The season is over. A campaign that held such incredible promise ended in the first round against a division rival missing two starters. The Nuggets just had no answer for Carlos Boozer and Paul Millsap. Despite the best efforts of players like Johan Petro, Malik Allen and Joey Graham Denver the Jazz controlled the paint in the second half.
Despite my dire predictions of a blowout by halftime the Nuggets stayed close thanks to a 19 point first half from Joey Graham and a 17 point third quarter performance by Chauncey Billups. While Graham and Chauncey carried Denver through three quarters, no Nugget was able to complete the job in the fourth.
Carmelo looked like he was going to answer the bell early in the final stanza as he tallied six points and an assist over the first five plus minutes of the quarter. Melo’s jumper at the 6:33 mark tied the game at 95. That would be the final important bucket by Denver because before Denver would score their next hoop over two minutes later they would fall behind by 11.
The game and the season were over.
While most fans will look at Carmelo’s 20 point performance on just 6-22 shooting, it does not tell the entire story. Melo Battled on the glass pulling down a team high 12 rebounds and handled double teams well as he racked up five assists. Still, he will receive a good deal of responsibility for the loss and rightfully so. His defense was spotty as always and great players are judged by not only putting points on the board, but doing so with some semblance of efficiency. Carmelo’s teammates did not all play well, but they gave him a shot to win in the fourth quarter and it did not happen. I commented during the game Carmelo looked like he was going half speed as his usual killer first step was not there. Typically Melo can fire off at his defender and pull up leaving the sorry sap covering fighting to stop his momentum in an attempt to contest the jumper. Melo never did gain separation and the result was a hoard of contested midrange jumpers that did not fall.
It is not fair to hang this first round loss on Carmelo’s shoulders. However, as the best player on a quality team the successes and failures of his squad are laid at his feet. We will have plenty of time to explore this over the offseason, but for all the accolades Carmelo has received as a scorer, he is still a deeply flawed player. Converting six of 22 shots on a night where his team needed a star to close the deal is simply not good enough.
As I referred to above, Melo was not the only player to struggle. Kenyon Martin, J.R. Smith and Chris Andersen barely contributed to the effort. Martin was the most effective of the three producing a couple of nice conversions in the lane. He also uncharacteristically passed up chances to score in the lane twice choosing instead of dish off to a teammate in a worse position to score.
Smith was back to his passive self. He only attempted four shots in 20 minutes. It was his lowest single game shot total of the season. He also produced no assists producing a mere three points for the team. It seems like J.R. is trying to find himself as a player over the previous three games. He succeeded in playing a quality game in the fifth contest while producing next to nothing in games four and six. I honestly have no idea what to make of it. No idea whatsoever.
Finally looking at Birdman, he was the Nuggets fifth worst big behind not only Kenyon and Petro, but also Malik Allen, who submitted an acceptable six minutes in the second quarter when foul trouble required his presence on the court, and Joey Graham. That is sobering.
Graham deserves all the credit in the world for stepping in ready to play and producing what would have been an all time performance from a forgotten player had Denver managed to win this game. Sadly, his exploits will largely be glossed over and forgotten.
Adrian Dantley provided a boost with a sudden outburst of activity in the second quarter as he drew his first technical as a head coach after a foul by Carmelo away from the ball. The result was a 15-3 surge to close out the half that made the game a contest again. The common joke is that Dantley blew any chance to be a head coach during this series, but he showed growth, made the right personnel decisions in game six and finally realized what you say to the referees is almost as important as what you say to your team.
After six games there is no question who the better team is. Utah absolutely deserved to win the series and they way they played was very impressive. On the other side of things the Nuggets now face a very difficult offseason where complicated questions must be answered. You can count on Roundball Mining Company to walk with you step by step as Denver must gear up for what will hopefully be a more successful season in 2010-11.
The Denver Nuggets face a very tall task. They must win a game in Utah if they are going to keep their season alive. Before the series began, roughly a lifetime ago, I predicted the Nuggets would win in seven games with both teams winning one game on the road. Of course, that was before the injuries to Andrei Kirilenko and Mehmet Okur after which I proclaimed Denver would win in five games. In addition to that prediction I also claimed the Jazz would finish the Nuggets off in game five when Denver dropped the previous three games, only to reverse course again prior to tipoff when I claimed the Nuggets would win and force a game six.
File all of that under the if you make enough predictions, one is bound to be right folder.
