The Denver Nuggets Avoid Elimination, Win Game Five

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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

  • As I mentioned in my pre-game five links post, John Hollinger wrote an article about how the Nuggets’ free throw shooting rate dropped precipitously under Adrian Dantley (ESPN.com Insider required). The number of free throws Denver attempted per field goal dropped by 17.7% in games Dantely was the coach of record. Things were even worse in the series with Utah as the Jazz were posting a stunningly high .501 free throws per shot ratio and heading into tonight’s tilt the Jazz had shot 13 more free throws in the series than Denver. Low and behold, the Nuggets were awarded 42 free throws to 25 by the Jazz. Utah fans saw that as the league’s response to Professor Hollinger’s article. I think it was the combination of playing at home, and playing aggressively. The fouls that were called on Utah were mostly clear fouls, reaches and bumps. The Nuggets were aggressive and they earned their way to the stripe. Sadly, the state of officiating has gotten to the point where people expect swings like this when an article like the one written by Hollinger comes to light. With all the attention being given to how the Spurs have been allowed to rough up Dirk Nowitzki when they play in San Antonio, we can expect to see game six officiated differently than the previous two. It happens too frequently to be organic and only goes to convince people that someone is involved in instructing referees how games should be called on a game by game basis.
  • Before the game Dantley said he wanted to play Ty Lawson more and he did not make himself out to be a liar. Lawson logged 20 minutes and played an important role in forcing turnovers, pushing the pace and simply supplying energy. The concern with Lawson in the game is that Deron Williams will simply post him up, but Lawson did an admirable job of fighting for position and largely eliminating that aspect of Williams’ game.  Lawson played well and it is good to see Dantley embrace knowing that Ty deserves to be on the court after not showing much confidence in him down the stretch in the regular season.
  • Chris Andersen played his best game of the series.  Despite apparently reaggravating his finger injury on his left hand and tweaking his good knee during the game, he played hard and looked a little more like the Birdman from 2008-09.  He tallied three blocks and shot six free throws in a single game for the first time in four weeks.
  • The crowd seemed very subdued in the first half and even with a safe lead the Utah Sucks chant was quite muted. I think most fans know Denver faces a difficult battle in game six and it showed in the mood of the crowd in game five. However, should the Nuggets somehow pull out a victory in Utah, the game seven crowd will be much different and with good reason.
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