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