|Nene, C 38 MIN | 9-12 FG | 0-0 FT | 9 REB | 2 AST | 18 PTS | -8
You really can’t give Nene anything less than an “A” when he posts the numbers he did and comes up with such big baskets down the stretch. He also showed a willingness to attack the post which is always beneficial to the Nuggets as a whole.
|Danilo Gallinari, SF 34 MIN | 5-14 FG | 5-6 FT | 7 REB | 2 AST | 17 PTS | -11
Gallinari came on hot during the second half but faded down the stretch when the Nuggets needed him most. For some reason George Karl had him playing point guard to close out the game, and although he played excellent defense on Chris Paul (for the most part), he still couldn’t stop what ended up being the game-winning shot. If it weren’t for Blake Griffin’s shifty defense to close out the game, Gallinari likely would be looking at another 20-plus point performance to go along with yet another impressive win. One thing we must not overlook was his brilliant rebound followed up by a full-court run that eventually led to a monster dunk in the early part of the third quarter. Gallo essentially started up, conducted and finished the fast break offense all by himself.
|Timofey Mozgov, C 24 MIN | 4-7 FG | 1-4 FT | 4 REB | 1 AST | 9 PTS | -3
Mozgov has steadily progressed and is finally developing into somewhat of a threat at times. He is now looking to score in post and is following up shots with purpose. His three blocks were huge and his defense on the inside was certainly helpful before he begged out of the game because he was gassed.
|Andre Miller, PG 36 MIN | 6-16 FG | 4-4 FT | 3 REB | 10 AST | 16 PTS | 0
Miller certainly missed his fair share of shots, had trouble guarding the Clippers guards and once again refused to let anybody take the last shot of the quarter, but his penetration and overall court awareness was a key element that helped keep the Nuggets in the game. His heads-up foul on DeAndre Jordan in the closing moments of the game gave the Nuggets a chance to win. This is now his fourth double-double in a row after filling in for Ty Lawson.
|Arron Afflalo, SG 20 MIN | 2-5 FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 2 AST | 5 PTS | -8
So how long exactly is it going to be before the Arron Afflalo who has improved every year since he’s been in the NBA shows up this season? He still has yet to hit the 20 point mark and after following up a scoreless performance against the Raptors (in 20 minutes of action nonetheless) he managed a measly five points against the Clippers (in the same amount of time). Maybe his injury is still nagging him, but if that’s the case he shouldn’t even be playing.
Al Harrington, PF 25 MIN | 6-16 FG | 4-4 FT | 4 REB | 3 AST | 16 PTS | +8
Big Al struggled to find his shot throughout the game but made up for it with his hustle. Still, there were countless shots he missed downy he stretch, and though we can’t expect him to hit them all, we also can’t expect him to miss them all either.
|Corey Brewer, SF 21 MIN | 3-5 FG | 0-0 FT | 6 REB | 1 AST | 6 PTS | +4
Brewer’s defense, energy and hustle allowed the Nuggets to come back and ultimately string together countless leads in the process. Though he tends to get a little out of control, his effort simply cannot be underestimated.
|Rudy Fernandez, SG 31 MIN | 5-8 FG | 0-0 FT | 6 REB | 1 AST | 12 PTS | +2
Fernandez had a solid performance all around. His tip-in to end the third quarter was the epitome of “never giving up” and was truly one of the better plays I’ve seen in the NBA this year. Rudy appears to finally be finding his stroke after struggling early on and has really helped the Nuggets second unit put points on the board of late.
|Julyan Stone, G 12 MIN | 2-2 FG | 1-2 FT | 1 REB | 0 AST | 6 PTS | -4
I thought Stone was phenomenal in his brief 12-minute stint, evident in the first 60 seconds alone where he stepped on the floor and immediately blocked a shot. His overall defense was hands-down (even though he had them up!) the best on the team and suffocated whichever opponent he was guarding. When playing alongside Corey Brewer, the Nuggets offer up a backcourt tandem capable of defending anybody in the league. Though Stone likely won’t see many minutes going forward, it would be wise of Karl to insert him in the lineup when defense is lacking as Stone possess the type of defensive drive that can change the outcome of a game.
