2010-2011 Game 57: Denver Nuggets 94 Milwaukee Bucks 87

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Sigh of relief. That’s about all I can say as the Nuggets notch a nice win as a much needed break from the season starts now. I discussed earlier the implications and vastly different scenarios that could come into play over the critical stretch next week when no games will be played. For now, I’m grateful for this team and the fact they were able win an ugly game in a gritty and unconventional fashion. Throughout the maddening highs and lows of the game, the Nuggets reminded me once more how the sweet taste of victory is ultimately worth all the frustrations.

Nene really had his hands full with Bogut in this one. That was the matchup I was looking at early and with Bogut having a down year the Nuggets had no excuse not to control him and live with the Bucks jump shooting. Bogut was a beast down low recording 20 rebounds and forcing Nene into foul trouble all game, but ultimately Denver did a fine job in limiting his impact to strictly defensive rebounding.

That matchup aside, the struggling Nuggets have a talent edge on Milwaukee everywhere else. With the way Denver has been playing lately this was a game they needed to somehow win. After jumping out to a fantastic 27-16 lead after the first quarter, the Nuggets did what they do and followed it up by losing the second quarter 19-27. In a moment of frustration it was tempting to think “here we go again” and turn my attention to the 2012 NBA draft class. But, the root cause for the Nuggets letdown and their penchant for blown leads lately has been something unexpected – the bench.

I’ve talked a lot about how much of a liability Denver’s versatile bench is becoming. These last three road games have been the worst I’ve seen it. I know you can’t quantify effort with stats – but I look at steals, blocks, and offensive rebounds as the “hustle” production that Denver needs to get out of its bench. Tonight, four bench players combined for zero offensive rebounds, one block, and a measley three steals. They didn’t really do anything else right either. It was disastrous.

About the only player I can give a pass to is Chris Andersen. His production wasn’t any good but with 2 points, 4 rebounds and 2 steals he outclassed most of his fellow reserves. But more than anything, he played with energy and passion and a sense of pride in his job. Ty Lawson was the most passive player on the floor tonight and shivered at the prospect of being matched up with Earl Boykins. J.R. Smith played a lethargic 23 minutes, taking 5 one-on-one shots, making only one of them and getting blocked twice. Al Harrington was his normal self.

There’s no excuse for Denver’s talented bench to be such a drag on the team. By the end of the game, Karl had seen enough and got rid all for them for the crucial competitive parts of the game. Only Birdman saw significant action with Nene stuck in foul trouble. Whether Melo goes or not, I fully believe Denver’s bench is due for a change in attitude one way or another. I have to question their passion and their effort tonight, had they even just played with a passable energy level Denver would have run away with this game.

Milwaukee didn’t play well, and somehow stayed in it behind a strong bench effort. Their horses Bogut and Jennings had some of their worst games of the season. With no inside presence, they moved the ball side to side for plenty of open shots. Nobody could make anything. When Earl Boykins is one of the better scorers on the floor you know your team needs help on offense.

Thanks to Kenyon Martin, Denver played enough defense what it mattered to get the job done. Kenyon had his best game of the season, recording a Marcus Camby like statline. How’s this – 11 points, 9 rebounds, 7 assists, and 5 blocks. Kenyon “rewarded” his solid defensive effort with a few too many poor jump shots, but he was so energetic and active defensively the man earned this win. Kenyon was responsible for a putback basket and the crucial defensive stop that sealed the victory.

Carmelo Anthony had another fine scoring performance, but his game was a tale of two halves. In the first half, he was a spectacular 9/14 shooting and couldn’t be stopped. In the second half, he responded to missing those tough shots by shooting more of them and finished only 5/16. Melo didn’t make a basket in the final five plus minutes of the game. Melo had himself a game, but it came in such an inconsistent manner it’s hard to predict what kind of performance you can really rely on him for. He can be the deadly all around first half assassin or the low efficiency jump shooter of the second half. Which version of Melo shows up is likely what will determine how successfully you can build a contending team around him.

It wasn’t the most impressive win in the world as Denver did a lot of things poorly against a Milwaukee team that just looked all out of sorts.  Now, we turn our attention to the future of the franchise and wait. I can’t say with certainty what I want to happen or if anything will surprise me. Whether or not it was this team’s last game together, I’m grateful to have survived this rollercoaster and I’m hopeful for a future of more basketball and less speculation.

Additional Game 57 Nuggets

  • Carmelo did his best Corey Hart impression in a series interviews throughout the ESPN broadcast. He seemed to hint that he believes a resolution on his extension money will come before the trade deadline. At the same time, he largely gave the same vague company answers on wanting to be traded and where he could end up. Melo did express concern over the Nuggets retaining talent in the future but didn’t explicitly rule out extending with Denver. In other words, I have no idea what Melo said
  • I thought Chauncey Billups should have had another easy matchup in Brandon Jennings tonight, and for the most part Billups delivered. I would have liked to see him be more aggressive in the paint and look to set up his teammates off dribble drives. Chauncey made a big three in the fourth and got to the line a team high 7 times, but he only recorded 4 assists and 3 turnovers. His defense was a mixed bag as Jennings helped contain himself by missing every open look he had.
  • There’s almost no evidence of Arron Afflalo’s 29 minutes tonight, as he only had 3 points, 1 rebound, and 4 fouls. He still finished the game a +13 and his hustle was a constant positive force on the game.
  • This was a very weird game. The Bucks shot 3-23 on threes and the Nuggets 3-11. Even stranger, neither team could get an offensive rebound to save their life. Both teams had 3 offensive boards for a total of six in a game where no one could make a shot. Like I said, it was an ugly game and an encouraging sign Denver was able to gut it out without an outburst of scoring.

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