next flagrant foul? Will we see a game with over 100 free throws attempted? Will any member of the Lakers’ supporting cast have a big game? Which team will put a strangle hold on this series?
Check back at 6:55 PM Mountain Time (8:55 PM Eastern/5:55 PM Pacific) for answers to those questions and much more.
By the way, I was on the NBA Today podcast with Jason Smith today. We talk about getting in Kobe’s head and whether or not the Nuggets can win a game seven in Los Angeles.
The day is coming to an end and I am once again tardy in posting my additional nuggets so I am just going to toss out what I have.
Tripping is not on the list of wildly dangerous plays, but if it is treated as just another foul, or no call, you could see that play becoming a more frequent tactic and it would be only a matter of time before someone hurt an ankle, foot or broke their wrist on the landing.
That flagrant foul point raises Jones’ total to three so he will be suspended for one game after his next flagrant foul.
Mindboggling Game Stats
Pace Factor: 93.8
Defensive Efficiency: 107.7 – Best rating since game one against Dallas.
Offensive Efficiency: 127.9 – Very good, but not even one of their top three performances of the playoffs.
I was going to leave you with embedded video footage of McMahon vs Kroenke I from last night’s Monday Night Raw, but it was just too lame. Sorry Vince, but you are slipping.
Carmelo Anthony has had a fantastic postseason, but I may have been a little premature to declare him to be up to the challenge of hanging toe to toe with Kobe Bryant over a seven game series. While Melo has struggled in both home games, game three with foul trouble and game four with stomach and ankle issues, the Nuggets still managed to win one game, ensuring at least one more postseason tilt will take place at the Pepsi Center.
With Carmelo not playing up to par there was no shortage of Nuggets standing in line to make up for his limited production. Offensively Chauncey fought off another slow start to have a big second half, J.R. Smith finally had a big scoring night and Linas Kleiza had another impressive night off the bench.
Despite the impressive play of those three the real story was the Nuggets’ domination of the paint. I covered this angle for the Daily Dime (relegated to number nine today) so I will not go into it too much here, but suffice it to say the Nuggets bigs have gone from getting absolutely smoked on the glass in game one, to dueling the Lakers’ bigs to a draw in games two and three to completely owning the boards on both ends of the floor in game four. The fact that the Lakers have only outclassed the Nuggets on the boards in one game so far is a big deal.
It cannot be overstated how well Nene, Kenyon Martin and Chris Andersen were. They outrebounded the Lakers 42-40 all by themselves. For only the second time all season the Nuggets collected 20 offensive rebounds, they had a season high 25 in game 68 against the Nets.
Even with the dominant play in the paint the first three quarters felt very similar to game three. The Nuggets were not taking full advantage of their ability to get in the lane and either score, dish off for an easy shot or get to the line. Denver continued to take, and miss, far too many threes. After three quarters they had taken 15 three point attempts ignoring the fact they had only cashed in on two of them. Combined with their 5-27 effort in game three Denver had only made seven of 42 long bombs in seven quarters of basketball on their home court.
I wish I knew what drives a team who is collectively shooting that badly to keep chucking an average of six three point attempts a quarter. Of course, you cannot turn your back completely on the three point shot, but when even Kenyon and Birdman are tossing up threes you are going too far (Kenyon’s was a buzzer beater, but he should not have been set up that far out). I am just asking for a couple fewer attempts per quarter. Is that so wrong?
Thanks to the Nuggets poor marksmanship Los Angeles was able to cut the Nuggets’ lead down to seven at 77-70 early in the fourth and things were feeling a little too close and the game three déjà vu sensation was only growing stronger. Then Chauncey and J.R. took over. The guards scored 23 fourth quarter points and were the driving forces behind the Nuggets 45 point fourth quarter that turned a tight game into a laugher.
Perhaps the most encouraging aspect of the offensive surge was that the Nuggets actually made five of their nine three point attempts. That increase in accuracy could be one of two things, a minor statistical adjustment for their dreadful seven quarter long slump or maybe J.R. and Chauncey are heating up once again.
