Additional Game 5 notes: Going, going, back, back, to Denver, Denver

On Tuesday night the Nuggets did something they haven’t done in three years: play great basketball in the playoffs. Although the team won several games since its historic run to the Western Conference Finals in 2009, there was always something missing in those wins. They were hollow — strictly for the sake of putting a “W” on paper and not one in the hearts of their fans. Tuesday was different. On Tuesday, the Nuggets weren’t playing for a “W”; they were playing for the city of Denver, its fans and the pride of both.

It’s difficult to describe how Tuesday’s win felt. Sure you can use all the standard adjectives you want: excitement, satisfaction, relief, even bliss. But words don’t do something like this justice. Perhaps because there might not be a word to describe the encompassing emotions Nuggets fans had built up over the last few years that were expelled in Game 5. It’s as if it was something only Nuggets fans could know. To the rest of the world it was just the cute, loveable — but never reverent — Nuggets stepping up to the plate against a powerful Lakers franchise draped in championship banners. But to Nuggets fans, it was a bounding leap in a positive direction for a franchise smothered with insecurity and dysfunctional collapses this time of year.

Ever since losing in embarrassing fashion in the first round of the playoffs became a hallmark of the Nuggets under George Karl, I’ve always argued one thing: Just show us that you care. Show us that, even if thoroughly outmatched, you still care more about winning than the fans do. Show us that, no matter how different the opponent may be, you’re still going to give the same amount of heart year in and year out.

Unfortunately, the Nuggets have done the exact opposite for seven of their last eight straight playoff appearances. Outside of 2009 the Nuggets haven’t even won more than one playoff game in each of its series under George Karl. (Interestingly enough, the one time they did was with Adrian Dantley at the helm in 2010 when they lost in six games to the Utah Jazz.) Which is why Tuesday’s win was so meaningful. It’s really the first time the Nuggets have ever been down and played like they understood what was at stake. Reality finally permeated the locker room before the game (thanks to an emotional Andre Miller speech?) and instead of caving in and waiving the white flag, the Nuggets valiantly fought back against impending death and lived to fight again — even if it was for just one more day.

Here are some additional notes from Game 5:

– I know I’ve run it into the ground, but I still have to question why Mozgov is starting at this point in time. It’s highly questionable that after earning the starting gig over Mozgov midway through the season, Koufos suddenly sees his job revoked come playoff time. Sure, Mozgov does play better one-on-one defense against Bynum, for whatever reason, but people need to realize that his complete lack of potency on offense, or in any other area of the game, totally erases whatever “progress” he might have made in the first place. On Tuesday he logged 13 minutes and finished the night with only one block and four personal fouls. Yes, Bynum didn’t score much, but he still hauled down seven rebounds with Mozgov in the game to Mozgov’s zero. That’s seven whole extra possessions the Lakers received as a result and I’m sure Bynum scored in at least a few, therefore eliminating any stops Mozgov accumulated on him to begin with. Somewhat of an informal fallacy, perhaps… but you get my point.

– Faried needs to find some consistency. I know it’s tough when Karl jerks his minutes around like bait on a fly rod but he’s just too valuable of a weapon to disappear like he’s been doing at times. If Faried could play every minute like he did in the first quarter of Game 5 the Nuggets would be an entirely different team. Getting out on the break must be priority No. 1 for Faried, as he’s much faster than any of the Lakers big men.

– Al Harrington has had a tough series but lets remember this: dude’s got a broken nose and torn meniscus. I don’t care what anybody says, he’s earned my respect this season for the way he’s dedicated himself to the team, regardless of circumstance and injury. That said, he shouldn’t be playing anymore. He’s just too banged up. I know it would be entirely against anything George Karl has ever stood for in his existence, but he needs to set his ego aside and realize that Jordan Hamilton would be much more of a threat at this point in time than Big Al. It’s really too bad Karl has such disdain for rookies as getting Hamilton some time this season could have really paid off this series. As it stands three of the Nuggets four backup small forwards are injured. Though Hamilton may be young, he’s still a professional basketball player with a hell of a lot of talent that’s just sitting on the end of the bench.

– The turning point of this series was the third quarter of Game 5. Up to that point the Lakers had never let the Nuggets out of their sight. When the second half started the Nuggets finally broke through this threshold and opened up a sizable lead for the first time all series. This was huge. Even though the Nuggets slowly relinquished their lead, the confidence they obtained by proving to themselves that they can outplay the Lakers to the tune of a 10-plus point lead was invaluable. If they can somehow manage to open up yet another extensive lead on Thursday, it’s hard to imagine them giving it up again.

