I told you I would post a game five recap, not that anyone cares at this point though.
For all the talent the Nuggets possessed in the Carmelo Anthony/Allen Iverson pairing there is nothing quite like watching Denver play when both Chauncey Billups and Carmelo Anthony are playing at their peak level.
In the Nuggets 124-110 series clinching victory over the Dallas Mavericks Carmelo once again showed his entire offensive repertoire. He scored on drives, turnaround jumpers, pull up jumpers, catch and shoots and had one beautiful swooping scoop shot through the lane. This is the Carmelo Anthony we expected to see during the regular season, but whether he was held back by injuries, the growth of his teammates or just had a down year does not matter now.
Heading into the Western Conference Finals Carmelo is the matchup nightmare that the Nuggets envisioned him being when they drafted him in the summer of 2003.
Chauncey plays with a steady quiet spirit. He wears away the opposition like water erodes rock. There may not be any one play that sticks out in your mind, but at the end of the game you notice he posted 28 points, 12 assists and seven rebounds.
They fell apart a little in the second half, but Denver played their best defense of the series in the first half of game five. Dallas had some success scoring, but the combination of scheme and execution was very good. The Nuggets stopped switching on every screen and chose to aggressively trap Jason Kidd on pick and rolls/pops. Twice Denver forced Kidd into the right sideline well beyond the three point line. Both times Kidd leapt into the air and turned the ball over once on a weak floating cross court pass thrown straight to Dahntay Jones and the other time he threw one of his patented cross court passes into the front row.
The Nuggets lead for most of the first half by ten points or thereabouts Dallas made a game out of it in the second half thanks to their three point shooting early in the third quarter and penetration in the early part of the fourth. Denver continued to play the pick and roll more aggressively, but Denver failed to rotate nearly as well as they did in the first half. At that point everyone realized that the Mavericks were not going to go away.
After the Dallas run in the third quarter the Nuggets started flying around on defense once again and pushed their lead back up to 17. The best defensive possession came with 2:39 left in the third quarter. J.R. Smith followed J.J. Barea off a down screen, pressured him towards a Brandon Bass screen when Barea reversed direction and drove away from the screen toward Kidd on the left wing. Barea hands off to Kidd and Chauncey and J.R. switch and now J.R. is covering Kidd. J.R. sticks with Kidd tight enough Kidd almost loses his balance on his way to the right sideline. J.R. is bodying Kidd up the entire time and forces him into the left corner. Birdman covers over to trap Kidd in the corner and Kidd throws a pass to the left corner where Melo and Chauncey run at Josh Howard. Howard kicks the ball to Barea who misses a three as Kenyon rotates to challenge the shot. J.J. misses, but Dirk gets an offensive rebound at which time he is fouled by Smith. It was a great hard working possession which displayed the kind of scrappy defense the Nuggets excel at. The only breakdown was when both Chauncey and Melo rotated to Howard it forced Kenyon to run at Barea instead of Chauncey and that allowed the Mavs to get the offensive board.
Denver was able to fight off the third quarter surge by the Mavs and entered the fourth quarter having maintained their 14 point lead. They were 12 minutes away from their first Western Conference Finals appearance in 24 years and they come out flat?
Dallas then surged once again in the fourth using penetration and a little zone defense. It all started innocently enough as Antoine Wright beat Carmelo on a baseline drive that forced Chris Andersen to help on. That left Brandon Bass alone and he converted Wright’s missed shot into a three point play. Melo committed an offensive foul on the other end and then allowed Josh Howard to drive to the rim and make a layup. Denver’s 14 point lead was quickly down to nine. The Nuggets failed to score again and Jason Kidd raced up the floor and was fouled at the rim by Birdman. He made both free throws and the lead was down to seven. Nuggets fans who had not seen their team get passed the second round in 24 seasons grew worried and the Nuggets were tightening up. Next Kenyon Martin threw the ball to Chauncey Billups just as he started to cut and Jason Kidd scooped the loose ball up and fed Bass crashing through the lane drawing another shooting foul. Bass made one of two and Dallas was within six.
A quarter that fans expected to be a celebration was turning into a near nightmare.
For some reason Rick Carlisle switched back to man to man despite the fact the Mavericks’ zone had held Denver scoreless for 2:04. J.R. quickly drained a three against the man to man defense to end the scoreless streak and an 8-0 run by the Mavericks. The lead was back to nine, but before fans’ blood pressure could begin to decrease Dirk hit a three of his own after Denver collapsed on Barea after he darted into the lane. Fortunately, Denver scored on a Carter runner and the offense was back in business.
