Rapid Reaction: Nuggets 109, Pacers 96

[Note: Unfortunately, I couldn't get the Rapid Reaction generator working, so a regular, old-fashioned recap follows the jump.]

The Denver Nuggets came out strong, building a 19-point halftime lead, then weathered Indiana’s third quarter scoring barrage to hang on for one of their biggest wins of the season.

In facing a powerhouse with the best record in the NBA, their hopes were at least partly pinned on the fact that the Pacers were on the second night of a back-to-back, having gone into overtime against the Kings in a game that saw their starters average 40.6 minutes.

Denver took full advantage of this opportunity right out of the gate, bursting onto the court with defensive energy that was fueling forced turnovers and fast breaks.

Offensively, Wilson Chandler led the way. His 11 first quarter points, including 3-5 from the 3-point arc, opened up the floor for the Nuggets and helped them prevent Indiana from funneling them straight into Roy Hibbert. He also did an excellent job of defending Paul George, limiting him to 2 points on 1-4 shooting in the first half.

Nate Robinson picked up the scoring mantle where Chandler left off, exploding off the bench for 13 second quarter points that propelled the Nuggets to a big double-digit lead.

Kenneth Faried had one of his best starts in recent memory. He was in full-on Manimal mode from the tip-off, his energy off the charts. He was all over the glass with eight first half rebounds, and added a glorious stuff on Paul George’s late second quarter dunk attempt that helped the Nuggets extend their lead to 19 points going into the half. And notwithstanding a very rough stretch through the third quarter, he also did a respecttable job of defending David West (a point of major concern going into this game), including some late-game pestering that really got into West’s head.

Coming out of halftime, it looked as if the Nuggets were fully prepared to totally blow their big lead and allow the Pacers to come back with pathetically little resistance. Denver’s defense utterly collapsed as Indiana went on an 18-4 run in just over three minutes to cut their deficit down to five points. West was outright abusing Faried, who was at a total loss for how to stop him. The Nuggets offense also came to a screeching halt, and things were not looking good.

Midway through the third, however, Chandler found his scoring groove again, Ty Lawson – who had been quiet up to that point – started ratcheting up his aggression, and the Nuggets defense, anchored by Timofey Mozgov, started clamping down.

Mozgov had perhaps his best defensive game of the season. The official box score lists him as having two blocks (I had counted three), but that hardly does justice to the major impact he had in the paint altering shots, and countering the size of Hibbert and Ian Mahinmi as he did a great job of battling them for rebounds and defending without fouling. He gave the Pacers fits on offense as well, working his way into deep positions pretty much at will for easy dunks and layups, and getting the Pacers bigs into foul trouble.

The Nuggets have had a hard time closing out games, but they did an admirable job of stiff-arming the Pacers in the fourth quarter and preventing them from getting too close to reclaiming the lead. Lawson and J.J. Faried were picking apart Indiana’s defense with pick-and-rolls play after play, and the Pacers really never found their second win after their big early third quarter run.

All in all, this was a great win for the Nuggets, one of their best of the season, and one they badly needed as they’ll need many more like it if they are to make the playoffs.

Some other observations:

  • Randy Foye’s stat line doesn’t jump off the screen, but for a player who isn’t known as an energy guy he made some great hustle plays in the fourth quarter, including one chase-down block on C.J. Watson in transition that’s Top Ten highlight worthy.
  • Denver’s free throw shooting has improved to .732 from .701 last season, but it remains a concern at times. They shot only 21-37 (.568) in this game, including 12-24 from their starters. They got away with it in this game, but against the league’s elite teams they simply can’t afford to do this.
  • Lance Stephenson was the one bright spot for the Pacers. He leads the league in triple-doubles, and nearly had another one with 23 points on 10-16 shooting, 10 rebounds and 7 assists. While the Nuggets held their ground through most of the game at the other positions, Stephenson pretty much had his way with Foye and Fournier throughout the game.
  • The Pacers lead the league in field goal percentage allowed (.411) and 3-point percentage allowed (.331), and are third in rebounds allowed (40.4). The Nuggets tallied .482, .400 and 46 in those categories, and can pat themselves on the back for a very well-executed game.
  • Matt, myself and others discussed before the game that if Brian Shaw were ever to start Mozgov, this would be the time to do it. Needless to say he went with his usual starters, and while that still seems counterintuitive on paper (Hickson guarding Hibbert alongside Faried guarding West – are you crazy?), Shaw could point to the results as evidence that he was right and we were wrong. I would still imagine, however, that in the unlikely event of a Nuggets-Pacers playoff series that Shaw’s good fortune would not hold out over very many games.

