2009-10 Game 8: Denver Nuggets 90 – Chicago Bulls 89

Box Score | Highlights

Before we get to the controversial ending in Chicago tonight, I need to address the game itself.

I cannot go as far as to say the Nuggets did not deserve to win, they earned their lead that barely held up in the end, but I was seriously disappointed in their play in the fourth quarter.

Primarily I feel like a dolt for getting caught up in the Carmelo hype after his great first two games. Tonight, in a very important game based on their two game losing streak, he made awful decisions on offense, played lackadaisical on defense and in my opinion nearly cost Denver the game.

To his credit even in the games at New Jersey, Miami and Atlanta Carmelo did seem to be trying to get to the rim more. Tonight in the second half he had three straight drives result in misses and all three times Melo thought he was fouled. After that he seemed to rely more on his jumper. When it was not falling he did try to get to the rim, but again, the Bulls were ready to collapse on him and the results were not good.

To his credit though, as we have seen time and again, Melo hit the shot he had to. With the score tied and 33 seconds left J.R. Smith entered the ball to Melo on the left wing. Melo took two dribbles towards the baseline, picked up his dribble and with Luol Deng still hanging on him pump faked and drained a fifteen footer.

His shot selection was not the only problem. As I discussed in the Daily Dime Chat I do not know who to blame more, Carmelo for forcing bad shots or his teammates for doing their best impression of the Washington Monument. Was Melo not passing because his teammates were not cutting, or were they not cutting because he was going to shoot?

I suspect blame is to be laid at the feet of all involved.

The offensive problems were not all Melo though. On at least three, and maybe four, occasions Denver was able to collect an offensive rebound and immediately hoisted a shot. Chauncey did it once, J.R. did it once, Nene did it once (although he did drive to the rim before taking his shot) and I think Afflalo was guilty as well.

Nene was very effective when he could get a shot off, but he turned the ball over five times. J.R., or Earl, sorry J.R., I mean Earl, is off to his typical slow start shooting 1-9 in his first action of the season. Even his arms-at-his-sides-with-his-hands-held-out-in-disbelief protest was not quite as angular as usual. Although he did compile five assists and played solid defense. Chris Andersen was outworked by Joakim Noah.

As bad as most of the fourth quarter was, the final seconds were even worse.

The Nuggets tried to do the smart thing twice in the final 11 seconds and nearly were beaten because of it. Up two and with a foul to give Chauncey tried to grab Derrick Rose, but the foul was not called until Rose was in the act of shooting. Rose made both free throws to tie the game and then Chauncey was fouled with 0.6 seconds remaining.

After he made the first free throw to put Denver up one, I commented that he should miss the second one on purpose. He did and it nearly cost Denver the game. Noah pulled the board cleanly as every member of the Bulls team and coaching staff yelled for a timeout. It was determined that three tenths of a second would come off the clock which gave Chicago another three tenths to get a shot off. Had the rebound been tipped or mishandled, and Earl Smith III nearly got a finger on it, the game would have been over.

After the timeout Brad Miller caught the inbounds pass and quickly flipped the ball at the rim. The shot went in and it was initially ruled a basket on the court. However, NBA rules mandate the play be reviewed. After about five minutes led official Mark Wunderlich declared that the ball had not completely left Miller’s hand before the buzzer.

I can certainly understand why Bulls fans are upset. In my opinion if there is enough evidence to overturn the call, it should have been apparent quickly. However, as J.A. Adande pointed out, who cares how long it takes as long as they get the call right.

Regardless of whether or not you agree with the decision, you have to give the NBA credit for doing everything they can to get these calls correct. Starting with the rebound off Billups’ missed free throw to the review of Miller’s final shot the NBA has stipulated exactly what can and cannot happen.

From the Official NBA rulebook (page 57):

“NO LESS than :00.3 must expire on the game clock when a player secures possession of an unsuccessful free throw attempt and immediately requests a timeout. If LESS than :00.3 expires in such a circumstance, the time on the game clock shall be reduced by at least :00.3.”

