2010-2011 Game 60: Denver Nuggets 106 Portland Trail Blazers 107

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It was something the Nuggets haven’t had to worry about in a very long time. With the ball, shot clock turned off and one bucket away from winning the game. If it wasn’t a straight up inbounds to Melo in isolation, it was a failed high pick and roll with Chauncey and Nene, the ball ending up in Melo’s hands anyway. Just as the Nuggets adapt their style of play to an overhauled roster, the coaches are in uncharted territory trying to re-learn how they are going to close games.

Let me start by saying the effort and execution on a back to back game like this was fantastic. I expect continued growing pains figuring out an offense like this where it’s not only the new players having to carve out a role here quickly. It’s the remaining incumbent guys who are probably changing their roles more than anyone – when you lose your primarily ball handler and a star with the second highest usage rate in the league, you can’t make the argument that having talent will figure itself out.

If I have a problem with anything it was the play call on the last possession of regulation. Ty Lawson gets the inbounds pass, dribbles towards the middle of the floor and attacks the single coverage with Brandon Roy. In that situation I’d rather have Ty exploit Andre Miller especially when Aldridge found himself in no man’s land after being unsure of whether or not to leave Gallinari to help on Ty’s penetration. Furthermore Andre Miller matched up with Afflalo on the wing and Nene was being guarded by Wes Matthews on the block. The Nuggets created a number of favorable mismatches off Lawson’s penetration and ended up bailing Portland out by settling on the worst one. Roy made a sound defensive play not to initiate the contact and forced the slight hesitation on Lawson’s last second layup attempt.

By that point in the game, the Nuggets were spent and simply trying to hold on to a game they valiantly had in their grasps despite several bench players trying to lose it for them. For the second game in a row the Nuggets leaned on their defense through all four quarters to put them in position to win. They defended well down the stretch against some impossible three point shots by Rudy Fernandez and Brandon Roy. After failing to control LaMarcus Aldridge most of the night, they adjusted and put the clamps on him during crunch time, reminiscent of past matchups with Portland where Aldridge has been made a spectator.

Danilo Gallinari came one point away from tying his career high in his second game as a Nugget. He showed off an array of moves including drives both ways to the basket and even a left hand finish at the rim. He hit a nice step back jumper and made one of five threes, but the majority of his damage was done off the dribble where Gallo destroyed anyone who got in his way. He went to the free throw line 17 times, without forcing many shots and only recording 14 field goal attempts. The best game of his career however was sullied by him missing the pivotal free throw that would have put Denver up by four and sealed the victory.

With Chandler starting, the Nuggets moved back to a somewhat familiar bench rotation highlighted by JR, Birdman, and Al Harrington with Ray Felton being the only new addition to bench that I remarked was pathetic during the stretch of games before the trade deadline. Birdman looks like he’s had legs chopped off from the knees down and is now playing on stilts while he learns how to walk again. The man could not keep his balance standing still and was pushed around the painted area as if he were on ice skates. Al Harrington played about as well as he can play, and by that I mean recording 4 points, 3 rebounds and making at least one defensive stop in a short amount of time on the floor.

I was gravely disappointed in the bench unit, led by JR Smith, who started the fourth quarter with a nine point lead and a chance to put the game on ice. JR, who fans have nonsensically been waiting for to become a star for six years now – showed what a low IQ, liability of a basketball player he can be. At one point he allowed two and-one layups with some truly mind-boggling defense that completely shifted momentum in favor of the Blazers, who would never relinquish it for the rest of the game and overtime.

I guarantee you fans will be quick to put this one on Karl, Raymond Felton, Gallo (who nearly had the game of his life), and maybe even Ty Lawson before they look to JR. Its utter nonsense, as JR continues to show he’s awful in clutch situations and just one of the lowest quality basketball players here who does not deserve any trust in a close and competitive game. JR played 19 minutes, which was too much, and rightfully didn’t sniff the court as Denver battled back to regain the lead he had thrown away – while nearly stealing a game you can argue they had no business winning.

Yes, there were some coaching miscues and puzzling communication breakdowns in a game that was so eminently winnable. Raymond Felton continues to struggle in a offense with very little structure as he has not been able to pick up the tendencies of the bench unit he’s playing with. Despite airballing two threes and some untimely turnovers Felton has played promising defense both of these games and looks to be miles ahead of Lawson in that department already, which is no doubt why Karl went with him on Andre Miller in order to use Afflalo on Brandon Roy.

