The Denver Nuggets’ six game winning streak came to an end at the hands of the Houston Rockets in a high scoring 125-123 back and forth battle.
The first half was full of breakdowns on both ends of the floor for Denver as they consistently gave up open shots to the Rockets on one end while missing a plethora of layups on the other. The Nuggets were down 12 at halftime and came out with a great deal of energy to start the second half. The Rockets’ lead had been whittled down to two in less than six minutes and Denver earned their first lead of the game at the 4:05 mark of the third quarter.
Denver then scored the first nine points of the fourth quarter to take a double digit lead of their own. They appeared headed for their seventh straight win, but it would not last. The Rockets showed great determination and increased their intensity over the final ten minutes and the Nuggets were not able to match.
Even with the increased defensive pressure from the Rockets the Nuggets held a six point lead with 2:30 left and a five point lead with under 70 seconds remaining. However, on a night where Carmelo Anthony scored 45 points, it was the Rockets who made plays down the stretch to pull out a two point victory.
The Rockets outscored the Nuggets 9-2 over the final 68 seconds thanks to the keys that fueled the victory. Timely three point shooting, points in transition, free throws and their guard play.
The Nuggets struggled with covering Kevin Martin and Aaron Brooks all game long thanks to Brooks’ superlative quickness and Martin’s exceptional ability to move without the ball. The two combined for 60 points on 33 shot attempts.
The one big advantage the Nuggets had over Houston, size, did not ultimately decide the game. Denver was constantly able to get shots at the rim, but failed to convert on a large number of them. Nene was 5-14 despite the fact I do not think he attempted more than two shots more than two feet from the rim. Carmelo missed a handful of layups in the first half as well before catching fire in the second half.
Fittingly it was a missed layup that sealed the Nuggets’ fate. Down a point with 41 seconds remaining Dantley drew up a play to go to Nene on the left block. Nene was able to maneuver his way in front of the rim, but lost control of the ball on his way to attempting a left-handed layup and the ball ended up in the Rockets’ hands. I have criticized Nene in the past for the way he shoots so many underhanded flip shots around the rim and that shot was a perfect example why such a technique is dangerous. Not only can you lose control of the ball as happened in this example, but the ball can roll off in any number of ways creating sideways spin and thus making it more likely to roll off the rim. Despite Nene’s high conversion rate I think we can all count dozens of times Nene has had a shot roll off the rim because of the unnecessary spin that was applied to the shot.
The decision to go to Nene is one that could be easily questioned. Carmelo had been carrying the Nuggets for most of the second half and Nene was 5-13 from the floor with numerous missed layups. On one hand the play call worked as Nene clearly had an advantage over Luis Scola all night and he was able to get right in front of the rim. On the other hand the play failed and a player that had failed to come through for the most part, failed one more time. The decision was even more glaring when Carmelo drove right to the rim and laid the ball in to tie the game on the very next possession.
I would love to know if Dantley would do anything different in the timeout to set up the play for Nene if he had the chance to do it over again. I find it difficult to criticize him seeing as how he did put the player in position to succeed. It was up to Nene to convert his opportunity and he did not do so.
I thought Dantley did a pretty good job of coaching. He called for a switch from the switching scheme the Nuggets employed in the first half to a more aggressive trap and recover style defense in the second half. It worked wonders as Denver was able to mount an immediate comeback. However, the Rockets, coached by one of the top coaches in the NBA in Rick Adelman, stopped running so much pick and roll and that change reignited the Rockets offense as it opened up the floor for Brooks and Martin was able to free himself for good looks more often than not.
I think Adelman was able to outmaneuver Dantley ever so slightly, but it was good to see Adrian go toe to toe with one of the game’s best in a tight contest and hold his own.
Getting back to the finish following Nene’s miss Chauncey made a bad mistake as he fouled Brooks at half court. I was disappointed in Chuancey’s decision to foul for two reasons. First of all, there was a nine second differential between the shot clock and the game clock and Denver was only down one. A defensive stop, which admittedly occurred as frequently as I win the lottery, would have given the Nuggets the ball with plenty of time to work with. Secondly, it was Chauncey’s sixth, and obviously last, foul.
The only argument I could accept for the foul is if Chauncey was afraid that Brooks would get all the way to the basket, which was a possibility. The Rockets had a season high 28 fast break points and according to a post game tweet by Daryl Morey scored 60 points in transition. Still, J.R. was coming up the floor on the offside and Nene was behind Chauncey, although not by much, in position to potentially hassle Brooks. I would have liked to see how the game would have played out without that foul, but I would also like to see the return of Peanut Butter Twix.
The foul did not lose the game for Denver though as Brooks missed one of his two free throws and Denver tied the game on Melo’s drive. Brooks then made a mistake by shooting a bit too early on his game winner, but Melo, who had 2.9 seconds to work with, was content to take a strongly contested three that had no chance of falling. Melo had plenty of time to get to the rim, drive and kick to a teammate or even fake, dribble and give himself more room at the three he wanted to shoot.
Ultimately, the Rockets were able to take advantage of their quickness more effectively than Denver did their size. It is also important to note that while Denver was credited with 16 offensive rebounds and over 20 second chance points, they only had one offensive rebound in the fourth quarter as the Rockets really took control of their defensive glass.
Dantley impressed me one more time following the game as he refused to be content with going 3-1 on the road trip saying that this loss hurt.
Denver now returns home to face the Wizards on Tuesday as they play their fourth game in five nights, each one in a different locale. As of yet there is no word on the availability of Chris Andersen who left the game late in the third quarter with a sprained left ankle.
Advanced Game Stats
Pace Factor: 95.8
Defensive Efficiency: 135.1 – overall a terrible showing. The 135.1 is a season worst and Denver gave up a season high 66.2 TS% and a second highest EFG% of 61.4%
Offensive Efficiency: 128.4 – that should be good enough to win any game.