 

You can follow me on Twitter here: @denbutsu

 

Next up: Sunday, Jan. 26, 7 p.m. (MST) at Sacramento. Going to the game? Save money and get cheap Denver Nuggets tickets here.

  • Charliemyboy

    Pleasant surprise. Vogel let us win, right? Conf finals in two years?

  • Richard Pesicka

    Shows they can play when they play team ball. Chandler can play. I know this isn’t New York, but hey, shoot the crap out of it.

  • googergieger

    Think the box score and the final score is going to paint a different picture than what actually happened. Don’t want to be negative with a win though. Against a great opponent none the less, but man…

    Still don’t like what Shaw is doing. Glad with the win though.

  • CoryW

    Where is this season going? 41-41 hope the Knicks tank….#draftLeVineorWiggins

  • Nugman

    For the first time I actually thought Shaw made a couple good moves. First he put Mozzy in for JJ two minutes into the 3rd quarter. That may have won us the game. But I still don’t understand why he doesn’t play Mozzy more, especially against a big center like Hibbert. Does Shaw really think Faried and JJ can matchup with Hibbert? It’s crazy!

    Second, Shaw took Nate out with about 5 minutes left in the game. When you are trying to keep a lead late you don’t want Nate on the floor. He is just too wild. If you’re trying to catch up Nates your man, but not when you need solid play.

    Congrats on a good win Nuggets, but please don’t give it back against the Kings tomorrow….

  • Ckwizard

    Playing great/hard to prove you belong in a conversation or because you want to prove yourself good is different than Playing great/hard because it is who you are. When it isn’t who you are you get beat by those of the same ilk. Character is always reflected in the results and talent only occasionally. Wins like these ie against the best teams only show the Talent on the team is there. Losses and most of the losses this year show the teams Character and just how poor it is. Adversity builds Character but sometimes individuals are just plain resistant to growth ie J.R. Smith and sometimes the growth is just slow. Unfortunatly it is a little late in the season for character building but on the positive side of things, the Nuggets have the most difficult schedule left and it is an opportunity for the team to prove they belong so they should play great/hard most of the remaining games and they should make the playoffs….

  • Pickles1731

    This Nuggets team is making me mad. One day we play inspired ball, the next we are flat. Why can’t we show this effort on a nightly basis? Let’s go Nuggets, pick a way to go. Either start sucking or start winning.

  • Tyler Stevens

    What a frustrating team. I guarantee we finish the year hovering at/just slightly around .500. My bet 40-42

  • heykyleinsf

    Got to enjoy these when they come. But dammit I didn’t watch, turned the Avs on and they lost. What a mystery this team continues to be. Happy though..for them to beat Indiana. Who is in my mind, the best team in the NBA right now

    • gimpcom187

      Its not that much of a mystery. The wizards beat the heat a week ago and lost to the jazz last night. The nuggets are a team very good teams overlook now. Most teams do that 10-15 times per season. There is still enough talent to hold on in that type of game. Nice win.

      • heykyleinsf

        Well the Heat are slumping by their standards
        And we led Portland before the 4th qtr collapse
        And kicked the dubs ass.
        All in one week including 2 losses to weak teams
        To me. That’s still a lot to wonder
        Most people here seem too pessimistic
        Got to give these guys credit when its due
        Aren’t we supposed to be fans?

        • gimpcom187

          Pessimism and rationality are not synonyms. This team is mediocre with little hope for marked improvement over the following 2 seasons. Its time to slash and burn to make a run in 3-4 years.

  • The Truth

    Parity year, especially in the WC – the best by far. The 9-11 teams can get hot and knock off the top teams. Kobe and the Lakers have left a vacuum to fill at the top. Its going down.

    -SA is only as good as their bench (which is pretty good).
    -POR is unproven in this position.
    -OKC has proven to be beatable despite the political favor

    Who
    really thinks these 3 will not struggle the least in a first round
    series? Match-ups matter, but whoever gets a playoff spot will likely
    be playing well when the playoffs roll around and have no fear of these
    “top” teams. It should be good and there will be blood.

