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