If Denver plays like this on the road consistently, they’ll be fine. Denver has stolen games like this by having a great individual talent who can will himself to victory much like Brandon Roy did tonight. Nevermind the fact Roy was well defended and the Nuggets tired legs had been showing throughout the fourth. Denver is becoming a smarter, well-balanced, mentally focused team and to see an effort like this on the road is nearly as encouraging as a win. As JR Smith showed everybody, the Nuggets can’t fully let go of their poor habits and inexperience closing out games in an instant. Even the coaches are braving uncharted territory and they are going to struggle to get a grip on it for a little while yet.

Pace Factor: 104.3 – Fast, putting the Blazers on their heels and scrambling for threes in order to keep up. Too many stupid mistakes gave Portland an opening. Then, Brandon Roy happened.

Offensive Efficiency: 101.6 – Should be better against Portland, but they are a better defensive team than their 104.4 rating suggests. They play the best defense in the NW division.

Defensive Efficiency: 102.6 – Good enough to win on the road, but Portland came alive in the end and found an extra gear Denver wasn’t quite ready for.

Additional Game 60 Nuggets

  • LaMarcus Aldridge has pushed his game to another level. I’ve talked before about how the Nuggets shouldn’t double and instead dare him to put the ball on the floor and work in the post. Aldridge has traded in a lot of his long two pointers for hard–hat work down low. He gave Nene fits and the Blazers used misdirection and a number of excellent plays to spring him loose for some easy opportunities. Denver however did lock down at the end and forced Roy to beat them.
  • Wilson Chandler was again, the utility man. Denver’s best help defender, maybe their most consistent rebounder and a scoring option who is developing Afflalo-like consistency. There was a stretch in the third quarter where Chandler basically made up a ten point deficit by himself when Denver’s offense looked dead in the water.
  • Nene only took 6 shots, had a nice double-double but was passive throughout the crucial stretch of the game. He made no effort to post up smaller players like Wesley Matthews and Rudy Fernandez. You might argue that Ty and Raymond aren’t looking to force feed him enough but there’s nothing stopping him from aggressively demanding the ball in spots where it would be too easy to get it to him. Nene could learn a thing or two from Aldridge’s transformation to a premiere post player.
  • Arron Afflalo, for the third straight recap – is most capable in the clutch. He knows what the Nuggets do and can immediately slot in to sets that this team has not practiced or executed together yet. I feel comfortable giving any important shot to Afflalo as he has shown the ability to get a decent one up no matter the circumstance. AAA got the last desperation three at the buzzer but was passed up for shots at the end of regulation and overtime before that. He made all the biggest shots of the night down the stretch and in overtime, however.
  • Felton is a very promising defender Nuggets fans need to learn patience and live with some of his ugly shooting and questionable decisions with the ball. He brings a calm to the game defensively and can control pace a lot better than Lawson at this point. He’s very capable running the point and has probably the hardest job out of anyone on the team figuring out how to take control. Felton is not a superstar point guard who is going to a team where others are going to be expected to slot into roles around him. He is going to take time to integrate and deserves a good deal of patience and understanding about the task ahead of him. This game is not salvageable without Felton’s defensive effort in the second half.

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  • http://Knickerblogger John

    Glad to see you guys appreciating Gallo and Chandler’s games. You got one of Gallo’s better efforts tonight. Wait til he starts swishing threes.

    Knicks fan.

    • Ricardo

      I like Chandler and Gallo being in this team. Wait until Felton gets back to playing in his high level, this team might be unstoppable.

  • Anthony

    For sure dude. I miss gallo and chandler so much i’m going through nuggets blog sites and reading about the same promise that I drooled over when they were in NY. I’m all for Melo, you don’t get a chance to get a player like that very often, usually never, but I still miss my boys. Chandler will be extremely reliable and Gallo will be great, you’ll see.He’s much more than a shooter now, but as aforementioned, just wait till Gallo(and ill will for that matter) starts swishing 3′s…I wish the you nuggs fans well man, I really do, treat those kids right.