    • gimpcom187

      I hope youre not suggesting the nugs would have a shot at winning a series against a healthy version of any of those teams. 5 max games against any of those teams with 2 blowouts. As you may have noticed memphis has been much better since the return of gasol. There are 7 teams in the west who should be the heavy favs to make the playoffs assuming ok health. It would be surprising to see a healthy spurs or okc lose in rd one but the other 5 is pickem. Denver dallas and phx are NOT one of those 7.
      Dont confuse the pacers lack of concentration with the nuggets ability. Wizards just beat miami last week. Do you honestly believe they could beat the heat in a 7 game series? Cause thats the same exact situation the nugs will be in if they get the 8th seed.

      • The Truth

        The EC is not the WC. Spurs or OKC are not the Heat. The seven you mentioned will be worked out over the second half. With McGee and DA integrated back in the lineup, I’m good with facing any healthy team. So yeah, a shot is what I’m definitely talking about.

        The playoff race for the last two spots has begun in the WC, this will create some battled tested and ready teams. Nobody fears anybody.

        And if we make it this year, I feel better with Shaw as the coach than GK.

  • Duke

    Games like this are frustrating for me as a Nugs fan. Of course I am glad to see a win for them, but it always just seems to be fools gold.

    We constantly get these teams at home on the second day of a back to back, or after a extended road trip and then we out pace/run them and get a win like this. This works great during the regular season, but in the post season when you have the exact same schedule as your opponent, it just doesn’t work. The altitude is taken out of the occasion when both teams are flying back and forth on the same days. This is evident from Denver early playoff exits.

    I had really hoped with the hiring of Shaw that the front office had realized we needed a Defensive orientated team that could physically wear teams down throughout the game. Using the altitude by beating teams down physically, which will translate better to the postseason then out running teams does. However from an outsiders perspective, it looks like coach and front office are not on the same page.

    The front office needs to realize that we need a PF who can play defense, a shooting guard who isn’t so streaky, and a PG who can play physical defense against the Westbrooks, Lilliards, and Curries that the league is full of now a days. I doubt any of the above things actually happen, as the front office seems to have no idea how to figure out if a player fits your coaches system/style of play.

    I think a big part of what the nuggets need is that one guy who sets the tone on defense. Someone who doesn’t have to get a steal to make an impact. Ty is not that defender. He has become a B+/A- offensive player. But on the defensive end he has always struggled, with his height being a big factor. He has trouble fighting through screens, and trouble dealing with guards who initiate contact. Now as he plays 40 or so minutes a night, it becomes even more difficult to give 100% effort on the defensive end, considering how much he is relied upon on offense. I do think that Ty could be a starter on a contender, but the other four players would all have to be plus defenders to compensate for his inabilities on D.

    I love the Nuggets. Love to watch them win. I sincerely hope I am wrong and they can make a contender out of this team. It just doesn’t look likely.

  • heykyleinsf

    OMG. We beat the best team in the NBA and everyone is pissed off
    Hello?? any Nuggets fans out there?

    • ny nugs fan

      man i’m glad the nugs found a way to get hickson useful running that pick and roll; that’s a good look for him

      if the nugs can cut down the butterfingers and (gulp) increase their free throw %…. ahhh never mind

    • Duke

      It seems as though this is the Nuggets ceiling.

      I am not pissed at all that the Nuggets won. It was a fun game to watch, and the team played really well. The pessimism comes from the concern about simply making the playoffs, let alone making noise there. I hope that the Nuggets do make the playoffs and win a series or two. The heartbreak of losing a series 4-1 seems inevitable though, and that’s why games are bitter sweet.

      • heykyleinsf

        If “this is the Nuggets ceiling”
        it’s good enough by anyone’s standards..
        Did I mention they beat the best team in the NBA??

  • Darius

    We beat the best team in the NBA! Cheer up guys..

  • CoryW

    Future not bright in the mile high city nowadays. We need to start rebuilding our developing and as our looks we are doing neither other than Lawson getting better and Chandler becoming more aggressive which I like but. A man with no hope is a beaten man. This team needs a future. No light at the end of the tunnel here. Love the win but when are we going to be talking about pieces falling together for a championship to be brought to Denver. All u want to see is the light at the end if the tunnel. #Nuggetsfannomatterwhat

  • Evan Woodruff

    nuggets pacers playoff series sounds great to me