– For those calling for Arron Afflalo to be traded, saying he’s “not the shooting guard of the future” (like many were doing with Ty Lawson after Game 1), please stop. Just, give it up. You’re not doing yourself any good, at all. You do realize he’s matching up against the second greatest shooting guard in NBA history, right!?! If not, just know this: With Afflalo in the game Kobe is averaging 24 points per 36 minutes on 41 percent shooting from the field and 27 percent shooting from beyond the arc. When Afflalo is out of the game Kobe is averaging 39 points per 36 minutes on 47 percent shooting from the field and 43 percent shooting from beyond the arc. If that doesn’t put things into perspective for you, I don’t know what will.

– JaVale McGee and Andre Miller were flat-out incredible in Game 5. Nuggets fans can’t thank these guys enough. I’ve admittedly been critical of Miller throughout much of the season, and I still believe most of it was justified (see: defense). But frankly, all that doesn’t matter anymore. If you’re gonna come out this time of year and put on performances like that, then I can’t have anything but the utmost amount of gratitude towards you. As for McGee, again, I’m pretty much speechless. Talking with Andrew Kamenetzky of ESPNLA.com’s Land O’Lakers blog this morning, he mentioned McGee was progressing meteorically this entire series, and as a result playing the best basketball of his life. It’s just absolutely amazing that only months ago this kid could get nothing but scrutiny from the national media and now he’s winning playoff games and outperforming Andrew Bynum in the process. Word on the TrueHoop street is that McGee was simply in the wrong situation in Washington and that he’s actually a really dedicated dude who wants to be the best player he can be. If this is true, Masai Ujiri is even more of a genius than we originally thought.

– Lastly, I thought this SI.com piece was a great recap of the series thus far. If you have time to read it, I’d encourage you to do so. There’s a lot of insightful information on some of the more technical aspects of the game there.

  • evan

    Good one Kalen.

    What do you think the changes of the Nuggets actually winning this series is? -Seems like they’re starting to figure the Lakers out while gaining confidence.

    • Kalen

      That’s the other thing Andrew mentioned in our interview. Seems like both teams are going in opposite direction: Nuggets up, Lakers down. The Nuggets have put themselves in a great position to stretch this thing to seven, and once there, who knows what can happen. But it’s still difficult for me to see the Nuggets winning three straight playoff games against the Lakers, especially Game 7 in L.A.

  • jim

    right on. interesting note about the adrian dantley series, but we really should have been all over utah and instead self-destructed, so still two wins too short that series.

    i still think mosgov tires bynum out, plus the additional double teams, and is a good play. miller/mcgee works, too. we are forcing their non superstars to beat us which is a pretty good game plan, except the steve blakes and jordan hills have beat us this series, too. :) the lakers are kinda good.

    i think jham for al is an interesting idea — especially because the “actually making a long range jumper” part of basketball is something we need badly and he can do, but it ain’t going to happen this playoff. gk has fulfilled his personal rookie minutes quota for the next 15 years with manimal.

  • jr15

    Umm the reason Moz is starting over KK is that Coucous as Sir Charles calls him, just can’t keep up with the Lakers bigs. KK is better as a PnR defender.
    Moz has done a great job of frustrating Bynum and softening him up for McGee. Sure the stats look bad, but he is doing more than the boxscore indicates. Why not use fouls when you have them? Glad he is using them.

    • doktarr

      Precisely. Mozgov is in the game because he plays good position defense on Bynum, and that’s something that Koufos can’t do. That’s pretty much the end of the story there. I’m sure Koufos will get more PT if the Nuggets move forward, and Mozgov may see less, but this is a bad matchup for Koufos.

      Bynum was held to 1-3 shooting with a total of 2 offensive rebounds when Mozgov was on the floor, and the Nuggets outscored the Lakers when Mozgov was on the floor. Those are literally the only stats I care about from Mozgov for this series.

      • Andrew

        Agree.

      • owen

        agreed doktarr. KK is just a skinnier, smaller, weaker dude. Usually he isn’t playing against a behemoth. Really KK is the ideal backup big man. He has nice touch, rebounds really well, and doesn’t force his shots EVER. I wish that mozgov could develop as well as KK.
        If not, ditching mozzy and keeping KK is’t a bad option to backup the McGeemix

    • http://www.roundballminingcompany.com Jeremy

      Mozgov certainly struggled to convert at the rim in the first couple of games fumbling away some really easy chances and I think that the guards have lost all faith in him. Notice how often he is open in the lane on the roll off a pick and roll and the guards ignore him. I remember one play where Afflalo was driving through the lane, Moz was open for a layup and AAA kicked the ball across the floor to I think it was Gallo at the three point line. Moz cannot score if he is not fed.

      Plus he is only in the game to start each half and Koufos is just not able to match up with Bynum. If the Nuggets advance, I fully expect to see Koufos back in the starting lineup against OKC unless McGee takes over.