  • Alex

    As a Knicks fan, all I can say is that the Knicks are really going to come to regret having lost Gallo and Chandler (and Mozgov). I’ve already started staying up late to watch the nuggets and what you saw last night is what these two are capable of. Remember that they were putting up the numbers they were in NY as the third and fourth options behind Amare and Felton. Forget about the fast pace, these two guys can flat out bring it. Denver just might be the perfect situation for these two to flourish.

    And figure out a way to get Mozgov in. He’s rough as all heck, but give him a year under his belt and he could be a very decent man in the middle – and wait until you see a 7 footer of his size run the wing on a fast break. Its a frightening thing to see. All he has to do is calm down a bit as he gets a bit nervous at the start of every game.

    Sigh, I know the Knicks are lucky to get Carmelo, but I really wonder whether the Knicks are going to regret having lost these guys in the long run…

  • Alex

    Oh yeah, you also got the only three guys on the team who could play decent defense in NY. We’re going to give up 115 points a game and still be at .500 at the end of the year.

  • Todd

    Yea I don’t know why Mozgov hasn’t gotten play time yet, I’d like to see him instead of Birdman for at least 10 min of play time.

  • Luke

    The Knicks guys looked good last night, but I am a little frustrated with the Nuggets situation of not having a “go to guy” when they have had one all along. I believe that for any team in the NBA if he would put up shots like he used to and stop being so hesitant that J.R. Smith is the obvious most explosive scorer on the team and right now I am surprised and upset to see that in the one time that it is ok to try and be the star of the team (which he has proven he can be) with Melo gone, J.R. only puts up like 6 shots. I say jack em up number 5.

  • KW

    I was encouraged to see my Nuggets huddling up on a dead ball. I don’t know when I last saw them do that.

    GK was also actually calling plays.

    Why couldn’t we foul Fernadez out of the game? Seems like he played the entire second half with five fouls.

    I am not as frustrated with JR as I am with Nene. Six shots? Passively standing while Fernandez was trying to front him? He needs to shove that little cracker under the rim and demand the ball.

    • http://www.bing.com/ Jenn

      Kudos to you! I hadn’t thuotgh of that!

  • Kyle

    I am ready to see Mozgov get some PT but because of injuries and trades the last 2 teams the nuggets played did not have a center on their bench. Mozgov may get a little bit of time on Monday depending on how deep Atlanta goes to thier bench, which should happen because they are playing the second of a back to back, but if Horford plays a lot of minutes be ready for Nene and K-Mart (if healthy) get most of the time. Wilson Chandler played consistantly both games, and will continue to see the court. Gallo scored a lot of points against the Blazers but has taken a lot of poor shots, including the second to last shot of overtime. As long as he continues to play solid defense he will probably keep getting playing time, hopefully he starts learning to be smarter on his shot selection. Felton also has taken a lot of poor shots but has been playing pretty good basketball overall.

    JR Smith does not deserve as much blame for the poor stretch leading to the Blazers tieing up the game. Sure if he is going to foul on a fast break situation he should make sure that they do not get the ball up above the rim, but how many times has JR tried to foul on a fast break but been called for a flagrant because however is shooting falls down a little hard. Also the second of those fouls last game was called because he swiped at the ball making absolutely no contact but I Believe it was Joey Crawford who was positioned behind him and only saw JR’s arm go at the ball. he was in a horrible spot to make the call, but from what he saw it looked like JR fouled. Though he has been playing much better defense and he seems to be one of the only ones crashing the boards successfully besides Nene and Martin.

    I am very dissapointed in Nene for not taking that game over. When Nene is aggresive and making moves to the basket there is virtually nobody that can stop him for an entire game at least not without sending him to the foul line a number of times. With Aldridge getting that assignment the number one game plan should have been for Nene to attack Aldridge, if he would have gotten some early fouls without another big man the game would have been drasticly changed. The few times that he did make strong moves he made a couple shots and earned a trp to the line. To have gotten Aldridge backing off a little would mean that Nene could have been even more aggresive. nene should have called for the ball a little more and should have been more active when posting up fernandez on the mismatch, and hopefully playing a few more games without Melo will allow Nene to get the sense that he should step up and take some of the load that carmelo has left behind.

