In what was likely the most exciting and meaningful game of the season, the Denver Nuggets escaped from Oakland with a much-needed win. J.J. Hickson had a career high in rebounds while the Nuggets’ backcourt outplayed the “Splash Brothers” duo of Steph Curry and Klay Thompson. But it was the diminutive Nate Robinson who really stole the show with an incredible fourth-quarter performance that turned even the most skeptical cynics (like yours truly) into full-fledged fans.
|J.J. Hickson, PF 40 MIN | 6-12 FG | 1-4 FT | 24 REB | 2 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 13 PTS | +3
This was without question Hickson’s best game in a Nuggets uniform. He hauled down a career high 24 rebounds and essentially sealed the win for the Nuggets by nabbing a late fourth-quarter steal which resulted in a fastbreak dunk. He’s garnered a lot of criticism from Nuggets fans this year (guilty as charged) but the Nuggets don’t win this game without him.
|Kenneth Faried, PF 17 MIN | 2-4 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 2 BLK | 3 TO | 4 PTS | -2
Faried didn’t do anything significant. He had a block — and that’s about all I remember. His defense was once again abominable.
|Wilson Chandler, SF 39 MIN | 6-17 FG | 7-8 FT | 6 REB | 1 AST | 1 STL | 3 BLK | 1 TO | 22 PTS | 0
Chandler was huge for two reasons: (A) He started the game like a bat out of hell; and (B), he was about the only Nuggets player who even attempted to play help defense throughout the night — despite the fact he’s a small forward. Chandler was also really aggressive throughout the evening. Without him setting the tone early on I don’t know if the Nuggets get out to the fast start that helped give them confidence the rest of the game.
|Ty Lawson, PG 43 MIN | 6-14 FG | 9-12 FT | 2 REB | 11 AST | 3 STL | 1 BLK | 3 TO | 22 PTS | +4
Lawson continued his streak of double-doubles (seven in the last eight games) and played hard the whole night. He hit some huge shots and finished through contact on more than one occasion. Lawson is getting to the point where he’s actively seeking out contact and understanding how to finish after the foul has been called — which is a thing of beauty.
|Randy Foye, SG 39 MIN | 8-12 FG | 1-2 FT | 5 REB | 3 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 21 PTS | +3
It’s no longer a debate. I’m not gonna ask anymore. It’s now a fact. The Nuggets go as Foye goes. It’s just the truth. When he plays well, the Nuggets play well as a team. His 3-point shooting gives this team an entirely new dimension. It gives them energy, it gives them confidence, it gives them assurance knowing no opponent’s lead is too great to overcome. In this game he was hitting all sorts of long-range shots (especially in the first half), and just like Chandler and Hickson, the Nuggets wouldn’t have won without him.
|Quincy Miller, SF 3 MIN | 1-1 FG | 0-0 FT | 0 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 2 PTS | 0
Quincy didn’t do much but he did have a really nice poster dunk for the second game in a row.
|Timofey Mozgov, C 21 MIN | 5-7 FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 10 PTS | +7
I never thought I’d see the day when Mozgov would mean this much to the Nuggets. When he fouled out in the fourth quarter it totally changed the game. He’s the Nuggets only consistent interior defender (outside of Arthur) and when he was sidelined the Warriors basically did whatever they wanted inside. As the season progresses Mozgov has to learn to stay out of foul trouble as he’s become a vital part of this team’s defensive identity.
|Nate Robinson, PG 23 MIN | 9-12 FG | 3-3 FT | 4 REB | 3 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 4 TO | 24 PTS | +9
If I could give Nate a triple A-plus I would. Words cannot describe how insanely spectacular he was in the second half of this game, particularly the the fourth quarter where he dropped 14 of the most Nate Robinsonish points you’ll ever see. Nate was the energy that carried the Nuggets through a potentially momentum-shifting third quarter. When the Warriors made a run, he was there to counter everything they threw at the Nuggets. I criticize Nate a lot, but games like this make it impossible not to like the guy.
|Evan Fournier, SG 15 MIN | 2-4 FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 1 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 5 PTS | +11
Fournier was under the radar the entire game outside of some good defense on Klay Thompson and one great play. In the final seconds of the third quarter he rotated on a Warriors drive, stole the ball, then dribbled it down to halfcourt and drained a 45-foot 3-pointer that was a huge momentum booster for the Nuggets heading into the fourth quarter. It was pretty awesome.
Honestly, I felt this was a players’ win more than a coache’s win. Shaw had some really head-scratching lineups (four guards and J.J. Hickson for much of the fourth quarter) and it was mostly the players who individually stepped up their game in order to win. And for the thousandth time, the Hickson-Faried frontcourt simply does not work. The Nuggets had absolutely zero interior defense for much of the game, and had it not been for a few players’ heroic performances, the Nuggets would have lost their second game in a row due to lack of defense in the paint.
Three Things We Saw
- During the game I was getting flashbacks of the George Karl era (specifically the 2013 playoffs) as Shaw played small almost the entire contest and into crunch time. I cannot tell you how many times Klay Thompson, David Lee and even Steph Curry rose up for fairly easy jump shots over smaller Nuggets defenders. As I will always say, playing small should not be a permanent, philosophical approach to playing basketball in the NBA; it’s a short-term strategy that you should use to speed up the game. Granted, most of the Nuggets best players happen to be small, and Shaw has shown no inclination toward obsessing over this style of play as George Karl did, but it doesn’t change the fact that small ball comes with a price and should be used sparingly.
- I’m not trying to be a homer, and I usually don’t complain about this type of thing, but it was a little disappointing to see Lawson get overlooked as much as he did by the ESPN panel before the game. All they talked about was the “Splash Brothers,” yet Lawson was on the winning side of this game and is having by far the best year of his career. He’s third in the NBA in assists right now and is averaging 18 and nine on the season. While Curry and Thompson both had solid scoring nights, Lawson was the best guard on the floor for four quarters and it showed in the form of a “W” for his squad.
- Though the Nuggets aren’t the worst defensive team in the league, they also aren’t the best. It was nice to see them bring some defensive intensity in the third quarter, but their current defensive schemes aren’t a recipe for long-term success. Throughout the fourth quarter the Nuggets decided to switch on screens, which led to defensive breakdowns all over the floor. Because their interior defense is nonexistent, that only further complicated the issue. At one point the Nuggets had Ty Lawson and Nate Robinson guarding David Lee in the post on back to back (if I remember correctly) possessions with under two minutes to go in the fourth quarter. Naturally, Lee scored on both attempts. Brian Shaw has got to get a grip on these issues, as they’ve already cost the Nuggets one game this season. If Faried and Hickson continue to log heavy minutes together it’s only a matter of time before the Nuggets drop another game due to poor interior defense.
Next up: Friday, Jan. 17, 7 p.m. (MST) vs. Cleveland. Going to the game? Save money and get cheap Denver Nuggets tickets here.