Things were falling into place for the Denver Nuggets. Utah had dropped a game to Houston and opened the door for the Nuggets to claim the Northwest Division title and ensure the worst they would finish in the Western Conference would be third. All the Nuggets had to do was beat the San Antonio Spurs, who came into the Pepsi Center the night after losing at home to Memphis, and then beat Memphis on Monday night. Plus Kenyon Martin was making a return from a knee injury that could have potentially caused him to miss the remainder of the regular season and possibly the playoffs as well.
San Antonio had other ideas as they played a near perfect game and beat the tar out of the impotent Nuggets 104-85.
With the loss to San Antonio the Nuggets are going to have to either win in Phoenix, a game that will be their fourth in five days and the Suns will have a day of rest at home, or hope Phoenix can win in Utah on the final night of the season. Their only other hope is for Utah to lose at Golden State and I would not count on that happening.
Getting back to the game itself it was the Nuggets once potent offense that completely disappeared in the second half that allowed the Spurs to take control of the game. After a layup by Carmelo Anthony cut the Spurs’ lead to six early in the fourth quarter, San Antonio rattled off 12 straight points in only 2:39. During that time the Spurs scored on seven straight possessions, that streak would reach nine before the Nuggets finally earned a stop, while the Nuggets turned the ball over four times and missed two shots. On their six possessions they threw a total of five passes and two of those five were caught by players in black jerseys.
The most disconcerting aspect of the game was how the Nuggets completely checked out mentally. The combination of frustration created by the sound defense of the Spurs and the anger they felt towards the officials was apparently too much to handle. This game was in my mind the most important contest of the season, and it was made so largely due to the fact Denver blew so many easy games early in the season, yet Denver was completely unable to rise to the occasion. The way they failed to answer the bell in the fourth quarter was very distressing.
There was a slight glimmer of good news though. Despite the fact the Spurs picked Denver’s defense apart, the Nuggets actually showed significant improvement on their pick and roll defense. I am sure you will read that and scoff because the Spurs seemed to score at will. My high school coach used to say that any offense that is run correctly, will eventually earn an open shot. The pick and roll is the perfect example of that principle. A combination of a solid screen and the ball handler making sure he runs his man into the screen always creates an advantage for the offense. The Nuggets did a very good job of hedging, recovering and rotating against the Spurs pick and roll. The Spurs simply responded by executing their offense. The contrast between the motion and passing the Spurs exhibited on offense and the I-got-the-ball-so-I-better-shoot-it offense the Nuggets exhibited was very exacerbating.
I suspect there are some doubters out there regarding my claim the Nuggets improved their pick and roll defense so I put together a few clips as video evidence.
Denver still has time to get their act together for the playoffs, but I fear the way the season is playing out the most likely result for Denver will be a first round matchup against the Suns without home court advantage and that is very bad news for the Nuggets.
Additional Game 80 Nuggets
- Kenyon Martin looked to be physically well. He did throw down a dunk with some of his trademark ferocity. I never did get a good feel for his lateral movement though. He did get beat off the dribble a couple of times, but I do not think it was necessarily due to his knee injury. Obviously all Nuggets fans will continue to watch him very closely over the next couple of days.
- I was once again disappointed by Chauncey Billups’ play. While he had a good scoring night, he played to score instead of playing to ensure the Nuggets ran any semblance of offense. As the point guard he must demand his teammates share the ball. As long as he is bringing the ball up the floor and shooting without making a single pass, there is no way anyone else will feel the need to do anything other than shoot.
- Nene has played very well against Tim Duncan and short of Amare Stoudemire I do not think anyone gives Duncan as much trouble as Nene. However, Maybyner was practically a no show on offense. He played solid defensively, but in 32 minutes he only collected two rebounds. While I am confident Nene will not play that poorly again for a very long time, he hurt Denver dearly on Saturday and played a significant role in Denver’s offensive struggles.
- Another very frustrating aspect of the game was the way Carmelo practically begged out by getting tossed. Instead of fighting to the very end, he basically threw in the towel. I realize he has a very adversarial relationship with Tony Brothers it does not excuse his tantrum that resulted in getting ejected. On the flip side, if a referee continually butts heads with a player, it is clearly not always the player’s fault. If lawyers can ask that potential jurors be removed from jury selection, why can’t teams ask for certain referees to not officiate their games? I realize the league would never allow such a veto over officiating assignments to come to fruition, because that would be admitting their referees might not be wholly impartial. Still, it takes two to tango and Brothers is always dancing with Melo.
- The Spurs completely controlled the tempo of the game. I was amazed at how frequently they possessed the ball deep into the shot clock. The sad thing is Denver has the ultimate pace changer on the bench in Ty Lawson and for some reason despite nearly a full season of excellent play, Adrian Dantley has not confidence in him. Lawson was tied to the bench until the final six minutes of the game when things had already been decided. In case you were wondering AC was on the court for the first five minutes of the fourth quarter and played a role in the collapse.
- Dantley also chose the wrong team to go small against. Denver has had success with Chauncey, J.R., Afflalo, Melo and Nene on the floor together, but Saturday he tried Chauncey, AC, Afflalo, Melo and Nene.
- If you want an example of how goofy plus/minus can be, Johan Petro was a +11.
- Denver scored an embarrassingly low 28 points in the paint. The Spurs defense made things difficult for them, but instead of passing and moving without the ball, Denver played right into their hands.
- Thank God Denver will not be playing San Antonio in the first round.
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