I told you I would post a game five recap, not that anyone cares at this point though.
For all the talent the Nuggets possessed in the Carmelo Anthony/Allen Iverson pairing there is nothing quite like watching Denver play when both Chauncey Billups and Carmelo Anthony are playing at their peak level.
In the Nuggets 124-110 series clinching victory over the Dallas Mavericks Carmelo once again showed his entire offensive repertoire. He scored on drives, turnaround jumpers, pull up jumpers, catch and shoots and had one beautiful swooping scoop shot through the lane. This is the Carmelo Anthony we expected to see during the regular season, but whether he was held back by injuries, the growth of his teammates or just had a down year does not matter now.
Heading into the Western Conference Finals Carmelo is the matchup nightmare that the Nuggets envisioned him being when they drafted him in the summer of 2003.
Chauncey plays with a steady quiet spirit. He wears away the opposition like water erodes rock. There may not be any one play that sticks out in your mind, but at the end of the game you notice he posted 28 points, 12 assists and seven rebounds.
They fell apart a little in the second half, but Denver played their best defense of the series in the first half of game five. Dallas had some success scoring, but the combination of scheme and execution was very good. The Nuggets stopped switching on every screen and chose to aggressively trap Jason Kidd on pick and rolls/pops. Twice Denver forced Kidd into the right sideline well beyond the three point line. Both times Kidd leapt into the air and turned the ball over once on a weak floating cross court pass thrown straight to Dahntay Jones and the other time he threw one of his patented cross court passes into the front row.
The Nuggets lead for most of the first half by ten points or thereabouts Dallas made a game out of it in the second half thanks to their three point shooting early in the third quarter and penetration in the early part of the fourth. Denver continued to play the pick and roll more aggressively, but Denver failed to rotate nearly as well as they did in the first half. At that point everyone realized that the Mavericks were not going to go away.
After the Dallas run in the third quarter the Nuggets started flying around on defense once again and pushed their lead back up to 17. The best defensive possession came with 2:39 left in the third quarter. J.R. Smith followed J.J. Barea off a down screen, pressured him towards a Brandon Bass screen when Barea reversed direction and drove away from the screen toward Kidd on the left wing. Barea hands off to Kidd and Chauncey and J.R. switch and now J.R. is covering Kidd. J.R. sticks with Kidd tight enough Kidd almost loses his balance on his way to the right sideline. J.R. is bodying Kidd up the entire time and forces him into the left corner. Birdman covers over to trap Kidd in the corner and Kidd throws a pass to the left corner where Melo and Chauncey run at Josh Howard. Howard kicks the ball to Barea who misses a three as Kenyon rotates to challenge the shot. J.J. misses, but Dirk gets an offensive rebound at which time he is fouled by Smith. It was a great hard working possession which displayed the kind of scrappy defense the Nuggets excel at. The only breakdown was when both Chauncey and Melo rotated to Howard it forced Kenyon to run at Barea instead of Chauncey and that allowed the Mavs to get the offensive board.
Denver was able to fight off the third quarter surge by the Mavs and entered the fourth quarter having maintained their 14 point lead. They were 12 minutes away from their first Western Conference Finals appearance in 24 years and they come out flat?
Dallas then surged once again in the fourth using penetration and a little zone defense. It all started innocently enough as Antoine Wright beat Carmelo on a baseline drive that forced Chris Andersen to help on. That left Brandon Bass alone and he converted Wright’s missed shot into a three point play. Melo committed an offensive foul on the other end and then allowed Josh Howard to drive to the rim and make a layup. Denver’s 14 point lead was quickly down to nine. The Nuggets failed to score again and Jason Kidd raced up the floor and was fouled at the rim by Birdman. He made both free throws and the lead was down to seven. Nuggets fans who had not seen their team get passed the second round in 24 seasons grew worried and the Nuggets were tightening up. Next Kenyon Martin threw the ball to Chauncey Billups just as he started to cut and Jason Kidd scooped the loose ball up and fed Bass crashing through the lane drawing another shooting foul. Bass made one of two and Dallas was within six.
A quarter that fans expected to be a celebration was turning into a near nightmare.
For some reason Rick Carlisle switched back to man to man despite the fact the Mavericks’ zone had held Denver scoreless for 2:04. J.R. quickly drained a three against the man to man defense to end the scoreless streak and an 8-0 run by the Mavericks. The lead was back to nine, but before fans’ blood pressure could begin to decrease Dirk hit a three of his own after Denver collapsed on Barea after he darted into the lane. Fortunately, Denver scored on a Carter runner and the offense was back in business.
The teams traded baskets and after a short rest Carmelo Anthony checked back in the game with 6:51 left and the Nuggets clinging to a six point lead 103-97. Later on that possession Dallas deflected the ball out of bounds with only two seconds left on the shot clock. J.R. was inbounding the ball by the Dallas bench and Melo, who was covered by Jason Kidd, cut towards the sideline and then made a second diagonal cut towards the three point line. He caught a pass from Smith, turned and shot a three. Kidd was caught completely by surprise and Melo drained one of his biggest non game winning shots of his career. The difficult long bomb was very disheartening to Dallas and from that point on Denver rebuilt their lead and ended up cruising to a 14 point victory.
The Mavericks deserve a lot of credit for the way they played. They never stopped fighting and refused to give the Nuggets anything. Even thought the cards were stacked against them and with their recent history of postseason disappointments Dallas played like they were never out of any game.
Dirk especially deserves a great deal of credit for the way he battled and carried Dallas on his back for five straight games. He has certainly recovered from any mental anguish he experienced after the loss in the finals to Miami and the upset by Golden State two years ago.
The Nuggets earned some rest and have had plenty of time to get ready for the Los Angeles Lakers, who are crushing the Rockets by 24 as I write this. The Lakers have been the Nuggets nemesis the past couple of seasons and they will prove a tremendous test for how fat this Denver squad has come.
Additional Round 2 Game 5 Nuggets
Mind Boggling Game Stats
Pace Factor: Game – 89.6 | Series – 93.3 | Playoffs – 90.0
Defensive Efficiency: Game – 122.7 | Series – 114.4 | Playoffs – 105.0
Offensive Efficiency: Game – 138.3 (second best rating of the 2008-09 season) | Series – 122.8 | Playoffs – 122.6
There has been almost as much written about the activity in the stands as what happened on the court during the two games in Dallas. It makes me very angry that this is news and that I even had to consider putting together a post about it, but it is a story that is still brewing. In an attempt to put everything behind us here is all the information available right now on what has transpired.
The first public salvo was fired by Mark Cuban when he admittedly made a remark about Kenyon Martin’s personality and demeanor to Lydia Moore, Kenyon’s mother.
Of course Kenyon was upset over what Cuban said to Mrs. Moore and he claimed he would take care of things man to man. Mark Cuban then apologized on his blog, but just this afternoon Kenyon decided that his apology was not sincere.
Game four saw more ugliness. Chauncey Billups said that he had about ten members of family and friends at the game who had a bad experience.
The main story surrounds Mrs. Moore and Carmelo’s finance LaLa Vazquez. There were reports that Mrs. Moore had a beer poured over her head and Ms. Vazquez claims she was verbally assaulted, including racial slurs, and was physically pushed.
