2010-2011 Game 59: Denver Nuggets 89 Boston Celtics 75

Box Score | Highlights

There was confusion, miscommunication, a few quizzical glances and some ugly shooting.  There was also effort, passion and a Nuggets team who clearly cared more about winning than anything else.  For years the Nuggets have been all about whether their talent can outweigh that of the opposition.  Now after two games without an All-Star on the roster Denver does not lack talent, but we may be seeing a situation where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.

You can thank Jeremy for that eloquent and well-written intro to this recap, because I still feel a bit of a rush after watching that game unfold. Despite the fact I just can’t contain this new level of excitement about the Nuggets, attempting to stay grounded has led me to thinking about the growing pains that will be part of this process.

Regardless of how much talent is here and who “wins” any trade – it’s all new and for a high level team game like basketball you can’t get the most out anyone without execution and commitment from everyone. That’s why I generally don’t like midseason trades, as the risk of giving up who you are is often overlooked by the allure of new and exciting individual talent.

In the Nuggets’ case, they needed to forget who they were as soon as possible. George Karl has always coached a style geared towards offensive freedom to maximize his playmakers’ skills. But Denver never went anywhere until Karl compromised his loose and fast offense by trying to marry it with a commitment to defense first. For a year, it worked and led Denver to the brink of a Finals appearance. With a superstar that never really bought in because of who he was individually, the team moved further and further away from Karl’s vision until they had no other choice but to start over.

My first thought through these last two games is that Karl’s defensive identity is crawling its way back to life. The ball pressure, the traps and rotations off ball screens and the team concepts on defense have created a re-run of the signature Nuggets fast break off steals and turnovers. Even if the Nuggets do still switch, you have guys like Raymond Felton fighting through screens and recovering to a point where a single breakdown no longer prohibits a stop or a solid defensive possession. Even with the undisciplined Chris Andersen and Al Harrington biting and fouling without restraint, guys like Wilson Chandler and Danilo Gallinari continue to play the passing lanes and crash the boards regardless.

This is something we haven’t seen since the Hornets playoff series, the first Denver won in the Melo era. The Nuggets have since reverted to their old defensive habits and predictably became terrible at it. The first way this new roster is paying off is bringing coachability and depth to the table again, giving Nuggets fans hopes that those terrible habits might actually have a chance of changing again.

That’s not to say the transition will be all sunshine and roses. There was some pretty bad basketball being played tonight. The Nuggets post defense was notably poor as Nene and Gallo had a lot of trouble controlling Kevin Garnett down low. Garnett is no longer a dominating force and proved it by backing down when the Nuggets eventually got physical and just started hitting him as they challenged his touches. The new players are used to getting set shots off precise movement in a D’Antoni offense. Wilson Chandler is the only one who looked immediately comfortable as a guy who can create for himself and move well enough without ball so that it eventually finds him.

Ill Wil was a marvel to watch. He fit in perfectly as utility man with his versatile, do-everything skillset. Wilson guarded Pierce, Rondo, and Garnett effectively at different times. His length and defensive instincts created chaos and regular Boston turnovers. When Denver forced too many one-on-one moves to the basket, Chandler spotted up for kickout jumpers and hit some of the most important shots of the game. There is no question about how this guy will fit in, he does everything and just makes it work no matter what’s going wrong.

It’s not surprising that Gallo and Felton struggled with offense. They rely on a synergy with others in order to create scoring opportunities for themselves. Both often found themselves with the ball and unsure whether to pass, cut, dribble, or shoot. Against Boston’s man defense, trying to freelance an offense with three new players never had any chance of working anyways. Despite almost hurting more than they helped on offense, Felton and Gallo both found ways to impact the game and get Denver a win. Gallo in particular had two resounding blocks before he scored his first points as Nugget, and showed off his impressive handle and agility for a guy who is 6’10”.

It bears repeating that Boston was incredibly shorthanded. However, the game was played at their pace in a physical, defensive manner Boston never finds itself uncomfortable in. Yet I can’t count the number of times Boston was up against the shot clock, forcing bad shots and turnovers against a suffocating defensive effort. It’s crazy to think that team was actually the Nuggets. For once, it was the other team running bad isolations for their best player during crunch time, meanwhile melting defensively and discouragingly losing a tough game. Without jumping too fast to any conclusions about this new squad, let’s all just enjoy that fact for tonight.

And so, while I don’t think we really know much about this team yet, I leave you with a closing thought from Jeremy:

Granted both wins so far have been at home against teams missing key players.  However, there are things that translate when you shift from playing at home to playing on the road chief among them being effort.  This Nuggets team is going to play hard game in and game out.  There will be nights where they are outclassed, but I do not expect to ever have to question what their motivation is when they are on the court.  Contenders they are not although they will make the playoffs and they are going to make life difficult for someone.

Pace Factor: 90.5 – Slow and in Boston’s favor, I looked back and the only times Denver played this slow were games they got blown out.