Five Things We Saw
- Full Clip: Continuing Charlie’s Gang Starr reference from the past Rapid Reaction… the Clippers had virtually everything working right for them on Sunday. They needed the perfect storm in order to improve on their terrible road record and defeat one of the NBA’s toughest home teams, and thanks in large part to Chauncey Billups and their incredible three-point shooting, they got it. If you had to point to just one reason the Nuggets lost (even though there were a few options) you would absolutely have to single out Denver’s inability to guard the arc as Numero Uno.
- Mr. Big Shot: In anticipation to Sunday’s showdown with the Clippers that saw Denver’s favorite basketball son return to the Mile High City for the first time since last February’s historic trade, George Karl admitted that without Billups arrival in 2008 he likely would have lost his job. Though many around Denver, especially George Karl apologists, like to point to that season as the “turning point” of his career in Denver, I’ve never quite bought in. I always believed that Chauncey Billups was the real reason behind not only transforming the Nuggets from a “streetball” team into an NBA team, but taking them to the Western Conference Finals as well. Karl admitting that without Billups he’d likely no longer be in Denver is cement-hard corroboration to the fact that Billups did most of the coaching that year. Though since then Karl has in fact displayed a revitalized passion for the game there’s no denying that Chauncey Billups was the catalyst the first time around as more often than not it was he coaching J.R. Smith and the rest of the team during a timeout, and not Karl. Chauncey always has been, and most likely always will be, my favorite Nugget of all time. I will never forget how lost the team was prior to his arrival and how unbelievably sound they were after he stepped in. His leadership, mental toughness, intelligence and clutch shooting compose one of the most under-appreciated basketball players, and shooters, of all time. Seeing Chauncey step up the way he did against his former team was no surprise. Make no mistake about it: Chauncey Billups wanted badly to prove that letting him go was a grave mistake — and in hindsight, perhaps it was. Though nobody other than a few top-ranking officials in the Nuggets hierarchy will ever know exactly what it took to pull of that trade, there’s a good chance that, considering how much they gave up, New York will would have still parted ways with Chandler and Gallinari — the two best players in that deal — had Chauncey not been included. On Sunday, Mr. Big Shot got the best of his hometown team. Chauncey never wanted to leave Denver but was forced out by the stubborn trade demands of a primma donna superstar that epitomizes the type of modern-day athlete Billups so desperately contrasts. But, he understands that business is business. And so, after leading a furious third-quarter charge by nailing three straight 3-pointers and with Tim Tebow close by, the “Thrill from Park Hill” pushed his team to its first lead of the game since the first quarter, which all took place at exactly the 3:16 mark. Though the Clippers would endure a few more scoring droughts following this symbolic run, it proved to be the foot in the door the Clippers desperately needed in order to fully slam the game shut in the end. Though Nuggets fans never like to see their team lose, when it comes by the hand of a man as honorable and important to the community of Denver as Chauncey Billups, you can’t help but feel happy for the guy.
- Those Who Refuse to Learn: The Nuggets’ inability to address issues we’ve been screaming about of weeks now, finally came back to haunt them. Perimeter defense, or lack thereof, was the only reason the Clippers won this game. In every other statistical category Denver was relatively even with L.A., except in three-point shooting. There, the Clippers scored 24 more points than the Nuggets and despite hoisting up 30 shots from beyond the arc, L.A. still managed to shoot a better percentage there than from the rest of the field. All of these problems were compounded further when Chris Paul routinely ran the pick-and-roll on EVERY SINGLE PLAY to close out the fourth quarter, and on EVERY SINGLE PLAY the Nuggets switched just like the Clippers wanted which left Paul with a favorable match-up that he either shot over or exposed with a clever assist. Not once did the Nuggets at least attempt to fight around the screen (even though Blake Griffin was hardly setting firm ones) and not once did they put someone like Brewer or Stone on Chris Paul who might have shut him down. In the last 10 minutes of the game Chris Paul either made or assisted on 11 of the Clippers 18 made shot attempts (including free throws) and most were a result of the Nuggets’ disorganized perimeter defense. The term “When will this be addressed?” is meant to be taken seriously before the Nuggets lose a game because of these issues.