The Nuggets’ version of what transpired can be read here. There is also an eye witness account from Peggy, a Mavericks season ticket holder, of what happened on this podcast from a Dallas radio station. She claims that Mrs. Moore did nothing to upset anyone during game three, but had a completely different demeanor for game four. Peggy claims Mrs. Moore entered in such a way as to draw attention to herself and began talking trash and trying to get under people’s skin. However, according to Peggy it was a bodyguard with Ms. Vazquez who apparently triggered the ugliness with a cruel remark about her appearance and everything that went wrong was the fault of Ms. Vazquez and her bodyguard.
I am not in a position to say who is right or who is wrong. Peggy’s account is being held as the gospel by those seeking to defend the reputation of Mavericks fans so at this point I feel like I need to point out a discrepancy. Peggy left before halftime to compose herself and was not present during the time some of the people around her were removed from their seats by security. Later she talks about how she can definitely say that no one dumped a beer on Mrs. Moore, but we know based on what she said that she missed whatever happened that resulted in the expulsion of her fellow fans.
The biggest problem with how these stories and quotes are analyzed is every comment is being viewed through a stereotype. Mavericks fans are a bunch of hicks so of course they made racial slurs or LaLa Vazquez is an attention hogging wanna be celebrity.
Everyone is picking and choosing sides based on which team they are loyal to. The truth is almost everybody is capable of becoming an idiot. There are classless Mavericks fans and oh by the way, there are classless Nuggets fans too, but the vast majority of fans of both teams love the game and just want to support their team.
The bottom line is that all of this is unsubstantiated my word against your word, but we do know that things became so untenable that people had to leave a game they really wanted to watch. As far as I am concerned everyone involved is guilty. It takes two sides to escalate a dispute and the one thing that is not reported is that anyone on either side tried to be the voice of reason to work to calm the situation down.
I realize it is probably too late to write this and do any good, but if you are going to the game tonight, do not just behave appropriately, make sure that those around you do too. Do not soil what could be a historic victory with reports of insults and abuse. If you are sitting next to a Mavericks’ fan, you do not need to talk trash or get in their face. Let the Nuggets take care of that on the floor. There is no better way to insult your opponent than by shaking their hand afterward and saying, “Congratulations on a nice season.”
Update: I originally thought this video was from after game three, prompting Cuban to yell at Mrs. Moore, but it was from after game four as Kenyon was responding to the fan’s behavior. Still, highly inappropriate, but slightly more understandable. Plus Deadspin has a video of LaLa Vazquez leaving her seat (thanks to Denver Stiffs for the link).
The Denver Nuggets have another chance to close out a series in game five at home in the Pepsi Center. Following their game four loss I fully expect the Nuggets to come out with a strong desire to put Dallas away.
Denver better be ready to play because the Mavs have been slowly figuring out how to beat them. Dallas has done a better job attacking in transition (I cannot believe they have not used J.J. Barea more), swarming Nene in the lane and decreasing the Nuggets dominance in the paint and Dirk has been absolutely on fire. The Mavericks also have tried to ramp up their own physical play committing two flagrant fouls.
Hopefully the Nuggets will respond by locking down on defense, fighting for rebounds on both ends of the floor and playing aggressive and unselfish offense. If the Nuggets just think they will win tonight simply because they are at home, they will surely be booking another trip to Dallas for game six.
I hope that George Karl decides to make an adjustment on how they are going to defend Dirk. If I were in charge I would put a stop to the perimeter switching just as they did to close out game three and double Dirk in the post. Dirk has been destroying any smaller player who has switched onto him and he has broken out an impressive array of fakes and pivots to get to the rim in the post.
Those adjustments will make it more difficult for Dirk to score and it will prevent him from getting to the line so frequently. After averaging six free throws a game over the first six postseason games, Dirk has averaged 15 a game over the last three games against Denver. Part of that has been due to how the games have been officiated, all the complaining after game one seemed to have worked, but it is primarily a product of how Denver has chosen to defend him.
With all the X’s and O’s and change of venue the biggest adjustment from game four to game five will be having Chris Andersen in the lineup. Had Birdman been on the floor for game four I would be stuck watching Lost tonight instead of enjoying a Nuggets’ game.
It will also be interesting to see if George Karl continues to play Linas Kleiza and if so, for how long. When the only thing a guy can do to help the team is score and the tip of his thumb is fractured I would hesitate to play him. Sadly, any hope of seeing Renaldo Balkman hounding Josh Howard all over the place and finding the nooks and crannies in the interior of the Dallas defense is sure to go unrecognized.
I expect the Nuggets to close this series out just as they did against New Orleans and six hours from now we will be celebrating the Nuggets’ first appearance in the conference finals since 1985.
Take this with you: Apparently the key to winning in the playoffs is not to shoot 9-21 from the three point line, which is what the Nuggets did in game three in New Orleans and game four in Dallas.
The Denver Nuggets still have not swept a postseason series and the Dallas Mavericks were able to break an eight game losing streak to the Nuggets. Even so, I think I am starting to experience what teams like the Lakers and Pistons have felt over the years. I fully expected Denver to win this game until the final few seconds and when the lost I was not so much upset as I was annoyed. How dare the Mavericks waste our time and energy by pretending this game meant something? They are only delaying the inevitable.
The Nuggets may still be a virtual shoe in for the conference finals, but there are some reasons to be concerned about this team’s performance in games three and four. The problems start with the “vaunted” and “legendary” Nuggets defense. As loyal reader and commenter Beefy Swats pointed out in the game thread just as in the regular season the Nuggets defensive intensity has waned as games pass.
The Nuggets’ defense has slackened against Dallas. After posting a defensive efficiency of 95.1 against New Orleans, Denver’s defensive efficiency has surged to 112.5 against the Mavericks. As George Karl pointed out in the post game press conference, the Nuggets tried to win on offense instead of with defense and Dallas was able to run up the score.
What are the problems? The primary issue I see is they are not playing with the cohesiveness they did against the Hornets. When there is penetration the help is either late or non-existent. After forcing the Hornets and Mavericks to score from the perimeter for the first six games of the postseason the Mavericks are starting to earn some easy buckets. Tonight Dallas actually outscored Denver in the paint 42-36. Conversely, the Nuggets’ points in the paint have been slowly shrinking after posting 58 in game one. In game two Denver scored 50 points in the paint and they totaled 48 in game three. The 42 in game four go to show how Denver’s offense was far too perimeter oriented, but we are supposed to be talking about defense.
If Dallas is going to shock the world and come back to win this series it will be on the back of Dirk Nowitzki. No Nugget player has been able to deal with Dirk apart from Chris Andersen for one quarter in game one and Kenyon Martin for one quarter in game three. The decision not to double Dirk would seem to have worked as Dallas has not gone crazy from behind the three point line and Denver is up 3-1 in the series. I think you can make a good argument that not doubling Dirk is actually not working. The Mavericks are not killing the Nuggets from behind the arc, but from the charity stripe.
During the regular season Dallas averaged .274 free throws per shot attempt. Against the Nuggets Dallas is shooting .430 free throws per shot attempt and that includes game one when Dallas had 13 free throws compared to 82 shot attempts.
With free throws comes foul trouble and Denver has struggled with foul trouble with their bigs in both games in Dallas. Game four was especially difficult as Chris Andersen had to miss the game with a stomach illness.
When Dallas is not scoring from the free throw line they are hitting a high percentage of their shots. For the series Dallas is shooting 46.8%, but Dallas shot 48.8% in game one, 47.4% in game two and 50.6% in game four. Dallas is getting to the line and hitting their shots the hallmarks of efficient offense and poor defense.