Offensive Efficiency: 94.8 – Rough, but quite good considering the Nugs started so slow they only scored 37 in one half.

Defensive Efficiency: 79.9 – Best rating of the season. Almost ten points better than the next best game. Enough said.

Additional Game 59 Nuggets

  • Let’s hope Mozgov and Koufos stay ready, because it’s gonna be hard to justify keeping Chris Andersen and Al Harrington in the rotation if their play doesn’t improve. Against a decimated Celtics front line, they were careless, foul-happy and almost single handedly (double handedly?) ruined a magnificent defensive effort by the team.
  • Every team needs veterans to keep players in check through the high and lows of the game. I unfairly declared Kenyon as possibly out of place here, but he proved his worth many times over tonight. Kenyon was the player of the game, set the tone defensively and pushed back against Boston’s physical play with some aggression of his own. His energy was infectious and led to 16-0 scoring barrage to stomp out Boston in the final minutes. Kenyon topped it off with a three pointer for kicks as Denver wound down the clock on their final possession.
  • Arron Afflalo must be a consistent, assertive player throughout the game. He drifted through much of the night while Denver looked horrible and appeared to be destined to lose. He came alive in the fourth quarter by aggressively looking to score. It opened up the offense and sparked the final run that would seal the game. I remarked earlier that AAA becomes a first or second option when Denver needs a bucket now and he needs to play like it. I’m sticking with that assessment for now until the new guys get settled
  • Ty Lawson records double digit assists for the first time in his career. It’s wild he has not done that before, but it goes to show how much holding him back has really prevented him from revealing what he can do. We’ve seen Lawson struggle offensively and fail to have any impact whatsoever when he doesn’t score. Now, despite playing a bad game on offense with brand new teammates, he manages to record 10 assists and one turnover against the best defensive team in the league and Rajon Rondo.

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Charlie Yao

Contributor at Roundball Mining Company since 2010. Unhealthily obsessed with Nuggets basketball since 2002. Follow me on Twitter and Instagram at the links on the left.
  • Todd

    Color me impressed. I don’t mean to beat a dead horse, but I am a Kings fans, slowly trying to immerse myself in Denver Basketball, and wow this is what NBA defense looks like, haven’t seen that in a long long time. Great game against one of the title contenders….Great game Nuggets.

  • David H

    This was fun. I actually look forward to watching this team now, because it’s a team. I don’t care how shorthanded the Celts were. The fact that our guys had no idea how to play together, and Karl didn’t really know what to expect or how to set his rotations outweighs the Cetlics problems IMO.

    Some thoughts…

    I’m sure I’m going to love Gallo, and I think he’ll give a lot of effort on defense, but his hedging on screens was probably the worst I’ve ever seen. He really just ushered Rondo right to the rim on 2 or 3 plays. It’s like he’s never been taught how to hedge/show or even seen anyone do it properly. But I assume he’ll be taught and he’ll get better at it.

    I thought the Nuggets hit a home run with this trade, under the circumstances. But I sure wish they would have been able to unload Harrington before the deadline, too. His salary and his ineffectiveness really put a damper on what we have going on right now.

    The combo of Ty and Felton (and I don’t mean playing together) is such a weapon. We can play one or the other depending on the matchup and the situation without losing anything. In particular, when teams want to post up Ty, Felton steps in. With that said, I don’t think Felton is going to want to share the job. I really hope he changes his mind after seeing how it works out.

    I’m one of those that can’t wait to see Nene at power forward. Last night – without Perk in the middle – was a good time to go (stay) small. But I’m anxious to see the Big Russian. I know he’s not a starter or big minutes guy, yet. But let’s get him ready for situations when we need him for stretches of games.

    What can you say about Wilson Chandler? What a great start. I hear he has some consistency issues, but I assume those are with offense/shooting. It seems to me that he’s the kind of guy that’s going to give you effort, defense, and smarts every night.

    Sign Afflalo. Sign Afflalo. Sign Afflalo. We have to keep Afflalo, Ty, Chandler, and Nene (unless his price is ridiculous). Really, I would love to keep everyone on this team aside from Al and Bird, provided K-Mart takes a huge paycut and J.R. finds a way to prove he can be a different guy with this new team (yeah, I know, that’s a lot to ask).

    I’m sure this team will have ups and downs, but I’m really excited by what we can become once these guys have spent some time on the court together. Basketball – real basketball – is back in Denver!

  • Eric

    I ended up grabbing a ticket at the last minute and going to this game by myself last night, because I had a hunch it was going to be an important one. The Nuggets did not disappoint. It was ugly at times, but then again, that’s to be expected. The fourth quarter was awesome, tired Celtics legs or not.

    Here’s what I gleaned from the game: the Nuggets are DEEP.

