Once again I simply do not know where to start. There were so many great storylines for the Denver Nuggets during their game one 109-95 win over the Dallas Mavericks I do not think I can do them all justice.
Carmelo was in foul trouble for much of the game, but came alive in the fourth quarter. George Karl went small in Melo’s absence and it worked marvelously. Nene was simply a beast in the paint. The play of Chris “Birdman” Andersen and Anthony Carter off the bench was nothing short of amazing and of course the team defense played by the Nuggets was exceptional by the end of the game.
I have to start off with the defense.
As was pointed out before the series started defending the Mavericks will be much more difficult than shutting down the Hornets. Early on the Nuggets’ plan to switch the high screen set by Dirk Nowitzki seemed disastrous. Dirk started the game 6-6 from the floor and despite the switching Dirk was getting very open looks and the Nuggets were clearly struggling with matching up with him.
Things changed when Kenyon Martin leveled Dirk with a forearm along the baseline. I think that play triggered a response from both the Nuggets and Dirk. For Denver, they started playing Dirk much more physically and the open space he was enjoying early on disappeared. For Dirk he was no longer as aggressive going to the rim. Over his final 17 shots he only took four at the rim. Was it a result of the hard foul or the Nuggets’ increased pressure? My guess is it was a little of both.
Aside from Kenyon’s hard foul on Dirk I had a difficult time picking out exactly why the Nuggets defense was able to improve so much between the first 12 minutes and the final 12 minutes. To me the other keys that led to the defensive awakening were the play of AC and Birdman and I think it took the Nuggets a quarter or two to adjust to the completely different scheme from what they implemented against New Orleans.
There was a lot of talk about how Kenyon and Dirk would matchup in this series, but it was Birdman who played Dirk the toughest. Andersen has the length to challenge the shot and for some reason Dirk never really challenged him with the dribble drive. There were two instances where Dirk tried to drive on Birdman. On one Andersen drew a charge (more on that later) and on the other Dirk blew past him into the lane, but simply dropped the ball as he tried to gather it to shoot. I still think Kenyon is the best option to defend Dirk, but it was very encouraging to see how well both Bird and Nene stuck with him. Plus the guards, even J.R., became very physical with him. The plan to single cover Dirk no matter who it was on him worked very well to start the series.
Regarding AC, before the series started I pointed out that I thought AC would play a bigger role than Dahntay Jones because he was a much better matchup for the Nuggets to check Jason Terry. That certainly proved to be the case in the second half as Carter hounded Terry all over the court and even forced a couple of turnovers when Terry tried to run him off of the baseline double screen.
Offensively Denver was spectacular, or at least after the first quarter they were. With Melo in foul trouble players like Nene, J.R., AC and Birdman all stepped up and produced very efficient games.
Nene ran the floor well in both directions as he was threw down two fast break dunks in the second quarter and also did a good job of retreating in transition, as did all the Nuggets, to prevent the Mavs from running on them. The Mavericks had no answer for Nene in the lane. Dampier was too slow and no other Mavs player is strong enough.
With Melo on the bench for much of the second quarter Nene piled in 14 big points to keep Denver in the game. Nene scored on an easy dunk after a pick and roll with J.R. thanks to a beautiful bounce pass from Smith and he made a layup off a drive and dish from Chanucey where he drew a foul after elevating over Dampier who hit him on the arm as Nene finished at the rim with the left hand. Nene also scored off a really nice set I did not remember seeing this season where he set a screen for Chauncey on the left wing, but instead of driving Chauncey threw a pass across the floor to AC. Nene then rolled off the screen and AC delivered the pass for an easy lay in. It was a beautiful play.
J.R. started out by launching a couple of long jumpers, but soon after that switched into attack mode and the Mavs could not keep him out of the lane. J.R. penetrated in transition, off of isolations, off of screens and he even split the double team a couple of times. The result was a handful of nice finishes at the rim and six assists. J.R. took 13 shots and only two of them were three pointers. It was only the third time all season that J.R. attempted more than ten shots while putting up two or fewer threes.
Carmelo had a very frustrating first half as he only played 12 minutes in the first half. Still when he was in the game he was aggressive offensively. Melo was credited with 10 shots, but he had another three attempts that resulted in free throws that were all at the rim. That makes 13 shots and seven of those 13 were at the rim. He also finished the game with four assists continuing his solid passing performance. Melo came alive in the fourth quarter when he no longer had to worry about fouling out. After going at the rim he began hitting his jumpers splashing two three pointers. He made the first one from the right wing as no Mav came out to cover him off an inbounds play and the second was on the left wing in transition that basically iced the game putting the Nuggets up 106-89 with 2:49 remaining.
Carmelo only attempted ten shots, which I am willing to bet is a career playoff low, but he scored 23 points on those ten shots. It was a highly efficient afternoon for Melo even with limited minutes.
The Nuggets have to feel very good about how the game went. Carmelo and Chauncey were non factors offensively up until Melo’s fourth quarter explosion. Dirk scored his points, but the Nuggets seemed to get a handle on him after his hot start. Anthony Carter did a great job on Terry who finished the game a -20. Dallas had good scoring games from Dirk and Howard and Terry shot a solid percentage, but it was not enough for Dallas to hang with them for 48 minutes.
