In an ugly, frustrating, poorly officiated game, the first of the season without Kenneth Faried’s energy to help keep them afloat, the Nuggets survived their final regular season road outing to clinch home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs and put themselves one home win away from locking up the third seed.
|Kosta Koufos, C 23 MIN | 3-9 FG | 2-6 FT | 11 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 1 TO | 8 PTS | +16Koufos’ stat line is deceptively good in light of the ways he actually struggled through much of this game. He was having a hard time finishing around the basket, and the Bucks frontcourt was absolutely dominating the offensive glass, which led to a ton of second chance points. This was his first game of the season without Faried starting alongside him, and the absence of his energetic counterpart may have put him out of his comfort zone.|
|Ty Lawson, PG 38 MIN | 7-13 FG | 11-13 FT | 5 REB | 7 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 5 TO | 26 PTS | +1If Lawson is still feeling any ill effects from his plantar fascia injury, he sure didn’t show it tonight. His high gear was in full effect as he got to the rim at will, shot 11-13 from the free throw line and ultimately made the game-winning mid-range jumper that sealed Denver’s victory. If this is the Lawson the Nuggets will have in the playoffs, that bodes very well for their chances of success.|
|Wilson Chandler, SG 29 MIN | 8-13 FG | 2-2 FT | 3 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 21 PTS | +16After a lackluster performance last night, Chandler put in a very efficient and productive offensive game tonight which provides further evidence that he may indeed be able to fill much of the vacuum left by Gallinari’s absence. A remaining concern is his tendency to get into quick foul trouble, and it seemed to make him slightly more tentative on defense.|
|Andre Iguodala, SG 35 MIN | 5-9 FG | 1-2 FT | 8 REB | 7 AST | 1 STL | 2 BLK | 1 TO | 13 PTS | +6Iguodala continued his playmaking ways tonight, matching Lawson’s team-best seven assists, and even running the point at times when Ty was on the floor. I still cringe every time he launches a 3-pointer, but he made two of his four attempts, and he often seems to time his makes just when the Nuggets need them. And not to be overlooked is Jennings’ 1-11 shooting, which Iguodala had no small part in.|
|Evan Fournier, SG 29 MIN | 6-11 FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 3 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 12 PTS | +6The Frenchman came out guns blazing from the opening buzzer, scoring ten points in the first eight minutes of the game. He wasn’t able to provide much offensively after that, but he was one of the harder working and effective defenders out there, including on Ellis’ late game 4-point play, which Evan wrongfully received a penalty on. As Lawson and Fournier get better acclimated to playing alongside each other, it’s going to be extremely hard for opposing defenses to keep Denver out of the paint when they’re both on the court.|
|Anthony Randolph, PF 16 MIN | 2-4 FG | 1-2 FT | 3 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 5 TO | 5 PTS | -9After an error-prone stretch laden with fouls and turnovers late in the third quarter, Randolph had somewhat of a frustration meltdown and, as Kalen pointed out on Twitter, got into a bit of a shouting match with George Karl. With Faried also out for Denver’s final regular season game, keep your eyes on how Karl approaches this situation. His usual modus operandi would be to put a player in the doghouse, but given the injury-thinned roster he’d be left without any genuine power forwards if he benches him.
As for Randolph’s play prior to that unfortunate closing sequence, it was a fairly underwhelming mixed bag. He did have a couple nice layups, but like the other frontcourt players he had little success in keeping Milwaukee off the offensive glass, and really didn’t make that big an impact on the game.
|Corey Brewer, SF 22 MIN | 0-6 FG | 5-8 FT | 3 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 5 PTS | -11On a night when Denver really needed the kind of spirited, energetic, dynamic play that Brewer usually brings to the court, he really wasn’t able to provide much of it. And when he doesn’t have that going on to balance off a 0-6 shooting performance, it’s just a bad night for Corey.|
|JaVale McGee, C 25 MIN | 4-8 FG | 2-5 FT | 17 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 2 BLK | 2 TO | 10 PTS | -13Like Kosta, JaVale’s stat line – especially his 17 rebounds – belies an inability in this game to prevent the Bucks from pulling down a truckload of offensive rebounds, the one thing Milwaukee did consistently all game to keep themselves in it. Also like Koufos (and Brewer), he had his hand in the mistake-addled late third quarter sequence that got the Bucks on track to reclaiming the lead. On the positive side, McGee did put a few nice post moves on display, but the bottom line (and this applies not only to him but the entire roster) is that if the Nuggets can’t find a way to be a better defensive rebounding team that could be a shortcut to an early playoff exit, as they keep giving their opponents every opportunity to come back from big deficits.|
|Andre Miller, PG 23 MIN | 2-12 FG | 8-8 FT | 6 REB | 2 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 12 PTS | -7Any Nuggets fans who took issue with Matt’s post on Miller’s defense need to rewatch this game and count the number of times he literally stood 3-5 feet away from his defensive assignment, hands down, and watched hip put up an open 3-pointer. (I counted about three). Veteran “wisdom” and “craftiness” does no good when a player doesn’t exert the effort to actually utilize it. But maybe I’m being too hard on the old man, because it sure looks like he just might be exhausted and fatigued from being overextended all season long. Which is all the more reason for Karl not to have done that.
But I digress. On the plus side in this game was the fact that he went 8-8 from the line. He needs to recognize that not all defenses are created equal, and that his post-up game – good as it it – is not always the best way to pick apart a defense. The Nuggets were at their most effective in this game when slashing to the basket – and that is true for Miller as well. When he took the ball in the low post, dribbling it to a boody pulp, the Bucks consistently had three defenders in the paint just waiting to thwart him. I like Miller’s post game, and it can work very well, but when, like tonight, it’s *all* he does again and again, and there’s no mixing it up (say, pass back out to the perimeter so they can swing it around to the weak side for a better look), it plays right into the hand of the opposing defense. The one trick of this one trick pony is a pretty damn good trick much of the time, but I just hope that if a similar situation unfolds in the playoffs he’ll find his way to bringing a more varied approach. Denver’s offense is predicated on dynamism, and when that goes flat, the air goes out of the balloon.
|George KarlThe Nuggets found a way to win this game with many cards stacked against them, even if it was less than beautiful. The officiating was terrible leading to foul trouble (most harmfully to Wilson Chandler); they were exhausted and injury-depleted; the Bucks were playing their final home game on fan appreciation night and were more highly motivated than one might expect from a team thatt can’t alter its playoff seeding. Karl’s options were limited, and for that there’s some slack to cut him.
If there’s one decision he made I’d disagree with, it was sending out Fournier rather than Miller midway through the fourth quarter when Lawson came back in. Some may disagree, but to me it is pretty clear at this point that even though he’s a rookie, Fournier is already the superior perimeter defender. And it appeared that the biggest Bucks scoring threat was going to come from the outside shooting of Ellis and Redick. To his (asterisked) credit, Karl did send Fournier back in for Miller on that one last critical defensive possession. But it was very nearly too little too late.