I projected the Nuggets would have a more difficult time defending the Mavericks than they did against the Hornets, but I expected them to do better than this.
Another problem apart from the defense is the Nuggets have lost their physical edge. Along with the points in the paint Dallas crushed the Nuggets on the boards. I generally do not make a big deal about rebounds unless the Nuggets get or give up an avalanche of second chance points, but the Mavericks completely controlled their defensive glass giving up only six offensive rebounds to Denver while corralling 41 defensive boards.
Even with all of the Nuggets’ deficiencies in game four, they were never down by more than four and really should have pulled this game out.
Hopefully the Nuggets learn from this loss and bounce back to dominate the next game as they did after their singular loss against New Orleans. Game five is back at the Pepsi Center where Dallas should not be able to get 40 plus free throws and the Nuggets will hopefully rediscover their running game.
There is not much reason to fret about the Mavericks, but if Denver cannot tighten their focus they will be hard pressed to win the Western Conference Finals.
Look for the additional nuggets later this morning.
Get ready for a bunch of numbers and jibber jabber to prepare you for game four of the NBA Western Conference Semifinals between the Denver Nuggets and the Dallas Mavericks, next on TNT.
There have been 86 instances where an NBA team has had a 3-0 lead in a best of seven series. Denver and Cleveland are numbers 87 and 88.
Out of the previous 86 series where a team has taken a 3-0 lead into game four, they have gone on to win game four 52 times (60.5% sweep rate). An additional 25 series (29.1%) ended in game five. Only six series (went six games 7.0%) and three of the 86 series (3.5%) went the full seven games. If you have been paying attention, that leaves zero series where the team up 3-0 has gone on to lose the series.
As the Boston Red Sox proved back in 2004, that which has never been accomplished is not necessarily impossible, just unbelievably unlikely. At this point I will gladly take the 3-0 lead as opposed to the chance to make history.
From the Mavericks’ standpoint we are left to wonder how they will react to the devastation from the inability to foul convincingly in a game where there 1.3 fouls per minute. Do they bounce back and try to get back at the officials by delivering a butt whooping or do they fade away into the night like a broken man having watched his wife violated by her lover? Sorry, I do not know where that came from.
Getting back to the topic of tasks never before completed, guess what franchise has never swept a playoff series of any length? You guessed it the Denver Rockets/ABA Nuggets/NBA Nuggets have never swept anybody. Check it out for yourself, I did. How does that news strike you?
Basically tonight we get to see what will happen out of a range of unlikely options. History tells us the majority of series where a team has a 3-0 lead end in sweeps, however, history also tells us the Nuggets are not going to sweep anyone and what are the chances of them beating a quality team nine times in a row?
On the other hand Dallas has a chance to commence on a comeback journey the likes no NBA team has ever completed while having to put aside their feelings of dejection and heartbreak from roughly 50 hours prior.
I have no idea what will happen. Is it possible both teams will lose?
Before we get to a few more thoughts on game three of the Denver Nuggets/Dallas Mavericks series there are a couple of announcements to make.
First, make sure you swing by here at 1:00 Mountain time to take part in a chat with Rob Mahoney from The Two Man Game. We will be taking your questions and I am sure listening to a lot of complaining heading into game four.
Secondly, the Nugg Doctor is hosting a game four viewing party at the ESPN Zone in downtown Denver. I cannot make it due to the fact my softball teams needs my sterling skills at shortstop tonight (only two errors so far in two games improving on my previous best of 12 errors in two games), but if you like watching games with other rowdy Nuggets fans I encourage you to join the party. Nick the Nugg Doctor is promising trivia and prizes.
More end of game comments
There has been a lot of fallout over the whistle not heard around the world and it deserves more discussion here.
First of all, all the excuses being made for Antoine Wright are ridiculous. It has been said that he could not have wrapped Carmelo up because of the danger of being called for an intentional foul or a flagrant foul? That is just preposterous. The entire episode took place under the guise of referees to not want to unduly impact the end of games. No NBA referee is going to call either an intentional or a flagrant foul in that spot. Rajon Rondo punched Brad Miller in the face and did not get a flagrant foul.
There are two accounts of Nuggets fans watching the game in a bar with the sound down and thus not knowing the Mavs had a foul to give. Jakester recounted it here in a comment here on RMC and Andy from Denver Stiffs was also in that position. Neither observer thought there was a foul that should have been called in that point in the game.
The actions of Mark Cuban following the game were repulsive. I can appreciate his passion for his team, but his conduct was not appropriate for a fan, let alone an owner of an NBA franchise. At one point he pushed a camera man, although not hard, was seen shouting obscenities on the court and he even yelled at Kenyon Martin’s mom calling Kenyon a thug.
I respect players and teams who do not look to blame the officials whenever they lose. Mentally tough teams do not look to blame the referees after any loss. They accept responsibility. There is a belief that teams taken on the personality of their coaches. Well, as active as Cuban is I think Dallas has taken on some of the personality of their owner. The Mavs are not a mentally tough team and I think a big reason is because of the emphasis Cuban has placed on poor officiating. I understand much of what Cuban has done is with the admirable goal of improving officiating in the NBA. However, he should keep that data away from the players, coaches and fans. By making a stink over every call he does not agree with he remove the burden of losses from his players to the officials.
Instead of learning from all the mistakes Dallas made in the final couple of minutes, or wondering why they were not up double digits at halftime when the Nuggets were shooting under 30%, they are completely focused on the officials.
Mavericks fans have been proclaiming that Nuggets fans would be angry too if Denver had tried to foul and failed only to see the game winning shot go through the hoop. I agree, it would be a wide topic of conversation, but on this site I promise we would have focused on the very same issue of what the player could have done better in order to get the foul called.
I will say one thing in Wright’s defense. The game had been called very tight all afternoon and what he did would have been called a foul at any other point during the game.
I will also add that Dirk Nowitzki seemed to have the right attitude about the end of the game. He left the floor quietly and I believe he was contemplating what he could have done better to win the game. Jason Kidd was also quick to accept blame (Update: Dallas Morning News blog post with Kidds’ comments) as he was quoted as saying the play at the end of the game was not what cost Dallas the win.
It was interesting to see that Josh Howard who shot 5-15 and was in foul trouble was the most animated in his displeasure. Maybe Josh should have shared Dirk’s attitude. He was called for a technical in the third quarter that gave Denver an extra point, he only shot 33% and his defense was not overly impressive. He can blame the officials all he wants and I realize he is playing in pain, but he should be looking at himself.
It is unfortunate that the game had to end with that kind of controversy, but do not let it get you down Nuggets fans. Dallas can say whatever they want and the NBA can put out statements until the end of time, the fact is Melo made the shot and Denver earned that win. Enjoy it.
The NBA is reportedly reviewing the events on the court following game three and I will let you know as soon as I know if there are any suspensions as a result of what went down.
There is no news in the Denver Post that I have found confirming that, but as I wrote in my game three recap. Kleiza was clearly not interested in shooting, which I have never seen before, and if he is not scoring, he does not belong on the court.
If you are looking for a reason why the Denver Nuggets struggled to duplicate their relatively easy wins from the first two games of the series against the Dallas Mavericks I will give you three. First Dallas played with more fire and intensity because they were at home. They are a very good home team.
