How many playoff games can you honestly say the opening jump ball played a role in determining the outcome? Erick Dampier was called for stealing the tip and that gave the Nuggets the ball to start the game, but more importantly Denver got the ball to start the fourth instead of Dallas. Entering the fourth quarter the Nuggets held a slim 86-83 lead. Had the Mavericks received the ball first and converted they could have drawn to within one or even tied the game. Instead of a confidence building possession for the Mavs Melo took the ball to the rim and set the tone for the final stanza and carry the Nuggets to a 117-105 victory.
To start the quarter Melo was on the left wing, took a handoff from J.R. Smith and drove right parallel to the rim off a double screen. Antoine Wright ran to recover and get back in front of him and like a good running back Carmelo cut back to his left and drove behind Wright using his momentum against him. All Wright could do was foul and Melo made both free throws.
After giving up an offensive rebound to J.J. Barea of all people the Nuggets managed to get a stop. Carmelo received a short outlet pass from Kenyon and dribbled with his right hand up the left side. When he hit the three point line he cut right, absorbed contact from Antoine Wright and hit a right handed floater from about four feet out. Just like that the Nuggets were up seven, the Denver players were saying here we go again, the Mavs players were thinking here we go again and the was a seven Melo had reasserted the Nuggets control of the offensive paint. To top things off Rick Carlisle was called for a technical apparently upset that Melo did not get the “and one” he deserved after the contact with Wright. Melo hit the free throw and Denver’s lead surged to eight.
Even though he had another big fourth quarter dumping in 15 points Melo was not the only star of the game on offense. Nene continued to own the lane, setting a new career playoff high for the second game in a row, as the Mavericks have yet to find a way to stop him. Even so Nene cannot claim all the credit as seven of his eight made baskets were assisted showing that the Nuggets did a great job of feeding him the ball in position to score.
J.R. Smith also had a big offensive night. When J.R. entered the game Denver had scored only seven points in the first six minutes of the game (thanks to a barrage of missed layups and even a missed dunk from Nene to start the game). J.R. scored eight points himself over the final six minutes of the quarter and added two assists as well. Smith would go on to score another nine points in the second quarter before taking what I believe was the worst shot of his career to [not] close out the first half.
Instead of running the clock down to virtually nothing, there was a fraction of a second difference between the game and shot clock J.R. launched a 30 foot three pointer with five seconds left. The shot missed badly allowing Jason Kidd to drive up the floor and hit a 30 footer of his own at the buzzer. Had J.R. even just waited another couple of seconds he could have thrown up that horrible shot with no harm done other than to the paint on the rim.
Denver did have some offensive issues such as a determination to take a lot of three pointers. The Nuggets shot 28 threes. It was the third most three point attempts for the Nuggets this season behind the 31 they shot at Philadelphia and the 29 they chucked up against Sacramento in game 81. Carmelo himself took eight, yes EIGHT, three pointers making only a singular one. Overall Denver was 8-28, good for 28.6%, from downtown and it would have been a lot worse if Chauncey had not caught fire and made four of five in the second half. He even made a corner three, which is not his specialty. Even so Denver still managed to shoot 50.0% for the game thanks to their 31-50, 62.0%, performance from inside the three point arc. When you are dominating the paint the way Denver was how is it at all acceptable to shoot 28 threes? I have no idea what they were thinking. Along with the great shooting from the realm of the two point shot Denver also earned 40 free throws of which they drained 31 equating to 77.5%. As you will see later even with the ridiculous amount of three point attempts the Nuggets put together some pretty good offensive numbers.
Unlike their efficient offense the Nuggets played their worst defensive game of the season. Dallas was much more aggressive with the pick and roll and they continually hurt the Nuggets in the middle of the paint on a handful of occasions. I think the Nuggets’ scheme played as big a role in the Mavs’ solid offensive performance as the Mavs adjustments did.
Throughout the course of the entire season I have expressed my displeasure with switching screens. I am not saying switching should never be utilized, but when switching screens is your primary tactic in defending ball screens you are bound to play with less aggression. Karl likes to talk about how zone defenses are weak, but switching screens is every bit as weak as playing zone. The Nuggets switched screens more frequently than they did in the first game of the series. In fact they switched in instances where it was completely unnecessary and it cost them.
The Nuggets’ 115.8 Defensive Efficiency was by far their worst of the postseason and it was the first postseason game where they gave up more than 95 points. The TNT analysts were still giving the Nuggets credit for their defense, but Denver will struggle to win a game in Dallas if they play defense like they did tonight.
Now Dirk had a great night and I have to recant my belief that anyone on the Nuggets can slow him down one on one. I have known for a long time that Kenyon struggles against taller or thicker players in the post, but for some reason chose to ignore that fact when I said he could contain Nowitzki. I suspected Birdman’s success was more of a fluke than reality. Really Nene might be the best option of the three especially since Dallas made the intelligent decision to post him up more. The issue with having Nene cover Dirk is the potential foul trouble. Nene has been such a force on offense I would hate to see him loose time due to foul trouble. Dirk totaled 35 points on 11-20 shooting and accounting for a full one third of Dallas’ points. While Dirk hit on 55.0% of his shots, the rest of the Mavs shot a pedestrian 44.8%.
As painful as it can be to watch Dirk torch the Denver defense there is a lot of merit to letting him have success while maintaining a solid grip on the rest of the team. Jason Terry did manage to score 21, but it took him 18 shots to do it and it was a very quiet 21.
Overall, it was another good performance from Denver and the fact they could still run away with the game when there were no indications they would be able to do so is encouraging. All along I thought the Nuggets would win, but Dallas played them close enough for most of the game to put an ever so tiny smidge of doubt in my mind.
As far as the big story of the series, the physical-ness of the Nuggets and the un-physical-ness of the Mavericks I thought Dallas showed some guts in tonight’s contest although they rolled over in the end. They played more in the lane than in game one, earned more free throws and made a couple of strong plays to stop easy buckets (one of which earned Kenyon a silly double technical). They showed a little toughness, but not nearly enough to swing the series in their favor.
The refs called a tighter game and Dirk received the benefit of the doubt on a couple of calls that produced free throws as he took 13 free throws in game two. Looking at the two major areas the Mavericks believed they could improve on from game one to game two, they really were successful. They shot 17 more free throws as they went to the line 30 times and they cut their turnovers almost in half only coughing it up 11 times as opposed to 20.
Sadly for Mavs fans the reduction in turnovers did not make a dent in the Nuggets’ fast break points. The nine fewer turnovers only helped cut Denver’s fast break points down to 25. Not much of a difference. Plus their 30 free throws were still ten fewer than the more aggressive Nuggets shot. The game was called much more favorably for Dallas’ style, but as we found out a tighter whistle may earn them more free throws, but it will get the Nuggets to the line more frequently as well.
There may have been far too many threes shot and the defense looked to have sprung a few leaks during the middle two quarters, but those complaints pale in comparison to the fact that the Nuggets are up 2-0 in the Western Conference Semifinals and are riding a 15 game home winning streak.
Additional nuggets and game stats will be posted tomorrow. I need some sleep.