“The game clock must show :00.3 or more in order for a player to secure possession of the ball on a rebound or throw-in to attempt a field goal. Instant replay shall be utilized if the basket is successful on this type of play and the clock runs to 0:00.”

“Regardless of when the horn or red light operates to signify the end of period, the officials (as aided by instant replay, if required) will ultimately make the final decision whether to allow or disallow a successful field goal. THE CREW CHIEF MUST TAKE CHARGE OF THE SITUATION.”

Between the rules which dictate how long actions, such as securing a rebound and calling a timeout take, the use of instant replay and the implementation of the lights along the backboard and along the scorer’s table the league has tried to idiot proof the process as much as possible. Even so I find it intriguing that the crew chief can overrule the audible evidence of the horn and the visual evidence of the lights that come on and declare a basket no good.

I think Adande had the best line of the night when in response to my comment that there was no way Milller got the shot off in time he wrote “I’m not sure Brad Miller could even blink in that time.”

It may have been ugly and controversial, but the Nuggets won and as long as they can clean up their many mental and physical mistakes that have plagued them the past three games they are still in a great position after the first tenth of the season.

Additional Game 8 Nuggets

  • Melo’s problems did not exist only on the offensive end. On two occasions in the third quarter Melo did not rotate on defense. He was at the top of the lane and the ball was swung to the top of the circle. On both occasions he should have run to the ball. The other acceptable option would have been taking the player on the wing, who received another swing pass from the man Melo should have been covering. Had he run at the wing player, all would have been well. Instead he stood in between the two players. On the first occasion he then floated to the three point line on the shot and gave up an offensive rebound because of it. On the second Nene had to run out of the lane to cover the wing, even though Melo was three times closer, and that left Noah open at the rim for a dunk. I guess it is good that Denver could win on the road against a good team with Melo playing so poorly, but I would much rather have Melo play great and Denver win by 15.
  • With Earl Smith III returning to action tonight I was intrigued to see how George Karl would handle the rotations, i.e. how much he would play Anthony Carter. Karl put Carter in the game along with Lawson and then Billups in the first half. He proved that he could not stay in front of John Salmons and despite dishing out a couple of nice passes, was generally driving me crazy. Carter did not get in the game in the second half and it will be interesting to see if Karl sticks with giving Carter a handful of minutes a game while keeping more talented players on the pine.
  • Despite a couple of really bad shots in the first quarter Kenyon had a very nice game. Denver is undefeated when Martin plays more than 12 minutes. He appeared to reinjure his shin at one point, but it did not seem to bother him as the game wore on.
  • The Nuggets played very good defense for the most part, but there were a few too many mental mistakes that allowed Chicago to stay in the game. Along with the two instances where Melo failed to rotate mentioned above, there was a possession where with the shot clock running down Chauncey looked away from Rose and allowed him to cut to the lane, receive a pass and score. On more than one occasion Birdman chose not to block Noah out at all. With 3:48 left in the game and Denver up five Derrick Rose came off a high screen and Nene just laid back in the lane allowing Rose to drain an open jumper to make it a one possession game. As with their losses in Miami and Atlanta, they are making numerous small mistakes that add up over time. Fortunately the Bulls did not shoot as well as the heat or Hawks, but the Nuggets are definitely not playing their best ball right now.

Advanced Game Stats

Pace Factor: 89.9 – very slow
Defensive Efficiency: 99.0 – very solid
Offensive Efficiency: 100.1 – very average

Featured Blogs: By the Horns | Blog a Bull | Denver Stiffs

Update: Here is a pretty conclusive view of Miller’s shot (hat tip to Blog a Bull).

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  • runningdonut

    Jeremy! No word on the bad losses at Miami and Atlanta??? We have been going in the wrong direction since the Memphis game!!!