Secondly Dallas finally started running and scoring in transition. In game three the Mavericks were credited with 21 fast break points while the Nuggets only compiled nine. Dallas had only scored 13 fast break points in the first two games while Denver rung up 54. Transition defense has been a weakness for the Nuggets all season and neither New Orleans nor Dallas have tried to take advantage of that aspect of the game.
Thirdly, the game was officiated in a way that was beneficial to the Mavericks. That is not a complaint. I thought the referees were consistent from start to finish, or at least from start through the first 11:57 of the fourth quarter. Dallas needs the referees to penalize Denver from playing physical defense and they did. In my opinion they called the game too tightly. The third quarter seemed like it lasted an hour. Dallas shot 21 free throws in the third quarter alone (all in the final 9:20) and the Nuggets shot 12. Thirty-three free throws in a single quarter is just brutal to watch.
However, it is difficult to be upset with the referees (and not because of the way the game ended). After watching the third quarter again the way the game was being officiated, it is hard to argue with the calls. Many of them were on plays where the Nuggets were reaching. Chauncey picked up two fouls trying to make a steal. At one point Melo had switched onto Dirk, he fought for position in the post and forced Nowitzki out to the three point line to receive the pass. Then he banged with Dirk continuing to fight for every inch he could. Then after working that hard, he bails Dirk out by slapping his arms when he pivoted to shoot. The Nuggets committed fouls due to either lazy defense or getting caught out of position.
Foul trouble became an issue in the third quarter as Chauncey, Chris Andersen and Nene all were called for their fourth foul by the midpoint of the third quarter. Andersen committed two bad frustration fouls which gave him five fouls with over three minutes left in the third. He would foul out after playing less than 11 minutes.
As a result the Nuggets were forced to play with a smaller lineup and with the Mavericks forcing their way into the paint more frequently it forced the Nuggets to foul even more to prevent easy shots at the rim.
As the game progressed it was apparent to me that Dallas was playing with just a tad bit more intensity and intelligence at both ends of the floor. As I have written before it is impossible to manufacture desperation and Dallas was playing with desperation. Add in the poor shooting by the Nuggets in the first half, the lackadaisical defense resulting in the free throw parade in the third quarter, the foul trouble born out of sloppy defense and the Nuggets not being able to put together that decisive run we have become accustom to and it was a very frustrating game to watch. The Nuggets did not play their best and everything I was watching convinced me the Nuggets would not pull this game out. They lost a close game three in New Orleans and they were about to lose a close game three in Dallas.
With 34 seconds left Anthony Carter made the horrible decision, as he frequently does, to run at Dirk from behind Dirk in an attempt to steal the ball. Carter left Jason Terry all alone in the corner and in a play you could see happening before everything actually happened Dirk passed over to Terry who hit the open three to put Dallas up 105-101. Game over, or at least so I thought.
From that point on the Mavericks made four big mistakes. First of all needing to run some clock they allowed Carmelo to score on a dunk in only 2.6 seconds. I realize you do not want to foul, but at least make Melo change directions. If they manage to force just two more seconds off the clock, I think Denver has to foul on ensuing possession instead of playing to get one more stop with time on the clock.
The second mistake was made by Dirk. Not only did Dirk take some terrible shots down the stretch, but he probably lost the game for Dallas by shooting far too early on their second to last possession. There was a differential of roughly four seconds between the shot clock and game clock. Dirk shot with six seconds left on the shot clock. By the time Denver corralled the rebound and called timeout there were 6.5 seconds left. If Dirk shoots that shot with just one or two seconds on the shot clock, Denver is looking at only a second or two to tie or win the game instead of 6.5.
The final two mistakes were the inability to foul convincingly, which I have already written about, and the unimaginative inbounds play the Mavericks ran at the end of the game. I thought the final inbounds play by the Mavericks was pretty weak. The Mavs only needed two points to win and running a play for Dirk or Terry to catch running away from the basket, forcing them to turn and shoot from long range was silly. I think Dallas could have had Josh Howard cutting to the rim. They should have known Denver would be focusing on Dirk and Terry which would have allowed Howard, who set a screen for Dirk, but when Howard curled around the backside he ran towards the opposite sideline instead of at the rim plus Brandon Bass was just sitting on the offside block anyway.
If Dallas makes better decisions or better plays in any of those four situations, apart from the final play with only a second left, that is a tough situation to bounce back from, perhaps the game ends up differently.
If you are looking for one thing that turned the game in the Nuggets’ favor look no further than a defensive adjustment George Karl made midway through the fourth quarter. With Dirk scoring almost at will off of all the defensive switches the Nuggets were employing Karl changed things up during a timeout with 6:22 remaining in the fourth. From that point on Denver started defending screens straight up with the big man hedging to slow down the ball handler and then recovering back to his man. From that point on I believe Denver only switched one more screen the rest of the game. However, Dallas probably did not realize the Nuggets had changed tactics for a couple of minutes because they posted Jason Kidd up on Chauncey for four or five straight possessions.
Dallas ran their last set with Kidd posting up Billups at the 3:17 mark when Chauncey finally kept Kidd out of the lane and forced a bad turnaround jumper. From that point on Dallas ran their regular down screens and pick and pop sets against the Nuggets more stout non-switching pick defense. The result was out of Dallas’ final six shots not one of them came from in the lane. Four of those six shots were badly forced jumpers by Dirk over Kenyon (of course one of them was the final shot of the game where Dirk had no choice, but to shoot a contested jumper).
When the Nuggets switch and Dirk is covered by a guard or Melo, he will back the smaller defender down and get an easy two. If he has a big man on him, he almost always settles for the jumper. By making sure Kenyon stayed on Dirk it ensured Nowitzki will take much more difficult shots.
Denver did hold the Mavericks to 40.0% shooting so from that standpoint it is difficult to say Denver did a poor defensive job, but I will. The Nuggets hardnosed defense we saw against the Hornets has been softened because of all the switching. Denver was forced to foul because the Mavs had the ball in the lane all night long. The Nuggets defensive efficiency in games two and three against Dallas has been their two worst of the postseason.
The Nuggets now have a chance at sweeping the Mavericks tonight in Dallas. How amazing has this run been?
Additional Round 2 Game 3 Nuggets
Mindboggling Game Stats
Pace Factor: 90.7 – Exactly the same as game two.
Defensive Efficiency: 115.8 – Exactly the same as game two as the pace factor was the same and Dallas scored 105 points in both games.
Offensive Efficiency: 116.9 – Once again the offense was solid even with J.R. Smith struggling and Melo shooting a poor percentage.
Yes, what Antoine Wright did to Carmelo Anthony was a foul, but you play the game the way the referees call it. In that light I have three recommendations for the Mavericks next time they find themselves in that situation.
1. Tell the officials you want to foul before the shot goes up. It is not against the rules to communicate your strategy to do to the officials. For years players and coaches have informed refs that they want to call a timeout as soon as they grab a rebound. If the officials know what you want to do they will be anticipating that you are going to do it and that makes it much more likely that they will make the call you are looking for. Plus, I have no idea if the on court referees keep track of who has a foul to give or not. In fact, the scorer’s table passes that information on to them specifically so they do not have to keep track of that kind of thing.
2. If you are going to foul, foul. Do not make a weak slap at the ball/arm. Wrap the offensive player up. Grab him, hold him like you are at the prom. Leave the referees no choice, but to call the foul.
3. After the contact do not put your hands up in the air and act like you did not foul. Making the French national gesture with you arms up in surrender communicates that you did not intend to foul and do not want to be called for a foul. Players have been making that gesture hoping to avoid a whistle since God created referees.
