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.