|Danilo Gallinari, SF 31 MIN | 8-13 FG | 4-4 FT | 7 REB | 2 AST | 23 PTS | +8Gallinari started making some big plays in the third quarter that got the Nuggets back in the game. Funny how that usually seems to happen when he starts driving more aggressively to the basket. It really was his work on the offensive end that started breaking down what had been a very effective Cavaliers paint defense, and it enabled Denver to get back into their style of play and start making a comeback.|
|Kenneth Faried, SF 33 MIN | 6-7 FG | 5-7 FT | 11 REB | 0 AST | 17 PTS | +3This was among the worst of Faried’s defensive performances of the season. In the first half he was getting abused by Tristan Thompson and… Luke Walton. Luke Walton? He was better on the offensive end, but wasn’t really his usual explosive self for much of the game. He did come out with more energy and focus in the second half, though, and his rebounding and offensive efficiency went a long way in offsetting his defensive liability.|
|Kosta Koufos, C 35 MIN | 10-17 FG | 1-1 FT | 6 REB | 0 AST | 21 PTS | +12Since the entire team deserved an F for the first half, I really did not want to give any players an A for this game. But Koufos truly outdid himself tonight. He scored a new career high with 21 points in what is surely his best game of the season, if not career. On the rebounding and blocking front, the stat sheet may not look too impressive, but this was one of the most active, energetic performances we’ve seen from Kosta this season. Running the floor, battling in the paint, moving off the ball — in the second half he seemed to be everywhere he needed to be, doing all the right things. Maybe he stole what Corey Brewer usually drinks before games to get juiced up. Whatever it was, he gets the game ball.|
|Ty Lawson, PG 34 MIN | 3-11 FG | 7-10 FT | 5 REB | 8 AST | 13 PTS | +10Lawson really needs to come out of the gates with aggression rather than waiting for the second, third or fourth quarter to turn it on. When he starts off sluggish it sets a weak tone for the entire team, and they have a hard time finding their groove. But fortunately, he did finally find a way to flip that switch in the fourth quarter, and his dribble penetration got the Nuggets some badly needed layups and helped to keep the defense honest. Because of that it’s tempting to grade him higher, but the six turnovers and the lackluster first half just can’t be overlooked.|
|Andre Iguodala, SG 41 MIN | 5-11 FG | 2-3 FT | 11 REB | 4 AST | 13 PTS | +9For the Nuggets defense late in the game, it was Iguodala who really made the difference by slowing down and frustrating a seemingly unstoppable Kyrie Irving. I was tempted to dock him a notch in the grading for a very poor decision he made late in the game by taking an out-of-sync corner 3-pointer with a lot of time left at a moment when Denver should have been chewing clock and looking for a higher percentage shot. But his overall game was solid, and as usual he was doing a little of everything that needed to be done.|
|Corey Brewer, SF 16 MIN | 0-6 FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 4 AST | 0 PTS | -6Brewer was absolutely worthless in the first half. And then he was almost as bad in the second, save for one steal that opened up a fast break, and maybe another play or two. This was a clear case of Karl overestimating “his guys.” At a time when the entire team’s shooting is ice cold, why not give Jordan Hamilton some run to see if he can make an impact? Only Karl knows.|
|Timofey Mozgov, C 8 MIN | 0-1 FG | 1-2 FT | 1 REB | 0 AST | 1 PTS | +2Karl sent in Mozzie to enforce the paint to good effect in this game. He had three blocks in eight minutes, and had a sort of dislodging effect on the Cavs’ paint packing strategy. If Koufos hadn’t suddenly blown up, he may have gotten more minutes, but he did a good job in the little time he played.|
|JaVale McGee, C 12 MIN | 0-4 FG | 2-4 FT | 7 REB | 0 AST | 2 PTS | -5McGee missed at least three or four dunks in this game. Somehow his ability to finish just evaporated. But he made a more spirited, energetic effort than most of his teammates through the first three quarters, blocking and altering shots and contesting for rebounds (he had seven in just 12 minutes). His inability to knock down his shots and connect on his dunks dampened his net impact in this game, but at least his heart and his effort were in it from the start, which is more than most of his teammates can say.|
