|Danilo Gallinari, SF 36 MIN | 6-10 FG | 4-6 FT | 3 REB | 2 AST | 19 PTS | +11
Through the course of this game, keeping a mental tally of player grades, I was fully prepared to give Gallo a C after a first half in which he had two makes, two misses, two blocks against, and didn’t really impact the game much at all. But he made his mark in the second half, finishing with 19 points on sixty percent shooting (including 3 of 5 3-pointers), and making some big shots down the stretch. Tonight was Brewer’s night, but the two things the Nuggets live and die by are Lawson’s aggression and Gallinari coming up big when it counts. He made some key plays in this game, including one huge three off a great read of a defensive lapse by Metta World Peace.
|Kenneth Faried, SF 39 MIN | 9-13 FG | 3-5 FT | 15 REB | 1 AST | 21 PTS | +7
Kenneth was in full-on Manimal mode tonight, a one-man wrecking crew on the offensive glass against one of the most formidable frontcourts in the NBA. There are times when Kenneth’s size renders him unable to be as effective, but this was one of those games in which through sheer will and energy he was able to play like the biggest man on the court. He definitely still needs to work on his defense, especially getting out to defend the perimeter against assignments with range like Pau Gasol, and the little things inexperienced players tend to miss (the Lakers announcers pointed out a good example of him failing to close out the baseline with his outer leg on a Kobe drive). But the most important team stat of this game may well have been Denver winning the offensive rebound battle 20-11, and if it weren’t for Brewer’s stunning performance, Faried would get the game ball.
|Kosta Koufos, C 20 MIN | 4-6 FG | 2-3 FT | 3 REB | 1 AST | 10 PTS | +7
Koufos did a respectable job against Dwight Howard, considering that that’s not a very level playing field to begin with. He seems to have tapped into some newly discovered toughness over the last few weeks, as well as a determination to score more. Given that he appears locked into the starting center position for the foreseeable future, both of these are welcome developments. It’s hard not to wonder, as Dwight was heating up in the third quarter before getting tossed from the game, if the Koufos-McGee combo could have weathered that storm. But he held his own through most of this game, and if he can continue his recent trajectory of improvement it will be very good news for Denver.
|Ty Lawson, PG 34 MIN | 6-15 FG | 4-5 FT | 4 REB | 14 AST | 17 PTS | +11
Never mind the shooting, 14 assists from Ty is something we always want to see. He did an excellent job of pushing the pace and setting the tempo the entire game. And he played smarter than we’ve seen in some recent games in terms of not driving into traffic too much and generally making better decisions. Neither he nor Andre Miller could do much to stop Steve Nash’s hot shooting, but Lawson did a good job, at least, of staying with him and making him put the ball down to limit the damage he could inflict.
|Andre Iguodala, SG 38 MIN | 5-15 FG | 5-6 FT | 11 REB | 7 AST | 17 PTS | +9
Iguodala’s playmaking was superb in this game, and he was two rebounds shy of a triple double. His 3-point shooting still leaves something to be desired (though this can be said of most every player on the team), but when he’s aggressive in transition and works hard on driving and kicking, his ability to create is dangerous.
|Jordan Hamilton, SF 5 MIN | 1-6 FG | 0-0 FT | 3 REB | 0 AST | 2 PTS | +3
J-Ham’s 1-6 shooting line doesn’t tell the whole story. His shot wasn’t falling, but he played with energy and tenacity. It’s great to see a guard who isn’t afraid to mix it up in the paint, but his shot will come, and as long as he plays aggressively and keeps pulling down rebounds (he had three with a block in five minutes of action), he should be forging a path to increased minutes.
|Corey Brewer, SF 24 MIN | 9-16 FG | 3-3 FT | 3 REB | 1 AST | 27 PTS | +11
Wow. Brewer came alive in the second half, scoring 22 of his season high 27 points and all six of his 3-pointeers after halftime. While he can’t be expected to produce offensively like this night in and night out, when he does — and especially when his 3-pointers are falling (he shot a blistering 6-7 from the arc), the Nuggets suddenly become a much more difficult team to beat. He played a great game defensively as well, making life difficult for Kobe and earning a steal and two blocks in the process. Player of the game, arguably his best game of the season, and when we review the top ten Nuggets plays of the season next April, his incredible buzzer beater to close the third quarter will surely be in the top three.