- Losing Lineup?: Though the fourth-quarter rotations certainly did not lose the game for the Nuggets, you have wonder exactly what was behind Karl’s eccentric gameplan. After putting Gallo at the point early in the fourth quarter the Clippers really took control of the game. Though his defense on Chris Paul was indeed solid (because of his size) Paul was still allowed to maneuver around him in many cases. Then of course having Fernandez in over Afflalo was unusual. Even Corey Brewer saw his fair share of minutes down the stretch. But again, why didn’t he ever guard Paul instead of Gallo, Harrington or Miller? Had the Nuggets won, which was entirely in the cards on Sunday, most of us probably would have been praising Karl for his rotations down the stretch so I’m not even going to attempt to blame him for this one, however it doesn’t change the fact that his lineups were interesting and certainly unusual.
- Julyaned/Stoned: Taking suggestions from reader and fellow friend “Nate T” in the comments section, I’ve decided to expand a bit on my Julyan Stone analysis. As already mentioned, I though Stone was fantastic once again. I have yet to be disappointed in him and continue to love the brand of basketball he brings to the Nuggets. He will never take bad shots, his first instinct is to pass and his defense is purely astonishing for a guy who went undrafted. Thinking back to when he first signed, there were people who strongly criticized the Nuggets for this move, and in turn me for praising it, because after all, he was just an undrafted, free-agent rookie; how good could he possibly be? Here’s the deal people simply don’t understand about the NBA and the Draft in particular: It’s not a science. There’s no mathematical equation you plug in to get the best player at every pick. If that were the case the best 60 players each year would get drafted in precise order and no NBA teams would ever miss on picks. Unfortunately, that’s no that the case. You see, the entire year leading up to each draft, as scouts and general managers analyze their every move, players rise and fall faster than the stock market because that’s essentially what they are: stocks. More often than not, come draft day, the HOTTEST 60 players get picked and not the best, or most equipped to achieve success in the NBA. Take Chandler Parsons for example, who’s currently contributing a big role with the Houston Rockets. He was a guy, like Stone, who played four years in college and was never once considered an elite scorer. He could do everything else on the basketball floor well and occasionally posted impressive scoring nights, but it was his well-rounded game that made him so dangerous. He fell all the way to 38th yet when it’s all said and done has a nice chance of being a top 15 player in that draft class. Stone is in this same boat. He was overlooked because he came from a small school, wasn’t flashy and didn’t shoot well, but his drive, defense and commitment to being better every moment of every day are things that simply don’t get analyzed in pre-Draft coverage as much while simultaneously are things that often translate well to the NBA. I don’t know how good Stone is going to be in the NBA but I honestly don’t put it past him to one day be an effective starter. Ricky Rubio is a guy who, although more advanced right now, has the same attributes Stone does. I think with more practice, in-game experience and so on, Stone could be that type of player — maybe not quite that good, but that type of guy. I would love to see Stone get more minutes, especially alongside Corey Brewer considering the defensive presence they both bring, but I just don’t see that happening with how crowded the rotation is already. All we can do is take his performances as the come, analyze what he does best and hope that he steadily improves with each game. As he proved tonight, Stone can in fact knock down the open three when presented with the opportunity. I saw it in his D-League games, read it in scouting reports and heard it from UTEP bloggers over at Miner Rush. Where Stone needs to make the most improvement in his game beside shooting (which will likely never be a strength of his) is in the area of driving to the hole and finding the open man. Stone is surprisingly quick with the ball in his hands and is a superb passer as well. At the NBA level you simply have to act as a scoring threat in some way or another in order to truly maximize other areas of your skill set, especially for a point guard. If Stone can continue to work on penetrating, he’ll undoubtedly be faced with opportunities in-game where he can show off this aspect of his repertoire. Whether this leads to assists, layups, pull-up jumpers or turnovers will likely determine just how invested in him the Nuggets will be after this year. But at this point, after seeing how we’ll he’s already played and considering how great of a contrast he could be to the diminutive Ty Lawson, I’d bank strongly on him coming back next year as the Nuggets primary backup point guard.
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Kalen was born in Durango, CO, in 1988 and graduated from Metropolitan State University of Denver in 2013 with a degree in journalism. He's now an itinerant hoping to travel as much as possible before eventually succumbing to the "real world." Aside from writing Kalen likes movies, music, spicy food and the great outdoors. Edward Abbey is his current idol.