With all my dirty laundry now exposed, I must say I expect the Jazz to win game six. They have been dominant at home against Denver. The Nuggets really had no shot at winning games three and four, and even in their game five win I did not find Denver’s performance overly impressive. Now add in the loss of Nene for at least game six and Denver certainly has the odds stacked against them.
One thing I do know is all of the talk about Denver being better without Nene is utterly ridiculous. Nene played well in the first two games, and even in games three and four he was able to get to the line, for some reason he was incapable of converting on his many opportunities at a respectable rate, but he still was effective enough to average ten free throws a game. The fact is Denver has struggled with foul trouble when all of their bigs have been available. Things will only be worse with Nene out.
Johan Petro has exceed expectations all season, albeit very low expectations. Petro will have to not only play well, but stay out of foul trouble in game six. Utah is not a team that plays small. Outside of garbage time the Jazz have played a total of about three minutes all series without two big men on the floor. For the most part between Carlos Boozer, Paul Millsap and Kyrylo Fesenko two of the three are always on the floor. Asking Carmelo Anthony to guard one of those three in the post will almost assuredly result in Melo committing fouls and Denver needs Melo to be on the floor for at least 42 minutes.
I suspect Kenyon will start out covering Fesenko in order to avoid any early foul trouble from covering Boozer. That will put the onus on Petro to not only keep Boozer from going off, but do so without committing fouls. I am dubious of him being able to accomplish either of those two tasks.
At this point Denver is clearly the underdog. I would recommend they go for broke, set Kenyon on Boozer and hope for the best. If they have to go small, they would be better off with inserting Joey Graham to defend Millsap, there is no way they can go small and expect anyone other than Kenyon, Birdman or Petro to handle Boozer. Melo cannot cover Millsap without fouling and Melo does not need any help in picking up fouls. There is the possibility of doubling to assist Carmelo in defending Millsap, but Denver has struggled to handle Utah when they play them straight up. I shudder to think what Utah might do to them should Denver voluntarily get out of position. Even so, Denver might have no choice other than use Carmelo at the four. The good news is Millsap cannot handle Melo either, however, Millsap is more adept at avoiding foul trouble than Melo has been, though Millsap did foul out in game four.
The bottom line is with the current state of Kenyon and Birdman’s health I do not think you can get more than 65 minutes of floor time between the two of them. That leaves roughly 30 minutes that will need to be picked up by Petro and others. Yes, you can expect a Malik Allen sighting. This is going to be a serious problem for Denver and it increases the degree of difficulty for a win in game six substantially.
Obviously, Denver must have another strong performance from Carmelo Anthony, Chauncey Billups and J.R. Smith on offense. Utah is going to put points on the board and Denver will have to match. I am encouraged by the way J.R. Smith played on Wednesday. If he continues to play his new brand of unselfish ball where he drives to set up teammates and picks his spots from behind the arc, he can be a game changer. Ty Lawson is going to have to create easy opportunities in transition and generally create havoc in the half court.
As far as intangibles, Deron Williams has been consistently amazing and he has yet to have a poor shooting night. Maybe he is due for one. He cannot keep shooting over 50% from the field and from behind the arc all series can he? Utah will be highly motivated to close out the Nuggets and you kind of got the sense they did not feel the urgency to win game five that they will for game six. Also, after the Nuggets enjoyed a significant advantage at the free throw line we can expect a backlash in that area as well as the natural swing in that area that will come about by switching the venue to Salt Lake City. Also, the Jazz had a very poor shooting night from Kyle Korver. The chances of that happening again are remote. The Jazz will undoubtedly perform better shooting off of screens.
The only intangible I can reach for from the Nuggets’ point of view is Melo has really been working hard to prove he is a star player and will not get bumped from the first round again, although his effort to carry Denver in game four came up a bit short. Still, if he plays like he did in game four and gets some help from his talented supporting cast, Denver can win.
That is right, I said Denver can win, I just do not find a victory to be very likely. The lack of big man depth is going to cause a myriad of issues. If the Nuggets find themselves behind by double digits in the second or third quarter, as has been their wont in the other two games in Utah, will they possess the determination and heart to fight back, or will they fold up the tent and write the season off as a nightmare that can only end by starting a new day?
Every game is an opportunity to prove yourself and when the buzzer sounds on game six, we will know exactly what this Nuggets team is made of.