|Timofey Mozgov, C 4 MIN | 0-0 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 0 AST | 0 PTS | +4
Timo made so little an impact in his four minutes of play that it’s nearly impossible to make a meaningful evaluation. He gets a B on the merit of doing no harm and being +4 on the floor.
|JaVale McGee, C 22 MIN | 3-6 FG | 1-2 FT | 3 REB | 1 AST | 7 PTS | 0
McGee needs to practice breathing exercises or some other sort of mentally calming activity. He’s at his best when he plays more restrained and less hyped up, but he’s an excitable boy, and too easily lets himself play out of control. Tonight he started off strong in the first, seemingly on his way to atoning for his fairly disastrous performance against the Clippers. But as he’s prone to do sometimes, he let his emotions get the better of him and went on to make some sloppy mistakes like pulling up on the rim after a big dunk, and too hastily inbounding an errant pass. Until JaVale learns to maintain his compusure, he won’t develop the consistency the Nuggets need from him.
|Andre Miller, PG 19 MIN | 2-7 FG | 2-2 FT | 2 REB | 4 AST | 6 PTS | -3
Miller was fairly ineffective on both ends of the court, and a veritable liability on offense. This was one of his sloppiest, least focused game of the season, as he missed a ton of what should have been easy layups, and made too many careless turnovers. His job is to steady the rudder by making heady veteran plays, and when he’s not doing that, it’s better for the Nuggets to have other players on the court (cough, cough, Jordan Hamilton).
It feels kind of crazy to give Karl an A for this game, when in the next game it’s a near-given that he’ll employ essentially the same strategy and rotations and the Nuggets will lose by 15. But if coaches are to be blamed for losses, they should be credited for wins, and this was one of the biggest, most gratifying wins of the season. Minus tick for leaving in Miller when he was eating it, but this was a game where, after an embarrassing loss on national TV, he trusted his players to pick themselves up, keep playing Nuggets basketball, and take confidence in themselves to win a big game. And this time, it worked, although some will certainly suggest he send Dwight a thank you note. Even so, in the most critical stretch of the game in the third quarter, when the Lakeers cut the Nuggets’ 13-point lead down to six, he let his team play through it, and that was the right call.
Four Things We Saw
- Jekyll and Hyde. So let’s get this straight. Just six days ago this team sets the NBA record for most missed 3-pointers in a game. Just last night, this team gives up a 22-42 point quarter. Tonight, suddenly, the Nuggets shoot 12-22 (54.4%) from the arc and pour in 39 points in the third quarter? Call it a tough schedule, call it a young team, call it what you will, but these guys are all over the map. Hopefully their home-friendly January will facilitate finding better consistency.
- Dribble-drive-motion offense. Remember the October hiring of Nuggets assistant coach Vance Walberg, the innovator of the dribble-drive-motion offense? It brought Denver’s offensive system to the forefront, a system which is designed on continually attacking the basket, kicking out and rotating. The problem this season has been that, with sub-par 3-point shooting, opponents have packed the paint, inhibiting the Nuggets’ ability to drive and penetrate. With tonight’s hot 3-point shooting, we got a good example of what the dribble-drive-motion really should look like, and how effective it really can be. But it’s predicated on floor spacing which can only be creating by legitimate shooting threats, and if the currently rostered players can’t deliver, there probably either needs to be a trade or a change to the system that better fits the abilities of the players Denver has now.
- Hand in the face. It will most likely be controversial whether Dwight Howard really deserved a flagrant 2 for his foul on Faried, or whether it should have been a flagrant 1. He clearly was not going for the ball, but there’s a good case to be made that he was basically trying to keep Kenneth away from the rim and not trying to smack him upside the head. At any rate, it was Faried’s relentless aggression that put Howard on the defensive in the first place, and it was great to see no fear or intimidation in the Nuggets frontcourt going up against L.A.’s All-Star duo.
- Home sweet home. The Nuggets maintained the best home record in the league, improving to 9-1. If they can continue so staunchly defending their home court, they should be in great shape entering February, as they have only three road games next month.
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