If there is something to be said for the officials I think it is clear that the game was officiated the way the Mavericks need it to be officiated in order to have a chance to beat the Nuggets. The Nuggets physical play was penalized all night long, which is fine and I think the officials were pretty consistent all night long. The result was the game turned into a dreadful non-stop parade to the foul line. Now, please note, I did not say the referees screwed the Nuggets nor did I say the Mavericks got all the calls. Denver shot plenty of free throws too. If Dallas wants to complain about the refs, and judging by the reaction of Mark Cuban following the game they do, tonight was not the night to do it.
Update: Official statement from the NBA:
“At the end of the Dallas-Denver game this evening, the officials missed an intentional foul committed by Antoine Wright on Carmelo Anthony, just prior to Anthony’s three-point basket.”
The agonizing layoff between games two and three is over and once again the Denver Nuggets go on the road with the possibility of reaching the next round of the playoffs without setting foot back in Denver. Denver carries a seven game winning streak against the Mavericks into the contest, but the simple fact the game is in Dallas will provide the Mavericks with at least a smidgen of hope that they can climb back into this series.
American Airlines Center was a house of horrors for the Nuggets as recently as the 2006-07 season. However, Denver has won three of their last four games in Dallas so going into Dallas and earning a win will not require any visualization techniques. The Nuggets have built up some experience in that area.
One of the primary issues for game three is health. The Nuggets are as healthy as a herd of oxen while Dallas is wondering what they can get out of Josh Howard. Howard has said he will play in game three (thanks to Mavs Moneyball for the link), but Rob over at The Two Man Game has a nice close up of Howard’s iced up ankles.
Erick Dampier is also still less than 100% after rolling his ankle early in game one, but that is not much of a story as he does not rely on quickness and mobility anyway.
The other health issue is the prospective health of Dirk Nowitzki’s mind and spirit. By now I am sure everyone has heard about his girlfriend (or potentially pregnant fiancé) being arrested in his home. I agree with the sentiment that Dirk will be able to focus on the game 100%, but as I mentioned in my post on the situation one reporter has surmised that based on the bags under his eyes Dirk is probably not sleeping well due to the events of the previous three days. I want to know where Marc Stein is in all of this. He is close enough with Dirk that I am sure he has partied with the lady in question. Do your job. Spill the beans Stein!
Regardless of whether or not Josh Howard plays, and plays well, or how Dirk responds the Nuggets have a chance to deliver a big message to the NBA. A win tomorrow probably means sweep as Dallas still has to live with the demons of their recent playoff collapses. Although, Thursday we discussed how confidence is a powerful ally and has helped sweep the Nuggets to unanticipated heights. Confidence is very fickle though and if Dallas can win game three, they are going to believe they can win game four. Denver got away with dropping game three in New Orleans thanks to the beating they plopped on the Hornets in game four, but you never want to allow a team to start to build any flicker of confidence.
Getting down to brass tacks it will be interesting to see how the Nuggets defend in game three. On one hand Dirk has been very effective going against the Nuggets’ single coverage and Jason Terry is scoring just below his season average. On the other hand no one has stepped to help either of them. Howard and Kidd had 15 points in game one, but Howard started out game two 0-3 before leaving and Kidd only scored four points. Right now Kidd is the Mavs’ third leading scorer of the series with an average of 9.5 points per game.
The one reason for concern is Dallas is shooting a very impressive 48.1%. That is 4.1% better than Denver allowed in the regular season and 9.9% better than the 38.2% Dallas shot against the Nuggets in their four regular season matchups. Denver won games one and two with their offense. There is no reason to suspect Dallas is suddenly going to become a stout defensive team, but if the Nuggets do not increase their intensity on defense and stop unnecessarily switching on screens Dallas can jump up and bite them.
It has been incredible to see how consistently well the Nuggets have played this postseason. They have only trailed by double digits in one game, game three in New Orleans where they lost 95-93 and they have set a new record for margin of victory over the first seven playoff games with an average margin of 21.0 points. The previous high was 17.7 by the 1970-71 Milwaukee Bucks who were barely better than the 17.6 points per game by the 1986-87 Los Angeles Lakers.
I see no reason not to expect another Nugget victory in game three. Dallas will come out and play hard. I am sure Jason Kidd will hit a few threes, but where else do they get a contribution to help push them over the hump? Even if Dirk goes off again, Kidd finds his shot and drains four or more threes and Jason Terry puts up 25 or more points I still do not see Dallas outscoring Denver. The one player who could change the game is J.J. Barea. He has the ability to score from the perimeter, get in the lane and he is the only Maverick player who appears interested in taking advantage of the Nuggets’ soft transition defense.
I just do not see all of those stars aligning for Dallas. The Mavericks have no answer a motivated and unselfish Carmelo Anthony, they have no answer for Nene (Ryan Hollins is not the answer), between Chauncey and J.R. one will surely be hitting shots and if J.R. is cold, look for him to live in the paint.
Take this with you: Dallas has been a great home team since the All-Star break winning 17 of their last 18 home games, including the two they captured in the first round against San Antonio. The one blemish on that record was a 103-101 loss to the Denver Nuggets.
I had this whole post about how Dirk’s visitor/tenant/friend/girlfriend/pregnant fiancé had been arrested and how I tend to ignore stories like that, but an article today in the Dallas Morning News made me realize this was a much bigger story than I was giving it credit for. Then I had to load some ridiculous program on my computer and restart it for my actual job so I saved the file and closed it. Now my post is gone so I must have done something wrong.
Anyway, you can read the articles for yourself if you have not already. Ball Don’t Lie has the basic story down (thanks to Nate at Pickaxe and Roll for the link) and the Dallas Morning News article I read can be found here.
I had pieced together some of the more interesting quotes, but do not feel like doing it again so here is my paraphrased version of the good stuff.
There was a lady, Cristal Taylor, who was arrested in Dirk’s house, she had a criminal past comprised of various forms of fraud. She was someone who had some form of relationship with Dirk. An unnamed fried of Taylor’s said she was engaged to Dirk and carrying his baby. Taylor’s mom refuted that though saying she had no knowledge of either of those developments. Dirk has said he had a girlfriend, but there was never any confirmation of who she was. However, Taylor had been seen watching the Mavericks with Dirk’s father when he was visiting from Germany.
The Mavericks had spoken to Dirk about his relationship with Taylor and it was apparently causing some friction (whether the friction was between Dirk and his teammates or Dirk and management was not made clear). They were able to convince Dirk that she was worth checking out and Taylor’s arrest may have been a result of the work of a private investigator working for Dirk. Taylor is being held on $20,000 bail, which Dirk is in the position to pay if he really wanted to so at this point it is possible to surmise that Dirk wants his close acquaintance/girlfriend/pregnant fiancé to be in jail.
When discussing how he was not going to discuss these events for the press one report said he had big bags under his eyes. He may be losing sleep over this situation, but claims he will be good to go tomorrow.
Mentally I fully expect Dirk to be ready to play in game three and beyond, but if he is really struggling with this situation and losing sleep, as his physical appearance at practice would suggest, that will make a difference in his performance. Plus it is embarrassing so should the series return to Denver Nuggets fans will have a bunch of new material to use to taunt Dirk with.
