A win in Energy Solutions Arena is not the cherished prize it used to be. The Utah Jazz have lost seven straight games at home, something that has not happened since 1982 (according to TNT and my memory of what was said on TNT). Even so, do not take anything away from the Denver Nuggets won once again in the new Team Play Era over Utah knocking the plummeting Jazz into tenth in the West.
It is quite strange to see these two rivals player each other now. For years we have seen the deadly Utah flex offense lead by one of the best point guards in the league picking apart the Nuggets defense with the fiery Jerry Sloan roaming the sidelines. On the Nuggets’ side it has been explosive scorers and fast paced frenetic offense. My how things have changed.
Despite a very shaky stretch in the middle of the second half that saw an eight point lead turn into a six point deficit Denver was able to muddle through the final few minutes despite some struggles on both ends of the floor and pull out a win.
Denver plays a much more sound style of basketball on both ends of the floor now dependent on sharing the ball on offense and supporting each other on defense. The difference is when a team lacks elite level talent the margin for error is much more slim (unless you are playing Charlotte that is). Any stretch where you fail to move the ball or scrap and claw on defense can bring on a run such as Utah put together to take the lead in the second half.
On offense in the first half the Nuggets movement on offense was spawned by moving and cutting without the ball. It lead to several easy baskets in the lane. In the second half the movement was created by penetration, which is not a bad thing, but the Jazz did a good job of plugging up the lane and making it difficult to pass the ball to a teammate in position to score. There were also times when Ty Lawson was sitting out where the penetration disappeared as well and the ball was stuck outside the three point line and Denver struggled to find quality shots.
On defense, where the change has been remarkable, after a solid first half the Nuggets began to look a little tired at times in the second. The most glaring example was on sequence with 9:54 left in the game where the ball was deflected to Kirilenko and he caught it, thought about shooting, waited to see if anyone was going to come out and guard him and then calmly made a fifteen footer.
Down the stretch Al Jefferson was able to get a couple of easy scores on Kenyon Martin in the post as George Karl chose to single cover Big Al in order to avoid giving up open threes. The Nuggets saving grace in the fourth quarter was their ability to deflect passes as Denver compiled 12 steals. In a close game those turnovers are deadly and they helped Denver hold the Jazz in check just enough to pull out a tight win.
Of course we cannot let the closing sequence go without discussion (if you do not know how this game ended, make sure to watch the highlights). With Denver up five and the game seemingly in hand Devin Harris made a three pointer to cut the lead to two with only 1.2 seconds remaining. Kenyon stopped Wilson Chandler from taking the ball out of bounds because he did not want to be stuck shooting free throws at the end of a one possession game, a decision I agreed with as it happened. However, Kenyon first holds the ball out in an attempt to draw a technical by getting Kirilenko to slap at it. After that Kenyon looked at throwing the ball into the corner, but realized there was nowhere to go with the ball. At that point he lost control of the ball fumbling it away to Kirilenko who immediately grabbed the ball and tried to spin and lay it in for what would be a miraculous conclusion to regulation. Kenyon managed to reach out and hit the ball just enough to cause AK-47 to bobble it and lose control just as he got the ball to the rim. Kirilenko managed to collect the ball and put it in the hoop on a second effort, but it was far too late.
Anyone who watched this sequence had a couple of questions that will probably never be answered. Did Kirilenko reach over the out of bounds line to grab the ball? If so, was it illegal as Martin had clearly lost control of it after his aborted pass? Did Kenyon really touch the ball after Kirilenko grabbed it? I believe he clearly did, but the officials did not see it. The correct ruling should have been Utah’s ball out of bounds to the left side of the backboard with less than a second remaining because Kenyon was out of bounds when he hit the ball. Because the referees missed that initial call, can they rule the play should have been stopped when Martin touched the ball during the mandatory review of whether the second shot was released before time expired? I know they can review an out of bounds call, but can they change an out of bounds call during a review where they were reviewing something else.
I really think the referees should have taken some time to try to piece together what just happened although if the rules stipulate they can only look at whether or not the final shot was attempted before time expired, there is nothing they could have done.
Needless to say it was a baffling ending to an entertaining game.
Additional Game 63 Nuggets
Pace Factor: 94.9 – Slower than average, even slower than they average on the road.
Defensive Efficiency: 106.4 – Worse than this group has been doing, but considering the circumstances I think it was a solid performance.
Offensive Efficiency: 108.5 – A tad worse than usual, but again, solid output on the road.