The Denver Nuggets staved off elimination by winning game five of their first round series against the Utah Jazz 116-102. Denver is now 4-1 against the Jazz at the Pepsi Center and all five games have been tightly contested in the fourth quarter. In the Nuggets’ four wins, they have ridden a hot offense to a safe victory. Tonight, as it was in game one, J.R. Smith proved the catalyst of a strong fourth quarter surge resulting in a double digit victory.
The Nuggets played a more disciplined offensive game in the first half, largely attempting to work the ball inside and running some semblance of an offense in an attempt to earn easy baskets. In the post game press conference Jerry Sloan said Denver did a good job of working the ball inside for easy baskets early in the game.
Even so, the Nuggets found themselves down by two at the half. With Nene slated to miss the second half after being inadvertently being kicked in the knee by Carlos Boozer the Nuggets unleashed a perimeter that was less structured, but thanks to some impressive marksmanship, more explosive. Denver scored 66 second half points including five straight threes that paved the way from a two point deficit to a seven point lead.
Carmelo Anthony was not as dominant as he had been on offense, but he was also more tactful with his play. He earned 15 free throws for the second time in the series and made it through the game with only a single turnover. It certainly was not as spectacular of a performance, but fit perfectly into the more team oriented offensive style the Nuggets had lacked in games three and four.
Denver shared the offensive burden with Melo posting a solid first quarter, followed by seven different Nuggets scoring in the second quarter (the Jazz only had six players score in the entire game). In the third quarter it was Melo and Chauncey followed by J.R. Smith and Carmelo bringing the team home.
Smith played another unselfish game, but unlike game four, he managed to play with aggression while not taking ill advised shots. J.R. was 4-5 from behind the arc and hopefully we have seen him turn a corner. He passed up open threes on more than one occasion in order to drive or continue to swing the ball around to a teammate. He only forced one shot that I remember and finished the game with three assists, which proved to be the first game in the series where he tallied more than two.
Defensively, the Nuggets were better although the Jazz missed several shots that they had been making. Kyle Korver was a nonfactor missing all six of his shots. Look for that to change in game six. Utah only converted on 45.2% of their shots, their worst performance of the series and only the second time they shot less than 52.9% in the five games.
Game five was a step in the right direction, but if the Nuggets are going to avoid elimination in Utah, they are going to have to play much better than they did tonight. I had many people ask me if Denver had a chance in game six or if they had a chance to win the series. My standard response was that the Nuggets chances of winning were much better with a win in game five than a loss.
The Nuggets still face an uphill climb and the Jazz have to be considered favorites to win game six they way they have walloped Denver in games three and four in Utah. When you are trying to come back from being down 3-1, you can only do it one game at a time. So far so good.
Round 1 Game 5 Nuggets
Here are a few links for you as we get ready for game five.
Chauncey is going to switch from C.J. Miles over to Deron Williams. Billups will probably get a friendlier whistle than Arron Afflalo, but I doubt there will be much of an upgrade with Chauncey on Deron. Billups looks gassed and I doubt the extra effort he will have to exert on defense is going to help alleviate that. I guess Williams is due for a bad game…
Kevin Arnovitz continues to cover this series like no one else. This article on how the Nuggets are not running their most efficient plays very frequently is as frustrating as it is true. I have written that when the Nuggets run almost anything other than isos, they seem to be able to get practically any shot they want. Unfortunately, they are too much in love with their “random” offense.
Faithful reader Bill Holicky has some statistical evidence that Carmelo needs some help if Denver is going to make any headway in this series. He points out that although there are only 16 teams in the playoffs, Denver only has two players in the top 50 in playoff PER (ESPN.com Insider required). Melo is sixth with a very impressive 27.63, but the next best Nugget is Arron Afflalo coming in forty-third with a PER of 16.84.
Professor Hollinger also points out that under Adrian Dantley the Nuggets long standing position as the best team in the league at earning free throws has flip flopped. It would seem officials are not afraid of Dantley’s bark (ESPN.com Insider equired), mostly because he rarely ever uses it.
Rob Mahoney wrote a very good piece on Carmelo for Pro Basketball Talk that I highly recommend.
For some reason I am beginning to feel optimistic about tonight’s game even though my brain is trying to convince my heart otherwise.
The Utah Jazz are a very sound offensive team and they devour teams that make even the tiniest mental or physical errors on defense. Right now the Denver Nuggets are making some big mistakes and some small mistakes and Utah is gorging themselves on each and every one.