On March 10, 2009 I wrote the following:
With the stink bomb the Nuggets dropped on us the past couple of weeks they have almost completely destroyed any chance of earning home court advantage in the playoffs. I have a difficult time envisioning a scenario where they catch the Spurs, Jazz or Hornets. Plus with the loss last night they have lost the season series to the Rockets making it even more difficult to surpass them in the standings. In order to earn home court advantage the Nuggets would have to overtake two of those four teams. At this point almost any best case scenario we can construct leaves the Nuggets playing either the Spurs, Jazz or Hornets in the first round. Because of that I am afraid there is little hope of Denver reaching the second round.
Needless to say with the Nuggets up two games to none against Dallas and heavy favorites to advance to the Western Conference Finals I think I can find it in me to admit I was wrong. I had not forgotten about my inaccurate analysis and thought I owed you all an explanation. Today reader Fats emailed me and asked me to detail what has changed since that dark March day and I realized it was time.
If we rewind back to March 10 the Nuggets were in the midst of a terrible slump. They had lost eight of their previous 11 games to teams like Milwaukee, Indiana and Sacramento. They were drubbed in Chicago by 17 and lost by 38 to the Celtics at home. Out of their three wins during that stretch one was a one point home win against Atlanta where the Hawks overcame a 17 point third quarter deficit and Flip Murray missed a short runner at the buzzer that would have won the game.
Another win was against the Los Angeles Lakers and as impressive as it seemed at the time was made to look fluke-ish based on the story the surrounding games told. Considering the Lakers did not get into Denver until four in the morning due to a late Thursday night TNT home game against Phoenix the night before the win lost some of its luster.
It was really the loss to Sacramento that seemed to sum up the Nuggets’ apparent demise. The Nuggets allowed the Kings to shoot 51.3% and their perimeter defense was nonexistent resulting in a plethora of open looks from behind the arc with resulted in Sacramento converting 14 or their 29 attempts from distance. I was still ready to give the Nuggets the benefit of the doubt if they could rise to the occasion and notch a home win against the Rockets the next night, but after falling behind by 19 in the third quarter their late push was not enough to earn the win.
It is also important to look at what the other teams in the west were doing at the time. New Orleans was still thought of as a strong team. Tyson Chandler had returned from injury and the Hornets had just run off seven straight wins. They looked like the team many observers thought could challenge the Lakers before the season.
Utah, likewise a preseason favorite, appeared to have righted the ship as well. They would win their twelfth straight game that night. The Spurs were playing well without Manu Ginobili and we did not yet know Manu would be out for the season. They appeared to be a lock for the second seed.
Portland had also passed the Nuggets in the standings and looked strong as well while Dallas was only a half a game behind Denver and they were surging too.
Denver was riding a six game road losing streak and any hope for advancing out of the first round seemed to be tied to capturing home court advantage and that accomplishment looked to be as likely as peace in the Middle East.
If we look at what transpired since then my projections were not far off although the teams I feared, Utah and New Orleans, proved to be paper tigers. I started the post proclaiming the Nuggets were about to embark on the easiest portion of their schedule. Even before the season I wrote that if they could just hang around up until the middle of March they should be able to make a move in the standings. On March 10 I still expected Denver to win 52 games, I just did not see any way it would result in a top four seed.
Honestly, I was only off by one game. Had Denver finished with 53 wins they would have faced off with the Rockets in the first round without home court advantage. As well as the Nuggets are playing right now, I am not sure they escape that series victorious. Houston is playing very well and I think Denver really needed that home court edge in their first couple of games to exorcise those old demons.
So that was the lay of the land when I wrote the Nuggets off on March 10. Now we need to look at on the court changes.
To see what Denver was doing wrong during that pathetic stretch in late February and early March you can go back and look at this post from March 11. Primarily the issues were a lack of running, poor shooting, stationary offense that was isolation heavy that resulted in fewer easy buckets, poor perimeter defense and a big decrease in their advantage from the free throw line.
It is not difficult to look over that list and realize things have changed pretty drastically since then. Denver is running and earning easy baskets, their offense is flowing and they are dominating the paint against Dallas, Billups and J.R. Smith have been shooting lights out from three point land and Melo and Nene are doing efficient damage at the rim. Of course, the biggest difference has been a focus and tenacity on defense that was absent during their 3-8 stretch.
Without the lightweight schedule following the loss to the Rockets on March 9, I firmly believe Denver is sitting at home right now. Relatively easy games including home tilts with Oklahoma City, the Clippers, Nets and Wizards with a road game at Memphis mixed in allowed Denver to rebuild their confidence and see that they might still have something to play for. After that five game winning streak Denver then went on the road and played the Suns very tough in a 115-118 loss, but responded by defeating the Hornets and Mavericks in their arenas over the next two games.
The Nuggets were now back in first place in the Northwest Division as Utah started their fade and Portland was unable to keep up, although they did close the season on a 10-1 streak. The Nuggets were the third seed, tied with Houston and only a game and a half behind the Spurs who now knew they would be without Ginobili.
I closed that March 10 the sky is falling post begging Denver to prove me wrong. Have they ever and thank God for it.
Someone buy this man a soda
John Hollinger has a great article wondering why the Nuggets are not garnering more attention. I do not think Denver is flying under the radar as much as Hollinger thinks, but it is encouraging to hear national media members proclaim Denver as legit contenders.
Mavs news wrap
For a collection of news from the Dallas perspective head on over to Mavs Moneyball. Wes includes a quote from Kelly Dwyer properly lambasting Charles Barkley, Kenny Smith and Chris Webber for their verbal assassination of Dirk for talking about Kenyon, Nene and Birdman playing defense on him.
Today’s history lesson
Like Jacobim Mugatu I feel like I am taking crazy pills
Am I the only person in the world who noticed the Nuggets defense in game two was far from stellar?
Fun with photos
The Chris Andersen Files has some great pictures up showing Dirk and Mark Cuban in various states of inebriation. Plus unlike my rambling screeds the posts there do not take long to consume.
Nuggets at the movies
The wild and woolly site Low Posts introduces their own take on the upcoming Quentin Tarantino vehicle Inglourious Basterds called Innuglious Basterds.
Brad Miller is not amused
The NBA set the bar for suspensions for contact to a player’s head very low by suspending Rafer Altson for this:
Where Dampier Happens
Another “Where Amazing Happens” spoof featuring a Mav (hat tip to Mavs Moneyball)
I forgot two things
Bill Simmons makes his case to be GM for the Timberwolves and all I can say is it is sad this will not happen (thanks to Ball Don’t Lie for the link) because it would be too sane. Denver is the dunkingest team in the league. Any and every slam dunk stat you could hope to see (thanks to Eric to Roto Evil for the email tip).
I promised you these the day after the game. Well, I have not gone to bed yet so no matter what the calendar says, I delivered!
I had to rewind it to make sure I saw what I saw, but after Hollins’ dunk to bring the Mavs to within SEVENTEEN he ran down the floor pounding his chest. People get on the Nuggets for showboating, but at least they do not do it when they are getting blown out. What a tool.
The Mavs are supposed to have one of the best benches in the NBA and after the game Ernie Johnson practically had a conniption fit when Charles Barkley asserted that the Nuggets’ bench was killing them. Dallas started the fourth quarter with four or five bench players depending on how you look at it. Jason Terry was out there with James Singleton, Brandon Bass and sometimes starters J.J. Barea and Antoine Wright.
At this point I originally copied down the next few possessions step by step before realizing that not even I would read it so here are the key points.
