|Danilo Gallinari, SF 35 MIN | 5-11 FG | 4-4 FT | 4 REB | 2 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 15 PTS | +4
Gallo got off to a pretty good start, but pretty much disappeard through the second and third quarters. But he came up big in the fourth on a critical possession, when he knocked down a huge 20-foot jumper which began a great close out that put the game out of reach. The stat line may not impress, but the win has his fingerprints all over it.
|Kenneth Faried, SF 19 MIN | 3-8 FG | 2-5 FT | 4 REB | 1 AST | 1 STL | 4 BLK | 2 TO | 8 PTS | +9
Faried had a pretty terrible first half. He was a non-presence for the most part. Marc Gasol had his way with him, partly because he could shoot right over him, but also because Kenneth repeatedly failed to close out on his mid-range shots. He got into early foul trouble, and his energy just wasn’t up to his usual par. But after Karl sat him through the third, he came out with ferocity in the fourth quarter and almost single handedly tilted the dynamics of the game to the Nuggets’ favor. In a game that demanded physicality, he stepped up to the challenge and then some.
|Kosta Koufos, C 31 MIN | 7-9 FG | 4-6 FT | 16 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 3 BLK | 1 TO | 18 PTS | +7
Koufos recently scored his career high in points, but tonight may have been the best game of his career as he grabbed a career high 16 rebounds and shouldered a large share of Denver’s paint points. I can’t in good faith give him an A+ simply due to giving up far too many offensive rebounds, but he still deserves high marks for hanging tough down low with one of the league’s best front courts.
|Ty Lawson, PG 35 MIN | 4-12 FG | 0-0 FT | 0 REB | 4 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 8 PTS | -5
We saw some shades of early season Lawson tonight. He lacked confidence, was very hesitant in his decision making, and Memphis’ physical style of play really seemed to knock him off his game. But he did seem to recognize that he would need to be effective in other ways to close out the game, and he did an admirable job of defending Mike Conley, who was held to just 4-13 shooting.
|Andre Iguodala, SG 34 MIN | 4-9 FG | 0-0 FT | 7 REB | 7 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 8 PTS | +7
Games like this foreshadow just how valuable Iguodala might be in the postseason. As Scott Hastings said, Memphis is an Eastern Conference team playing in the West, and Andre is right in his comfort zone in these grinding battles. He was effective on both ends with a great balance of defense and playmaking, he was second after Koufos in defensive rebounding, and in a faster paced game he would have bagged a triple double.
|Corey Brewer, SF 22 MIN | 3-8 FG | 5-5 FT | 3 REB | 1 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 11 PTS | +6
Like Faried, Brewer just did not seem to be his usual energetic self tonight. In the final sum, his gambling on defense did not pay off against a smart, sound Grizzlies team that knows how to take care of the ball and capitalize on defensive errors. My gut wants to give him a C, but like Gallo, he saved a key possession by hitting a big shot in clutch time that extended the Nuggets lead, and that outshiines the rest of his game.
|JaVale McGee, C 12 MIN | 2-4 FG | 0-0 FT | 3 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 3 BLK | 2 TO | 4 PTS | -6
JaVale only played 12 minutes in this game, and they were actually pretty good minutes for the most part. Karl probably pulled him for failing to keep the Grizzlies off the offensive glass (not that they weren’t abusing every Nuggets player in that regard). But for whatever reason, he played so little that there’s not too much to conclude about his performance.
|Andre Miller, PG 26 MIN | 5-7 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 3 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 3 TO | 10 PTS | +18
Andre Miller had an outstanding first half on the offensive end, including one downright spectacular drive in which he took it straight at Tony Allen like a whirling Dervish. His stamp on the second half was less pronounced, but he played well throughout. I don’t put too much stock in single game +/-, but the second highest Nugget in that category was Koufos at +9. Dre was +20.
|Wilson Chandler, SG 25 MIN | 2-9 FG | 1-2 FT | 4 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 3 TO | 5 PTS | -5
Chandler’s offensive game was off in a pretty big way tonight. It wasn’t just that his shot wasn’t falling. He seemed to be completely out of the offensive flow, ad when he got the ball, good things were not usually happening. What saves him from getting a D — and saves the entire team from being knocked down a peg for that horrendous third quarter — is defensive effort. That’s what kept the Nuggets in the game when their offense derailed, and he was solid on that end of the court.
There are times, when grading George Karl, that I feel ambivalent, that I see many more cons than pros throughout the course of the game — but then the Nuggets win and it’s hard to argue against results.But tonight was not one of those times. This is one game where I wholeheeartedly, unequivocally endorse the A+ for Karl. (For those who accuse me of being a hater, please bookmark this page for easy future reference). Simply put, George coached this hell out of this game.
Firstly, the Nuggets came out solid in the first quarter. They were prepared, they had a plan, and within the constraints put on them by the Grizzlies’ defense, they executed it. Memphis did dictate the pace, but the Nuggets were ready to work within those parameters.
It’s always hard to know how much of what a team does can be chalked up to game plan versus just what the players do spontaneously on the court. But in this one they did seem to have a clear defensive game plan, and they executed it well. They got killed on the offensive boards, but don’t lose sight of the fact that Memphis shot only 35.3% from the field. Before this game, the Nuggets lost their first three games of the season in which they scored under 90 points. They won tonight largely because their defense held the Briz to 80.
Karl also gets kudos for minutes management in this one. It was a huge gamble to bench Faried in the third quarter due to foul trouble, but it paid off dividends bigtime when the Manimal came roaring back in the fourth. And his micromanagement of rotations at the end of the game might be the best coaching we’ve seen from Karl all season, or in years. Taking out both point guards to go with big, lengthy defensive lineups, followed by speedy playmaking lineups on the other end. George usually has his routine and he sticks with it. Tonight, he was responsive to the dynamics of the game, and perfectly so.
But my favorite thing of all was what Altitude reported from the huddle before the fourth quarter. They said Karl had told his guys that this was a great chance, a great experiencee, a great opportunity to prepare for the playoffs and to learn how to win these tough, gritty, frustrating games they’ll inevitably experience more of in the postseason. It was a great message to send, and the players obviously responded to it with the renewed energy and confidence they needed to win the game.