Fortunately, Denver does not have to play perfect defensively to defeat the Jazz, but the clearly must play better. Below you will see clips of individual mistakes that can be easily remedied through communication or increased focus and attention to detail.
J.R. Smith has been mocked and ridiculed again for something he tweeted. After the Nuggets loss to the Jazz in game four of their first round series Smith said that if you play selfish you lose selfish. Of course, everyone, including myself, thought that such a statement was pretty silly coming from a player who I once said was removed from a game due to a sprained shot selection.
The question is what exactly is selfish? You can be selfish on both offense and defense. You can be selfish in the locker room. The most common way to define selfish play is whether a player, or players, take too many shots. I think it is a very safe assumption that is the kind of selfish J.R. was referring to.
Was Carmelo Anthony selfish when he took 26 shots? I suspect most people would say, “No.” Carmelo made 13 of his 26 shots and his 39 point performance was what prevented the game from becoming a blowout earlier in the contest. On the other hand, Carmelo did take some bad shots, plus he turned the ball over a whopping nine times while only tallying one assist.
You can make an argument that Carmelo played great and was the reason Denver was within seven points in the fourth quarter. However, I think you could also argue that maybe the Nuggets would have been better off if Melo did a little more passing and a little less dribbling off his foot trying to force his own offense.
Was Chauncey Billups selfish when he took four long jumpers in the first quarter? After the game Chauncey claimed that he really focused on reversing the ball. I saw many more jumpers than swing passes from Chauncey.
Kenyon Martin launched three jumpers in the first quarter that he had no business shooting. Was he selfish? Ty Lawson was aggressive in looking for his offense and his play could have been considered somewhat selfish too. Chris Andersen missed a jumper and both Birdman and Kenyon missed shots when they tried to throw down a spectacular follow dunk instead of making an attempt at a safer tip in. Can we classify those efforts as a selfish attempt at style over substance?
In comparison, J.R. was on the floor for 8:14 seconds before he attempted his first shot. Aside from a three quarter court heave at the first half buzzer Smith only attempted four shots in 16:14 seconds of floor time in the first half. One shot was a breakaway layup and second attempt was the shot he took after he rebounded his missed breakaway layup.
Looking beyond shot totals, it was obvious that J.R. was making an effort to play unselfish basketball. He was a very willing passer and never was a “ball stopper” that George Karl has railed against in the past. He passed up open shots in order to give the ball to teammates who were in worse position than he was. I can see why after the game he might have felt like he was playing an unselfish style of basketball and his teammates did not reciprocate.
The flip side to that is J.R. did nothing to set his teammates up. He did not drive and attempt to earn an easy shot or get to the free throw line. He simply passed the ball around the perimeter when it came to him. That may be unselfish, but is it they style of play the Nuggets need from J.R.? It certainly was not particularly effective as all the passing only netted J.R. two assists.
I think it is exceptional that J.R. was trying to be coachable and implement the style of play that we all know leads to success for the Denver Nuggets. It is a small step forward in his development. Unfortunately, his efforts seem to be misguided. Unselfish does not mean passive and J.R. was incredibly passive, especially in the first half.
I understand J.R.’s frustration and appreciate his desire to promote unselfish play. The problem is if J.R. is not being a playmaker, it is bad for the team. Plus I would wait more than one game before I start calling people out on Twitter.
Rick Riley interviewed George Karl and watched game three of the Denver Nuggets first round series against the Utah Jazz with him. Coach Karl is looking better, but is still very gaunt. You can tell how badly he wants the team to do well and it is sad to see his frustration and helplessness. He does have enough energy to poke fun at J.R. Smith though.
Yes, the Denver Nuggets can still win this series. However, in order to do so, they will have to exhibit two characteristics that they have as of yet been unable to produce on the basketball court.
Utah far outclassed the Nuggets in game three, but Denver is capable of turning the tide as long as they play with patience and trust.
Offensively, Denver can win a shootout with the Jazz. The Nuggets have more offensive depth and talent to outscore Utah. Up until now the Jazz have been displaying the patience and trust on offense and Denver has not. The Jazz run their sets and do not just jump at the first opportunity to shoot the ball. They share the ball and believe that whether it is C.J. Miles, Kyrylo Fesenko, Kyle Korver or Paul Millsap who is sprung free that they will do their job and score.