    Really, you could make an argument for 8 different guys starting–KMart, Nene, Lawson, Felton, Afflalo, JR, Gallinari, and Chandler could all be in the starting lineup, and it’d be hard to disagree. And I have a hunch it won’t be long until you have to include Mozgov in that conversation, too. The point is, Karl has his hands full with decisions, but the Nuggets run deep enough that they should frighten teams with more “talent.”

    I know it’s not a great comparison, but this team reminds me a little bit of the OKC team from last year and the year before. Sure, Durant is a star, and Westbrook is turning into one, but really, in that team’s rebuilding and early success, they were just a collection of motivated energetic young players who played well together and tried every night. I recall, after a playoff game against them, Kobe saying something to the effect of “they run like a bunch of gazelles.” I could see playoff teams saying that about Denver. Like those OKC teams, they might not go deep in the playoffs, but they will cause headaches for someone. And this time next year, with a year of cohesion-building? I think they could surprise a lot of people.

  • DHinNYC

    I loved K-Mart’s game and attitude. He’s not afraid of anyone and reminds his teammates that they shouldn’t be either. That’s a rare, underrated quality that I think is as vital as it is contagious. We need to offer him some sort of contract, at least a one year deal, maybe mid-level.

    Watching the game at a bar in Brooklyn was amusing. When Chandler nailed one of his several 3s, dudes cheered loudly. “You rooting for Denver?” “Hell yeah! They’re the Knicks!” (Didn’t hurt that we were playing Boston)

    I’m kinda disappointed in Karl’s remarks. It sounds like sour grapes. We should just move on with pride and class.

    • Todd

      Did anyone else catch Barkley’s comments. “Kenyon Martin has that crazy factor, he is crazy”

      haha loved it when he threw that crapbag Garnett on the ground. If you noticed, once someone stands up to KG, his bark gets a little quiet.

    • John

      One thing about Karl’s Comment. You have to remember he is a Basketball guy first. He was asked a Basketball Question, and gave a Basketball Answer. He always speaks what he thinks is the truth, and is very candid.

  • ParkHillNative

    “…I can’t count the number of times Boston was up against the shot clock, forcing bad shots and turnovers against a suffocating defensive effort. It’s crazy to think that team was actually the Nuggets.”

    My sentiments exactly.

    I have been following the Nuggets for more than two decades now. I can’t ever remember a single other time when they’ve held an opponent scoreless for six minutes.

  • Josh

    I think I would agree with just about everything here, except Nene’s defense. This was one of the best games I’ve seen him play on defense. There were a couple of his dumb tic-tac fouls, but he played a lot of one-on-one possessions on the block and shut Garnett and Davis down and forced them to take tough shots. Love the new defense, just hope they keep it up. On the road again tonight should be another early test.

  • Warner

    I have to say I’m a knicks and Nuggs fan. I grew up in ny in the 90’s with the knicks and that team was hard not to love. I moved to Boulder when I was 12 in 97 while the Knicks were good and Nuggs weren’t. However, I’ve slowly fallen in Love with the Nuggets. This entire trade process was very hard for me to watch with both my teams suffering from trade talks. I didn’t want the Knicks to give up too much (and I thought they did) but this has truly worked out 100 times better than I ever thought it would. Regardless of it being one game with the new guys, you can see how guys like Chandler, Felton, and gallo can really thrive in this environment. Wilson was tossed away like yesterdays trash from the Knicks. The guy personifies hard work and likeable character.
    Anyway, I thought this article was written very well and I was echoing similar sentiment last night while watching the game. I wrote the previous paragraph to clarify that I was a huge fan of Chandler before he became a Nugget and I am biased. But I thought he played a wonderful game last night and was arguably the co-player of the game with Martin. He played SHUT DOWN DEFENSE on Pierce, Allen, Davis, and at times KG. His shot can be streaky but that really came to fruition when the trade talks flared up hourly in NY. For most the season he was shooting fantastic percentages (48fg and 37 3pt) Personally I believe he should start over Gallinari for his game is currently more refined as a whole. Gallinari is more of an energy guy/streaky shooter(actually very similar to jr) and would be great off the bench. I also believe that it’s essential we sign Afflalo, Chandler, Nene and if they’re willing to take pay cuts Jr and Martin. I’m hesitant to even add jr and martin cause they’re inconsistent(Jr) hurt(Martin) and immature/poor character(Jr/Martin) but would consider it. I also agree that Harrington and Birdman need to ride the pine. They were atrocious last night birdman has more hope but for god’s sake the man goes for every shot fake and gets dumb fouls. GK can put harrington in and if he’s on for his shots keep him in but if he’s 0-4 or whatever he was last night there’s no reason for him to be playing 16 mins. I’m also very intrigued to see how the Felton/Lawson combo plays out in the next month. I hope Felton buys in for the rest of the season and then he’ll get dealt before the draft. This team is sooo deep it’s crazy they really do have 9 or so guys that could easily start. Proud to be a nuggets fan for the first time in years. Goo Nuggets!!