The teams traded baskets and after a short rest Carmelo Anthony checked back in the game with 6:51 left and the Nuggets clinging to a six point lead 103-97. Later on that possession Dallas deflected the ball out of bounds with only two seconds left on the shot clock. J.R. was inbounding the ball by the Dallas bench and Melo, who was covered by Jason Kidd, cut towards the sideline and then made a second diagonal cut towards the three point line. He caught a pass from Smith, turned and shot a three. Kidd was caught completely by surprise and Melo drained one of his biggest non game winning shots of his career. The difficult long bomb was very disheartening to Dallas and from that point on Denver rebuilt their lead and ended up cruising to a 14 point victory.
The Mavericks deserve a lot of credit for the way they played. They never stopped fighting and refused to give the Nuggets anything. Even thought the cards were stacked against them and with their recent history of postseason disappointments Dallas played like they were never out of any game.
Dirk especially deserves a great deal of credit for the way he battled and carried Dallas on his back for five straight games. He has certainly recovered from any mental anguish he experienced after the loss in the finals to Miami and the upset by Golden State two years ago.
The Nuggets earned some rest and have had plenty of time to get ready for the Los Angeles Lakers, who are crushing the Rockets by 24 as I write this. The Lakers have been the Nuggets nemesis the past couple of seasons and they will prove a tremendous test for how fat this Denver squad has come.
Additional Round 2 Game 5 Nuggets
- Denver displayed some pretty good movement early in the game. They almost always had at least two players other than the ball handler moving and even that seemingly innocuous level of movement can keep help defenders occupied.
- At the 10:23 mark of the first quarter Nene caught a pass on the left side of the lane, took a dribble to get closer to the rim and then threw the ball out of bounds over by George Karl. Why did he do such a thing? Because Dirk Nowitzki, who blocked eight shots in Dallas’ ten playoff games, was there. The bottom line is Nene must get more aggressive around the rim. He looks great throwing down tomahawk jams when no one is near him, but if he cannot go straight up on a guy like Dirk what is he going to do against a player like Andrew Bynum or Zydruans Ilgauskas? Plus it would have been nice to get an early foul on Dirk.
- Nene may not have been a force in the paint, but he ran the floor beautifully. On one occasion he tipped the ball away from Dirk and when Dahntay Jones gained control of the ball Nene was already heading up court resulting in an easy dunk. Later in the first quarter the Nuggets’ aggressive defense forced a long three by Kidd. Chauncey pulled down the long rebound on the left wing and ran up the floor. He passed ahead to Carmelo on the right side of the lane who then whipped a quick pass to Nene flying up the right side for an easy dunk. In the second quarter Nene received two more similar cross lane passes on the break resulting in two more dunks. There was another instance where Nene drove the ball into the lane on another fast break, but he blew the layup. Part of the reason why Denver drafted Nene was his ability to run the floor. He has gotten away from running quite so much following his injuries, but he can still out run most NBA big men. When Nene runs the Nuggets go from being a very good fastbreak team to a great one and it was encouraging to see him so active on the break in a game where he played 41 minutes.
- Anthony Carter scored twice on offensive rebounds once off an airball by Carmelo from behind the arc and the other time in a tip in next to Erick Dampier.
- Nene was the Nugget defender who did the best job against Dirk in game five. Nene was pressed into service after Kenyon drew two first quarter fouls and Birdman
- The best play Dampier made all night was when he was whistled for a push off foul going for a rebound. He proceeded to bounce the ball off the floor and then hit it with his glistening dome on the way down. Very nicely done.
- If you want an example of how J.R. Smiths’ mindset concerning defense has changed I give you a play at 5:33 of the third quarter when J.R. was not even in the game. Dahntay Jones was covering Jason Terry out beyond the three point line. J.R. who was leaning against the scorer’s table waiting to come in leans forward and actually moves his feet a little bit like he is trying to help Dahntay stay in front of Terry. Fourty seconds later he is still waiting to check in and you can see him yelling encouragement to his teammates as they return to play defense after Nene put Denver back up 84-74. He still has a ways to go in order to translate that interest to his performance on the court, but you must admit he certainly cares about defense now.
Mind Boggling Game Stats
Pace Factor: Game – 89.6 | Series – 93.3 | Playoffs – 90.0
Defensive Efficiency: Game – 122.7 | Series – 114.4 | Playoffs – 105.0
Offensive Efficiency: Game – 138.3 (second best rating of the 2008-09 season) | Series – 122.8 | Playoffs – 122.6
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