Even Carmelo got into the act as he scored eight of his 15 points in the fourth quarter thanks partly to having Luke Walton guarding him, but primarily because the Nuggets finally allowed him to receive the ball in the middle of the floor and operate. It is so obvious that the Lakers cannot handle penetration through the middle of the court, yet still the Nuggets insist on running sets that require the defense be attacked from the wing. That is what the Lakers want you to do.
I was afraid to write it before the game, but I thought this game was the most likely candidate for a blowout in the series. With Denver coming off a bad loss at home they would be out for blood and in round two the Lakers followed up a big game three win in Houston with a real stinker of a game in game four that saw them fall behind by more than 30. Denver ended up winning by 19, but L.A. deserves a lot of credit for playing hard. They did not quite manage to match Denver’s desire, but they certainly did not mail the game in by any stretch of the imagination.
I think that fact is the ultimate compliment to Denver. Los Angeles clearly did not take the Rockets seriously enough to play all out every game. They clearly understand what can happen against Denver if they do not show up to play.
For the first time in franchise history Denver has made it to game five of a conference final with more than a fighting chance to advance. You can quote percentages about who wins game one and who wins game three all you want, game five is the big one. The Lakers will be coming out to reestablish size advantage and they will be the ones coming off a loss, but I think everyone who has been watching this series knows Denver is very capable of going into Los Angeles and claiming a series altering victory.
Additional nuggets to come tomorrow later today.
Sorry for the shot recap of game three and brief game four “preview” game thread post, but with graduation this weekend and now Memorial Day, I have had a busy weekend. Anyway, Denver is facing a must win game tonight and I believe you will see a great effort by the Nuggets. I expect a win.
Take this with you: Denver does not need to improve their play much to win and I think we will see a return of the playoff caliber Nuggets squad as opposed to the regular season quality of play we were subjected to in game three.
BeefySwats has weighed in on what changes he would like to see from the Nuggets for game four.
How frustrating was the Denver Nuggets’ performance against the Los Angeles Lakers in game three of the Western Conference Finals? I think the couple next to me may have broken up during the game. Their initial excitement wasted away into some bickering, then some silence, then he got off the, “Who are you texting?” That was pretty much it. I think she spent most of the second half hitting on some guy at the Blue Sky Grill.
As bad as things were for that couple, things were worse for the Nuggets.
When I plopped down in my seat the energy and atmosphere was incredible. Knowing how close the games in Los Angeles were it seemed like the Lakers had no shot at winning in the Pepsi Center. Sadly, as the game wore on the Nuggets hit every branch as they fell from the top of the how to lose at home tree.
Horrible shot selection combined with terrible shooting? Allowing the opponent to stay close all night long? Giving up open shots and layups? Bad technicals? Denver did about everything possible to keep L.A. in the game.
Add in foul trouble and some more late game incompetence and just like in game one the Nuggets gave away what should have been a certain win.
What frustrated me all night long was the ridiculous number of three point attempts. Carmelo took six in the first half. Chauncey took seven and J.R. took ten. Not all of them were bad shots, but when it is clear you are not hitting them, try something else.
Chauncey took seven threes, only making two, and I think it would have been nice if he would have passed on a couple of them. One he took in the fourth quarter was especially bad when he had a one on four and forced a contested three. Chauncey has earned the right to take some of those, but it does not mean he has to.
The player that really frustrated me with his shot selection was Carmelo. Melo shot four threes in the first quarter, although one was a buzzer beater and took two others in the second quarter. Melo jacked up six three point attempts in the first 17:22 he was on the court. When Carmelo was being aggressive, he was getting to the line. Melo also made it to the line ten times during the 17 plus minutes he attempted six threes. Maybe if Carmelo had kept being aggressive some of the Lakers’ players would have had to deal with foul trouble.
Overall, the Nuggets were never able to build up a lead bigger than eight because they were constantly shooting themselves in the foot. Denver should have been up by ten at the half and 15 at the end of the third. It was another wasted night and I was certainly off when I projected that Denver would play better at home than they did in Los Angeles. Not only did Denver not play better, they submitted their worst game of the postseason.
Additional WCF Game 3 Nuggets:
Mindboggling Game Stats:
Pace Factor: 90.2 – Slow for a game in Denver and with only a few offensive rebounds to extend possessions.
Defensive Efficiency: 114.2 – allowing your opponent to get to the line 45 times will hurt your defensive efficiency.