  • Marc

    Great piece, interesting stat on Afflalo! The dude does all the things that don’t show up on the stat sheet. True winner

  • coxy

    faried didnt dissapear, karl benched him for the entire last Q, if he had of played his 30 he woulda had probably 14 and 11 and you woulda given him his praise.

    mozgov is a much better option this series, kouf played like poo when he waas in and therefor was benched. moz plays bynum real well and think back to the first
    q of game 4 he was 3-4 for 6 pts and like 3 or 4 boards at the start, he was awesome. in saying that kouf might get a second chance now but look for moz to give a solid game in game 6.

    omg mcgee. amazing effort. my fav was that monster offensive board, chased it down then turned and attacked the rimfor the sslam, thats how he needs to play always, or the dunk with 1 foot on the baseline under the rim and he some how manages to reach up and around and dunk (routine for him). if gallo and AAA can just make 2-3 3 balls each in the same game it will be complete

  • KW

    No bait on a fly rod, K-man. GK might be jerking his minutes like the terminal tackle on a fly rod but not like bait.

    If you ever find yourself in Montrose and want to go fishing, let me know.

    I agree about Fat Albert. I loved to hate him last year but he’s earned his money this season. Time for him to rest…or maybe just play 10-12 minutes. Love to see JHam get the ball. Love to see Faried in the 4th.

    Is GK afraid of what might happen if Mcgee started the game instead of getting his usual warm up of squats on the bench as each clanking 3 ball is chucked? Mcgee is doing well off the bench and Mozzy is not doing much harm as a starter.

    • Kalen

      I knew I was gonna mess that up, haha.

    • Charlie

      Game five proved that McGee really needs to be on the court with Miller. It’s a deadly combination that’s worked better against the Lakers than anything else George Karl has tried. I like the Nuggets to try and stick with their current bench guys and press that advantage over the Lakers, because L.A.’s bench is really not good.

  • Michael

    What’s up with Arron Afflalo not getting minutes late in games when it matters? Also I have been disappointed with Al although I know he’s injured. Isn’t it the job of the head coach to see an injured player giving his all and not producing and take him out of the game? I don’t question Al’s effort at all. Jordan Hamilton is still raw but at times i think his 3pt shooting could help us out.

    • ryanvdonk

      his offense is atrocious, even when he’s playing well i still don’t like him getting the ball on one-on-ones as he is a bit of a black hole and can’t see open teammates unless he’s given up on his quest toward the paint. i will maintain he is not the shooting guard of the future, but it not because of effort (a big reason he should be traded). this is because i think that jordan hamilton is one of the two nugget guards/wings who can become a star level player (the other being ty).

      • ryanvdonk

        should NOT be traded

  • NuggFan forLife

    Kalen, that’s the best Nugg blog I’ve ever read, man. I do admit I was a wannabe GM in the first half of the season but I never wanted Afflalo or Lawson out of the team. Also, I learned that Miller really IS a valuable piece on the team. That first half of the season showed that he’s just adjusting to his backup role. When he’s in the game, he gives something special – giving good looks to his teammates – in which the ability to defend will come to reward you. To think of it, may he is saving his defense in the first half of the season to here. Also, I do love Mozgov’s ability to contain Bynum but the way he fumbles the ball so much and picks up fouls at a high rate, I’m starting to think that he’s only good for defense only.
    So come draft night, I hope Ujiri will trade Mozgov. In the offseason, I hope Mr. Hess will help put some muscle on Koufos and McGee.

    • NuggFan forLife

      Let me add to that. I meant trade Mozgov for some who can defend Bynum but who isn’t a fouling magnet and an offensive liability.

  • Aaa

    I agree with you Kalen big time. Afflalo’s defense has been about as good as it can be and it’s clearly tiring him out. I don’t think I can name 10 shooting guards I’d rather have right now

  • Steve

    God it is nice to live in LA and see the Lakers loose!

    Kalen…I don’t agree on Mozgov. He is more of a physical presence than KK. Let him USE the fouls to frustrate Bynum at the beginning of the game.

    Think of it this way…as a big man. You start the game all hyped up, and you have a guy you can not push aound and get to your spots. The defender is pounding on you and you are getting frustrated and becoming even more physical and exerting energy.

    Then you have a guy some in who is more athletic and active. You have to change your mindset from pounding to thinking about chasing the new guy.

    This is what is happening to Bynum…..
    For offense, we are missing Moz in the lane….He runs well and is beating Bynum down the floor most times also.

  • http://yahoo mile high

    Kalen, good piece。 Tks.  

  • John

    Re: Mozgov,

    I think of it this way, Mozgov starting is a 250 pound back pack Bynum has to carry around for the whole game.