On the first possession of the quarter Dallas tried to get Terry open flashing out to the left wing, but they could not because Anthony Carter was so close to him on the cut that their breath was combining into one aromatic sent. That ruined the set and Dallas did not get a good shot.
Carlisle saw that group was going to struggle to score so after that singular possession I am sure he put Kidd and Dirk in right? Nope. He put Kidd into the game for…Jason Terry? Wow. Now the only Mav capable of getting his own shot on the court was Barea.
With Terry out Barea is the only player capable of getting his own shot and he is checked by Carter, which is the best option for Denver against the diminutive speedster. Carter and Birdman trap Barea off a screen and forces the ball to go to Singleton who, the offensive force that he is, cannot decide what to do with a wide open lane in front of him so he starts to shoot and then realizes he should probably take advantage of the open space in front of him to drive. The result is a travel. It is probably for the best as Birdman was quickly recovering into the lane and any attempt at the rim would have been difficult at best and embarrassing at worst.
After two empty possessions Carlisle gets Dirk in the game. The ball goes to Dirk on the right wing. He drives left into the lane and jump stops at the charge circle. A pump fake gets Bird in the air (of course), but Dirk misses the short fade away off the back rim.
On the ensuing Denver possession Melo gets mugged at the rim with no call (hey, we have a right to complain about the refs after the 36-13 free throw advantage from game one that was rightfully ours was slashed to a 40-30 advantage, just horrible) Dallas outlets to Barea who flies up the court, draws AC and J.R. into the lane and kicks out to Kidd who misses a toe-barely-over-the-line two pointer. The miss triggers a break the other way for Denver that results in Nene being fouled at the rim.
Now down ten, 93-83, Carlisle reinserts Terry. Carter stays right with Terry on a four day, three night trek from one side of the court to the other that visited some beautiful locations along the baseline and spent some time at a screen set by NBA superstar Dirk Nowitzki. Birdman and Carter trap Terry again leaving Dirk open in the middle of the floor about 30 feet from the hoop. Terry passes to Dirk who drops it like the phone number of a female power lifter from the former East Germany which sets the Nuggets running again. That makes for a 9-0 run and puts the Nuggets up 12, 95-83.
After a timeout Dallas sets up with Terry in the left corner and after a misdemeanor assault two handed shove to free himself from AC’s tremendous defense Terry flashes to the high right wing. Carter was left so far behind due to the push off that Nene has to step out to cover Terry. Terry gets the ball and then passes to Nowitzki after which JET cuts to the right corner. He gets a return pass from Dirk and rises to shoot, but Nene, perhaps having jumped into the future and read my comments about big men guarding little ones on the perimeter, forces him to abort the jumper and desperately pass back out to Dirk who has the chase it down. Terry gets the ball again with Nene blanketing him. Bass, who AC should be guarding after being physically forced to stop guarding Terry at the beginning of the play, clashes to the lane and having been left for dead by Carter makes a little ten footer for Dallas’ shot that put the two in 16-2.
On Dallas’ next possession the Nuggets trap Terry off a high screen by Bass who slips down the lane. Terry delivers the ball and it appears Bass is about to score when J.R., Melo and Nene collapse on him and force a loose ball. Bass collects and passes out to Kidd who misses a semi-contested jumper as Melo recovers from helping in the lane to at least get a hand up on the shot.
As the run grows Denver’s defense gets more and more active. Barea has the ball on the left wing with Dirk setting a screen to his right and Bass doing the same to his left. Barea chooses left for some reason. With the sideline right there and Nene hedging to bottle him up J.J. leaps and throws a wild pass into the middle of the court. Birdman gets a talon on it, but it bounces to Terry. Dirk and Terry run a pick and pop. Bird and AC trap Terry who passes back to an open Dirk. Melo leaves Kidd in the corner to run at Nowitzki. Dirk passes to Kidd as Nene rotates out to the corner and Andersen rotates perfectly onto Bass on the right block who Nene left to cover Kidd. Kidd drives left into the lane and fumbles the ball as if it was a phone with his ex wife demanding this month’s alimony payment resulting in another Denver fast break.
Hang in there we are almost done. Kidd and Hollins run a pick and roll and Melo is forced to switch onto Hollins. Hollins receives the pass from Kidd and Melo fouls him to prevent a dunk. Melo was in foul trouble in game one, but he only had two at this point late in game two which allowed him to make the smart play and prevent the basket. It sure pays to have some fouls available late in games. Dallas then ran Terry off a double screen and he was able to lose AC who lost his balance on the first pick. Nene switched onto Terry and apparently forgot how good of a job he did earlier as he laid back and allowed Terry to take a three from the right wing. Fortunately Terry missed, Nene ran out, Melo caught the rebound and hit Nene in stride with a perfect pass and the Brazilian Gazelle threw down a dunk to wrap up the 16-2 burst that gave the Nuggets the win.
OK, now imagine that only twice as long. Oh, who am I kidding? No one is still reading this.
Anyway, Denver still had a couple of breakdowns and the Mavs missed two or three open jumpers, but the key was the only open shots they could get were perimeter shots. Denver was much more sound on screens and I liked how Birdman and AC have their own little trapping scheme down pat. While Denver played some lethargic defense for much of the game they did crank it up in the fourth quarter and while I prefer the 48 minutes of nasty defense they had been playing I guess I will take it.
I was going to get into the Mavericks’ zone defense, but we are well over 2,000 words so you can all go back to the days when you were in school and the teacher was about to give out an assignment only to have the bell ring and free you from the obligation. Heck, I am not going to even try to proof read this thing until tomorrow.
Mindboggling Game Stats
Pace Factor: 90.7 – Slow for a home game.
Defensive Efficiency: 115.8 – Denver’s worst rating of the season topping 108.7 in the game three loss against New Orleans. The numbers between games one and two are all very similar except for Dallas’ nine fewer turnovers and 17 more free throws.
Offensive Efficiency: 129.0 – Second best output of the playoffs trailing only the 138.7 they posted in the game four blowout in New Orleans.
How many playoff games can you honestly say the opening jump ball played a role in determining the outcome? Erick Dampier was called for stealing the tip and that gave the Nuggets the ball to start the game, but more importantly Denver got the ball to start the fourth instead of Dallas. Entering the fourth quarter the Nuggets held a slim 86-83 lead. Had the Mavericks received the ball first and converted they could have drawn to within one or even tied the game. Instead of a confidence building possession for the Mavs Melo took the ball to the rim and set the tone for the final stanza and carry the Nuggets to a 117-105 victory.
To start the quarter Melo was on the left wing, took a handoff from J.R. Smith and drove right parallel to the rim off a double screen. Antoine Wright ran to recover and get back in front of him and like a good running back Carmelo cut back to his left and drove behind Wright using his momentum against him. All Wright could do was foul and Melo made both free throws.
After giving up an offensive rebound to J.J. Barea of all people the Nuggets managed to get a stop. Carmelo received a short outlet pass from Kenyon and dribbled with his right hand up the left side. When he hit the three point line he cut right, absorbed contact from Antoine Wright and hit a right handed floater from about four feet out. Just like that the Nuggets were up seven, the Denver players were saying here we go again, the Mavs players were thinking here we go again and the was a seven Melo had reasserted the Nuggets control of the offensive paint. To top things off Rick Carlisle was called for a technical apparently upset that Melo did not get the “and one” he deserved after the contact with Wright. Melo hit the free throw and Denver’s lead surged to eight.