It has been amazing to see this team become aware of how good they can be in the playoffs. They are very confident and they should be. Denver is almost unbeatable at home. As Karl was quoted saying during the broadcast Denver just wears teams down when they play in the Pepsi Center. The opposition may be able to hold them off for 36 or 38 minutes, but sooner or later an onslaught is coming and there is nothing the visitors can do to stop it. The Nuggets are up to 14 straight home wins and with their game one win are very solid favorites to win this series.
Additional Round 2 Game 1 Nuggets
- I watched portions of the game trying to discern the defensive strategy of the Mavericks and it was not easy. They seemed to try to have their big men hedge on screens, but Dirk generally laid back in the lane, but as the game wore on he stepped closer and closer to the screen until in the fourth he was hedging as well. There is no originality in the Mavericks’ scheme and I have to give Karl and his coaching staff credit for the way they are playing defense. The easy way out is to play vanilla by the book defense. You need to double or triple team Dirk as the Spurs did because he is too good to risk being covered by your guards. Karl is showing that he will do what he thinks is best no matter how silly it seems to the commentators or other observers. Early in the game Hubie Brown was almost pleading with Karl on the broadcast to stop switching, but Karl stuck with it and in game one, it really paid off.
- Apart from the defensive scheme Karl coached a marvelous game. I really cannot take issue with anything he did. After the game he spoke about how with Melo in foul trouble he had to try something that he probably would not have tried otherwise and that was the small lineup of Billups, Carter and Smith. The small combo ended up being very effective. If Melo is playing 40 minutes, that group does not get out on the floor together. He gave Kleiza a shot to play, but when he realized what a liability he was it was back to the bench for the remainder of the competitive portion of the contest for LK.
- I was really glad to see both Howard and Dampier were able to return from their ankle sprains. I would almost rather have Denver lose than be told the only won because Howard was out.
- I have not really mentioned the disparity in fast break points. Denver scored easy bucket after easy bucket, especially in the second half when Dallas could not hold onto the ball. Dallas on the other hand almost never looked to run. There is no way Dallas will be able to score enough points against the Nuggets’ half court defense to win this series. It seemed the Nugget bigs did a good job of retreating into the lane and the guards found their counterparts early on as well. If Denver has fixed their transition issues that is just another reason for the league to take notice of how well these guys are playing.
- Mavs fans were irate with the free throw discrepancy and if I were them I probably would be too. There is a reason for Denver shooting almost three times more free throws than the Mavs did and the proof is in the points in the paint. Dirk was the only Mav who ever attacked the rim. While he did draw a lot of contact, but he was also constantly flailing and it certainly looked like on several occasions he was accentuating contact. After watching Chris Paul grow frustrated that he was not getting the silly calls he had been drawing during the regular season and today Dirk not getting many calls when he was hoping for them I think the refs are under instructions to not reward flopping or dramatics. The Nuggets are a team who rarely flop or wildly gesticulate in an attempt to draw fouls. I think their more physical approach is being recognized by the officials and they are getting calls specifically because they are not trying to trick the refs into calling anything. Maybe I am crazy, but it makes sense to me.
- Dallas was clearly ready for Linas Kleiza. Even though Dirk was on fire as soon as he checked in and stated attempting to cover Josh Howard Dallas started feeding Howard and letting him go to work on poor LK. The result was Howard scored some easy points and Kleiza made a good argument for why he should be watching from the bench.
- With 7:16 left in the fourth quarter Dirk was bringing the ball up the floor while Andersen was running beside him. Dirk chose to slam into Birdman to draw a foul. On the same possession the Mavs entered the ball to Dirk at the left elbow and Birdman drew a charge when he read (or guessed) Dirk was going left. The only place I believe in karma is on the basketball court and the fact that Dirk was charged with an offensive foul seconds after he drew the lame foul on Birdman was just beautiful.
- At the 6:02 mark of the fourth quarter Jason Terry drove into the lane and tried to squeeze a pass between Nene and Birdman. It was a pass that was doomed from the point it was conceived in Terry’s mind. Nene collected the loose ball and threw an outlet pass to J.R. As Smith brought the ball up the sideline Karl was right next to him waiving his arm encouraging Smith to run. Smith dribbled over the half court line, passed to Carter on the right win and kept running up the middle of the floor. Carter fed it back to Smith who drew Josh Howard to him on the pass in the middle of the lane. Smith then made a nice behind the back pass to Melo who was hanging out on at the left side of the rim for a dunk. It put the Nuggets up 17, sent the crowd into a frenzy, forced the Mavs to call a timeout and triggered Rocky’s pelvic thrust celebration.
Mindboggling Game Stats
Pace Factor: 94.6 – Average regular season home game pace, 95.1.
Defensive Efficiency: 100.4 – Dallas shot 48.8%, but Denver forced 20 turnovers and only sent the Mavs to the line 13 times.
Offensive Efficiency: 115.2 – Very good considering the slow start, limited minutes from Melo and Chauncey’s veritable no show in the scoring department.
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