The Nuggets have been far to reliant on creating offense individually. Both Chauncey and Carmelo had relatively efficient offensive performances, but they generated almost no offense for their teammates. That has to change. When the Nuggets run some semblance of an offense, whether it be pick and roll or even simply sending cutters through the lane, they earn easy shots. The way they played offense in game three reminded me of the Allen Iverson era.
When things got tough AI clearly only trusted himself. The result was excessive one on one play, bad offense and losses. Denver has a chance to show that they trust one another. If they do not, this series is as good as over.
Defensively, Denver will have to possess the same characteristics. The Nuggets have done a very good job of defending the pick and roll. Utah has scored very infrequently off that play. The problem is Denver has had no answer for the second, third and fourth options the Jazz throw at them. Right now the Nuggets do not trust one another. On one hand they do not want to commit fully to helping because they do not trust their teammates will cover for them and that creates a downward spiral of horrible team defense.
It may be a cliche, but Denver can win together or lose as individuals. Right now they are losing, but there is still plenty of opportunities to display patience and trust.
By the way, if you are not following the coverage of this series by Kevin Arnovitz on TrueHoop, you are really missing out. He is doing a tremendous job of providing first hand info from the coaches and players as well as in depth analysis.
First of all I let’s get something straight. Even after dropping a game at home to a very shorthanded Utah Jazz team in my mind the Denver Nuggets are still the favorite to win their first round series with Utah. However, I am done looking at this team through the perspective of what they can do and from now on I am only concerned with what they have done. They have successfully destroyed my sense of optimism about what they can be.
The arrival of the second season did not prove to be any kind of magic elixir that erased 82 games of up and down play and I will no longer operate under the assumption or hope that any single event can automatically cure this team from its ailments all of which can be summed up in one word, inconsistency.
Game two produced three different phases for Denver. Initially we saw the first half team that was way too laid back and proved to be ineffective ultimately giving up a big run to close out the first half that basically cost them the game. The second half brought a maniacal swarming defensive effort that triggered a run successful enough to demolish a 14 point lead and eventually earn a 102-98 lead with under four minutes remaining. From there Denver collapsed committing two offensive fouls, and one truly offensive foul, Carmelo’s silly sixth foul. Add in some unnecessary three point attempts when the Nuggets were scoring in the paint all night long and we discover that 20 minutes of good to great play is not going to make up for the 28 minutes of absent minded defense, misapplied physical aggression and some shots born out of what can only be described as a hero complex that hounds a couple of Denver’s guards.
In the end their inconsistency put them in a difficult spot and in the end produced some big mistakes. The loss has cost them home court advantage and any mental edge they may have had due to the Jazz dealing with the losses of Andrei Kirilenko and Carlos Boozer.
The fact is inconsistency has hounded Denver for years, and this year, in a season where every game was supposed to be an important step towards earning a high seed to help propel another postseason push, Denver remained wildly inconsistent. Then again it might be said their inconsistency was consistent as evidenced by the gap between their performance against playoff teams versus their performance against sub .500 teams. Despite the fact Denver has a veteran laden team they continue to flounder mentally.
That inconsistency is born of having inconsistent players. You can never be sure of what you are getting from night to night from key cogs like Nene, Chris Andersen and the king of inconsistency, J.R. Smith. Denver can go from a well oiled machine scoring points in bunches to a gaggle of dudes who simply launch the first jumpers that presents itself. And they can do so for inexplicably long stretches at a time. Probably the only thing you know you will get night after night is Arron Afflalo will bust his butt every play defensively when he is on the floor, Carmelo will score at least 20 points and J.R. Smith and Chauncey Billups will combine to shoot well over ten threes whether they are falling or not. How do you build a team around that? What kind of identity can a inconsistent group produce?
Now consider Utah. They might have nights where their shots are not falling, but you know you are going to get a hard fought smart game from Deron Williams. Carlos Boozer is going to take high percentage shots and rebound. Paul Milsap will throw his body around and rebound. Kyle Korver will at least work hard defense and earn open jumpers. The team as a whole will run their sets and follow the instructions Jerry Sloan provides for them.
The fact that Denver’s style over substance is backed by such tremendous talent they have a good shot at defeating the team that simply goes out and does their thing night in and night out. However, regardless of their superior talent Denver’s EKG like performances put them at risk of ending this season with the greatest sin in sports, unmet potential.