|Andre Miller, PG 23 MIN | 4-10 FG | 0-0 FT | 5 REB | 5 AST | 8 PTS | +5Firstly, Andre Miller needs to stop taking 3-pointers. It seems to be a recent trend that he takes one or two a game, and it needs to be put to rest. With that out of the way, some of both the good and bad Miller were on display tonight. He did a fairly good job of finding his midrange jumper, as well as a fairly good amount of dribbling into traffic and turning it over, and giving Cleveland’s perimeter shooters open looks. It’s not enough to bump him up into B territory, but it should be noted that, against all odds, he made a huge offensive rebound down low late in the game that resulted in a Lawson layup that decisively shifted the advantage to the Nuggets.|
|Evan Fournier, SG 7 MIN | 0-2 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 1 AST | 0 PTS | -3Fournier is fearless, a decent decision maker given his professional experience in Europe, and a spirited defender. So it’s easy to understand why Karl likes him. But he struggles to find a way to be effective outside of garbage time, and based on their respective performances this season, it’s not clear why he has come to emerge ahead of J-Ham in the rotation. He accomplished nothing tonight.|
|George KarlIn the Rapid Reaction for the last game against the Magic, Kalen discussed how the Nuggets always come out flat in games. Another thing they always do is play down to inferior opponents. In post-game comments, Bill Hanzlik talked about how frustrating and disappointing such things must be to Karl. The only problem with that, however, is that these problems date back years. They were hallmarks of the Melo era. And now, with only one Nuggets player remaining from that time (or two depending on how you look at i) and 13 new players on a roster that has almost entirely turned over, it’s the same old crap. It’s easy to point a finger at the players — and they do surely deserve some of the blame — and criticize their lack of effort. But this goes beyond that. It’s structurally endemic to the Nuggets culture, and the architect of that culture is George Karl. From an outside perspective, it’s hard to evaluate coaches since so much of coaching goes on behind the scenes, and we’re largely limited to rotational decisions, interactions with the refs, timeout usage, and scattered, often vague anecdotes from beat reporters. There’s a continuum of shared responsibility between the players and coaching staff, and when things go wrong it’s not always easy to discern who carries the larger burden of responsibility. Tonight, the Nuggets dodged a bullet and eked out a win against a team they should have dominated. But to say they came out flat would be an understatement. They came out utterly deflated, and given the upcoming schedule which features GSW, a surging POR, OKC twice and HOU twice in the next nine games, that’s inexcusable. Cleveland came out with a clear game plan which they pretty much executed to perfection in the first half. The scouting reports were in, their playeers were all on the same page, they knew exactly what they were doing. The Nuggets looked lost and confused, totally unprepared. They should have been up for this game, and they were not. At all. And that’s on Karl, whose team won in spite of it.|
Three Things We Saw
- Turnovers again. 1) Find dead horse. 2) Flog it.
- Kyrie Irving is a stud. I’ve been a pretty strong supporter of the Nuggets’ approach to team building. The notion that a team doesn’t need a superstar to succeed is an interesting and attractive idea that appeals to the democratic sensibilities of a mid-market fan base that watched the marquee player we spent years supporting (and the team spent developing) turn his back on us and walk away in favor of the glitz and glamor of bright lights big city. But to be honest, I can’t help but feel jealous watching Irving. Maybe it’s the inconsistency of Lawson, Gallinari and Iguodala, but at least at this point none of them really captures that transcendent panache of a bona fide star, and at the very least, Kyrie is entertaining as hell to watch. That said, the Nuggets are 22-16, and the Cavs are 9-29, so I’d still rather be on this side of the equation.
- Dribble-Drive-Motion needs shooters. All seems to be silent on the Nuggets trade rumor front, save for a peep in December about Timo being on the block. But it is becoming ever more clear that to make their offensive system work effectively, the Nuggets will need at least one reliable perimeter shooter to prevent defenses from simply packing thepaint all the time.
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Joel is a long time Denver Nuggets (and Broncos) fan from Colorado who's been living in Japan since the mid-90s, and blogging about the Nuggets since 2008. You can contact and follow him on Twitter: @denbutsu.
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