    When it came down to it at the end of Regulation and Overtime Afflalo should have been the one to have taken a shot. He is a great catch and shoot guy and lawson should have drove and kicked to Afflalo in his corner. The one shot he did get as the buzzer sounded was a horrible look because of a lack of movement from anybody else on the court

    • Charlie

      If you look at the popcorn machine gameflow graph (link after this comment) you can see my point about JR in the second half. There is a precipitous drop-off in the start of the fourth quarter from which Denver never recovers, although they manage to hold out for a while immediately after JR is pulled out of necessity.

      I have to disagree about the backpedaling, tomahawk chop at the ball on the opposing player running full speed for layup. That is a bad foul, one that is difficult to justify not calling it because of the contact.

      The things JR does on the court are not a result of his effort, but simply gambling and playing stupid. In a one point game, it’s simply too hard for me to overlook. When you look at the team effort it took Denver to play that well last night, JR wasn’t a part of it.

      JR is a very dangerous player. Every single shot he took last night was a difficult one, and because of his stupidity he’s the last one I want anywhere near the ball in a close game where every possession counts. I applaud the coaches for recognizing it and removing JR the rest of the night so that Denver actually recovered their lead and had a chance to win.

      http://www.popcornmachine.net/cgi-bin/gameflow.cgi?date=20110225&game=DENPOR

  • Charlie

    Just gotta say, I don’t really put any blame on Ty Lawson for the final shot of regulation. I think he might have been a little surprised to find himself with that much space and a lane to the basket. I wish he had considered the second and third options that were definitely there but we never called out Chauncey for forcing action at the rim in the final seconds of a game.

    Like many of you guys said, Nene is anti-clutch and gets incredibly passive late in games where he’s often only dangerous on second shot opportunities and putbacks. When you are left with no post presence at the end of a game, it really limits what kind of shot you can get and the Nuggets didn’t really get horrible ones. Gallo shot the three in overtime without hesitation and he makes that nearly all of the time when open. It’s a tough game to nitpick about but for the most part I still think we took a step forward last night.

  • Warner

    Overall I was very impressed with the nuggs last night considering they arrived at 4am after playing celtics. I think the article should have included more of that Chandler stretch in the early third quarter. This game is a blow out if he doesn’t show up like he did out of half. He’s fitting in beautifully on offense and defense. When it comes to nene I’ve stoped allowing myself to get disapointed in the guy. Whenever he tries to take over stretches of games he seems to get frustrated and get stupid fouls like you saw in memphis and when he isn’t aggressive he might as well not be on the court. When it comes to jr it’s kind of the same story with the exception of his incredible potential(which is the worst indicator of future things to come in the nba) He is such an unbelievable head case and his iq is that of a 7 year old. For those of you saying he doesn’t deserve a lot of blame I completely disagree. My order of blame goes from jr to karl. Karl’s lineups were really questionable with playing felton and lawson together and a few others. Anyway back to Jr. He had those 2 atrocious and 1s and regardless of whether or not he actually slapped the guy, everyone knows if you slap down like that a foul is going to be called. That’s bball 101. Not to mention in between and 1s, he shot a terrible fade away 3. Chandler should steal away a lot of jrs minutes if Karl is smart. Overall very impressed however with overall effort and play

  • quentin

    I luv gallo he reminds of KIKI back in the day, however playing lawson and felton in the same back court is stupid because neither one of them can shoot. Plus felton has been turning the ball over way to much. They when the game if JR plays in the over time instead of the smurf line up.

  • Kyle

    I do agree that it was a Stupid mistake for JR to swipe at the ball, and I do know that he has made plenty of those in the past, and probably still will. I was mostly saying that it was unfortunate that the ref was in the wrong spot to see if there was any contact or not. I believe that there was absolutely no contact.

    Although I should stop holding my breath waiting for when JR breaks out of his shell and becomes the star that so many of us Nuggets fans wish and think he is capable of becoming. Every once in a while he shows greatness, and even more often he leaves us in awe, but too often he has made mistakes and just does not stay consistantly great. He is the true definition of a streaky shooter. I do hope that without Melo he can step up and get better and get smarter, but we will just have to wait and see.

    I am looking foward to watching them play Atlanta with 2 days rest and the Hawks coming off a back to back. If they bring the intensity of the Memphis game and the Defense of the Boston Game i think that there wont be many teams that will have a chance to touch them, especially when completly healthy.