Who needs Carmelo Anthony when you have…Kenyon Martin?
When Kenyon announced before the season that he wanted to be more aggressive offensively I do not think any Nugget fan thought to themselves, “Thank God, it is about time!” With Carmelo Anthony dressed in fancy clothes for the fourth straight game Kenyon lead the Nuggets in scoring and rebounding and Denver won 103-89 in San Antonio against the Spurs.
Typically when Kenyon has a big scoring night he has three or four, or more, highlight reel dunks. Today I do not think Martin had even one slam dunk, but converted on a variety of right handed jump hooks and open jumpers. He even tossed in his patented and this one is for your mother late game three to close off his work week.
To be honest, when I saw Joey Graham’s name in the starting lineup, my heart sank. It was not that I did not think the Nuggets were capable of winning in San Antonio without Melo, just that it was not very likely. However, the fact that Melo was out again gave us a chance to see which of the previous two games would be validated. Would it be the gritty win in Houston, or the no show in Oklahoma City on Friday night? I firmly believed the true Nuggets were on display in Houston and the loss in Oklahoma City was the fluke and I think today’s win proved that to be the case.
The Nuggets did two things very well on defense. They forced Tim Duncan off the block when he tried to post up and the guards really tried hard to fight over top the high screen the Spurs kept throwing at them possession after possession. The bigs did a decent job of hedging and doing just enough to prevent the Spurs guards from getting in the lane too often.
More than anything I was impressed with Denver’s resiliency.
There were four or five times during this game where the Nuggets could have gotten down on themselves and at any of those times had they started feeling sorry for themselves or doubted themselves the Spurs would have taken advantage and thrown a knockout punch. Denver held a 21-17 lead with 2:34, but less than four minutes later the Spurs had gone on a 10-0 run and were up 27-21. Three and a half minutes later Denver had taken the lead back. At another point in the second quarter Manu Ginobili hit a three to put the Spurs up 41-33. The Spurs did not score another point over the final 3:26 of the first half and Denver ran off 12 straight points. Even with all the good things Denver was doing, the Spurs were right with them in the third quarter. On three occasions the Spurs grabbed a one point lead, but the Nuggets never blinked and took the lead back on the next possession all three times.
To close out the third quarter and open up the fourth the Spurs did not score for almost four minutes as Denver reasserted control. Still the Spurs fought back and were able to get to within two points three times in the fourth quarter. Denver answered yet again as they scored on the next possession two of those three times and the instance where they did not score on the possession immediately after the Spurs got within two, Denver scored on the second one. The result was the Spurs only had the ball with a chance to take the lead once over the final 15:47 of the game and after the Spurs’ miss on that possession Chauncey pulled down the rebound, dribbled up the floor, threw a shimmy at Richard Jefferson that tricked Jefferson into giving Billups about six feet of space and he promptly drained a three to put Denver up five.
I kid about Kenyon Marin filling the role of Carmelo. Chauncey was incredible, as he has been through the entire month of January. The Spurs took the lead for the final time with 4:41 left in the third quarter. From that point on Denver converted on 13 field goals. Chauncey scored three of those 13, all three were from behind the arc, and he assisted on eight of the other ten.
Chauncey continually worked the Spurs defense to get the shot he wanted for himself or for Kenyon. It was beautiful to watch and he deserves all the credit in the world for the way he played and for this victory.
If there is any bad news for Billups it is that he played a game high 45 minutes. Chris Paul is going to miss the All-Star game and if Billups is not named the replacement I think we all need to pay a little visit to Commissioner Stern in NYC. One can only hope Chauncey will be playing at this high of a level come May and dare I say June?
The Nuggets have now defeated every team in the Western Conference except for Dallas, who they have only played once, and the Sacramento Kings and the Kings will be in Denver Monday night. Whether Carmelo is able to play or not, I do not expect to see the Nuggets fall or 0-3 against the third worst team in the conference.
Additional Game 47 Nuggets
- Not only did Chauncey and Kenyon raise their level of play, but Arron Afflalo and J.R. Smith were very good on both ends of the floor. J.R was an efficient 5-9 making 3-5 from behind the arc. Afflalo was even better making all six of his shot attempts including two from behind the three point line. Arron even dropped in a couple of contested jumpers off the drive, which is not his strong suit. It was good to see J.R. cut his three point attempts in half from the previous three games as he only shot off the catch and not off the dribble. Smith can certainly knock any three he attempts down, but he is much better on the catch and shoot than the pull up. As a result of taking better attempts, J.R. has converted on 11 of his previous 22 threes. J.R. is a second half player as his best months last season were March and April and in 2007-08 he was tremendous following the All-Star break beginning with his 43 point outburst in Chicago.
- With the Nuggets defense looking more and more solid, the rumored return of Carmelo Anthony to the lineup and J.R. potentially playing smarter and better there is no doubt in my mind the Nuggets are at worst the second best team in the west.
- Speaking of Arron Afflalo and defense in the first two Nuggets, according to ESPN Stats and Research Afflalo yields the six fewest points per defensive play in the entire NBA at only .77 points per play. Watching Afflalo play defense reading that stat is no surprise to me. What is a surprise is that players like Mehmet Okur and Nenad Krstic are on the list ahead of Arron. I guess there is something to be said for not having to guard the opponent’s best scorer every night. Unlike Okur and Krstic, Afflalo is facing slightly stiffer competition.
- The Nuggets do not like to double in the post and they largely played Tim Duncan one on one although the Spurs really did not go to him on the block very often, especially in the second half. Even without Tony Parker the Spurs were content to run their high screen and roll for most of the game. On the other end, the Spurs were very weary of whoever was in the post as they ran a second defender at the post frequently. There was even a play where J.R. smith was on the block being guarded by George Hill and Duncan started to cross the lane to double, but J.R. beat him to it by launching a turnaround jumper that had little chance of going in.
- According to Elias, George Karl is now 22-11 against Greg Popovich for a winning percentage of 66.7%. That is the second best percentage against Popovich behind only…Danny Ainge who was 9-4 against Coach Pop good for a 69.2% success rate.
The Return of Game Stats
Combined Pace Factor: 89.4 – Much to the Spurs liking
Defensive Efficiency: 99.6 – Impressive performance
Offensive Efficiency: 115.2 – That is even higher than the Nuggets’ average of 108.8
Bonus – Denver’s Effective FG%: 60.1%
San Antonio’s EFG%: 44.9% – Denver was 9-12 from downtown while the Spurs were only 3-17
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