Even though he had another big fourth quarter dumping in 15 points Melo was not the only star of the game on offense. Nene continued to own the lane, setting a new career playoff high for the second game in a row, as the Mavericks have yet to find a way to stop him. Even so Nene cannot claim all the credit as seven of his eight made baskets were assisted showing that the Nuggets did a great job of feeding him the ball in position to score.
J.R. Smith also had a big offensive night. When J.R. entered the game Denver had scored only seven points in the first six minutes of the game (thanks to a barrage of missed layups and even a missed dunk from Nene to start the game). J.R. scored eight points himself over the final six minutes of the quarter and added two assists as well. Smith would go on to score another nine points in the second quarter before taking what I believe was the worst shot of his career to [not] close out the first half.
Instead of running the clock down to virtually nothing, there was a fraction of a second difference between the game and shot clock J.R. launched a 30 foot three pointer with five seconds left. The shot missed badly allowing Jason Kidd to drive up the floor and hit a 30 footer of his own at the buzzer. Had J.R. even just waited another couple of seconds he could have thrown up that horrible shot with no harm done other than to the paint on the rim.
Denver did have some offensive issues such as a determination to take a lot of three pointers. The Nuggets shot 28 threes. It was the third most three point attempts for the Nuggets this season behind the 31 they shot at Philadelphia and the 29 they chucked up against Sacramento in game 81. Carmelo himself took eight, yes EIGHT, three pointers making only a singular one. Overall Denver was 8-28, good for 28.6%, from downtown and it would have been a lot worse if Chauncey had not caught fire and made four of five in the second half. He even made a corner three, which is not his specialty. Even so Denver still managed to shoot 50.0% for the game thanks to their 31-50, 62.0%, performance from inside the three point arc. When you are dominating the paint the way Denver was how is it at all acceptable to shoot 28 threes? I have no idea what they were thinking. Along with the great shooting from the realm of the two point shot Denver also earned 40 free throws of which they drained 31 equating to 77.5%. As you will see later even with the ridiculous amount of three point attempts the Nuggets put together some pretty good offensive numbers.
Unlike their efficient offense the Nuggets played their worst defensive game of the season. Dallas was much more aggressive with the pick and roll and they continually hurt the Nuggets in the middle of the paint on a handful of occasions. I think the Nuggets’ scheme played as big a role in the Mavs’ solid offensive performance as the Mavs adjustments did.
Throughout the course of the entire season I have expressed my displeasure with switching screens. I am not saying switching should never be utilized, but when switching screens is your primary tactic in defending ball screens you are bound to play with less aggression. Karl likes to talk about how zone defenses are weak, but switching screens is every bit as weak as playing zone. The Nuggets switched screens more frequently than they did in the first game of the series. In fact they switched in instances where it was completely unnecessary and it cost them.
The Nuggets’ 115.8 Defensive Efficiency was by far their worst of the postseason and it was the first postseason game where they gave up more than 95 points. The TNT analysts were still giving the Nuggets credit for their defense, but Denver will struggle to win a game in Dallas if they play defense like they did tonight.
Now Dirk had a great night and I have to recant my belief that anyone on the Nuggets can slow him down one on one. I have known for a long time that Kenyon struggles against taller or thicker players in the post, but for some reason chose to ignore that fact when I said he could contain Nowitzki. I suspected Birdman’s success was more of a fluke than reality. Really Nene might be the best option of the three especially since Dallas made the intelligent decision to post him up more. The issue with having Nene cover Dirk is the potential foul trouble. Nene has been such a force on offense I would hate to see him loose time due to foul trouble. Dirk totaled 35 points on 11-20 shooting and accounting for a full one third of Dallas’ points. While Dirk hit on 55.0% of his shots, the rest of the Mavs shot a pedestrian 44.8%.
As painful as it can be to watch Dirk torch the Denver defense there is a lot of merit to letting him have success while maintaining a solid grip on the rest of the team. Jason Terry did manage to score 21, but it took him 18 shots to do it and it was a very quiet 21.
Overall, it was another good performance from Denver and the fact they could still run away with the game when there were no indications they would be able to do so is encouraging. All along I thought the Nuggets would win, but Dallas played them close enough for most of the game to put an ever so tiny smidge of doubt in my mind.
As far as the big story of the series, the physical-ness of the Nuggets and the un-physical-ness of the Mavericks I thought Dallas showed some guts in tonight’s contest although they rolled over in the end. They played more in the lane than in game one, earned more free throws and made a couple of strong plays to stop easy buckets (one of which earned Kenyon a silly double technical). They showed a little toughness, but not nearly enough to swing the series in their favor.
The refs called a tighter game and Dirk received the benefit of the doubt on a couple of calls that produced free throws as he took 13 free throws in game two. Looking at the two major areas the Mavericks believed they could improve on from game one to game two, they really were successful. They shot 17 more free throws as they went to the line 30 times and they cut their turnovers almost in half only coughing it up 11 times as opposed to 20.
Sadly for Mavs fans the reduction in turnovers did not make a dent in the Nuggets’ fast break points. The nine fewer turnovers only helped cut Denver’s fast break points down to 25. Not much of a difference. Plus their 30 free throws were still ten fewer than the more aggressive Nuggets shot. The game was called much more favorably for Dallas’ style, but as we found out a tighter whistle may earn them more free throws, but it will get the Nuggets to the line more frequently as well.
There may have been far too many threes shot and the defense looked to have sprung a few leaks during the middle two quarters, but those complaints pale in comparison to the fact that the Nuggets are up 2-0 in the Western Conference Semifinals and are riding a 15 game home winning streak.
Additional nuggets and game stats will be posted tomorrow. I need some sleep.
The Denver Nuggets have a chance to grab their second round series with the Dallas Mavericks by the throat. If they can win game two tonight at home it will put the Mavs in a big hole.
There is only one major adjustment I can think of that will determine the outcome of this game and that is whether or not the Mavericks are capable of matching the Nuggets intensity and, you guessed it, physicality.
Until the Mavericks prove to me I am wrong I will consider them the mentally fragile squad who blew the 2006 NBA finals, were spiritually demolished in the 2007 playoffs by the Golden State Warriors and were run off the floor by the Hornets last season.
I have written all season about how the style of defense the Nuggets play can determine their mindset for the game. A passive defensive strategy led to a passive effort. In game one the Mavericks play a reactive style on both sides of the floor and that perpetuates a collectively passive team atmosphere. That type of team mindset is not conducive to winning in the playoffs.
For Dallas to change their team mindset now would be nearly impossible and that is the greatest obstacle for them right now.
At a more tactical level I wrote yesterday that Dallas needs to utilize the high screen with Dirk more often. That is the set he rode to his 6-6 start, but they got away from it as the game wore on. When they returned to it in the fourth quarter Jason Terry chose to keep the ball rather than give it back to Dirk. I remember reading that some people thought the Mavs were better because Terry took over more often in crunch time to make up for Dirk’s well documented late game shortcomings. In game one Terry forced it and the Mavs suffered.
Another adjustment I am tempted to recommend is to play Terry for 40 plus minutes or to start Antoine Wright and leave J.J. Barea on the sidelines. That might be an example of overreacting to the limited returns from only one game. While I understand the temptation to get Terry out there more frequently or to play Wright I think it might be a mistake. Barea can still be a thorn in the Nuggets’ side if Carlisle releases him to attack in transition. There is not a Nuggets player who can stay in front of him and just as much as the Mavs need Jason Kidd to throw the ball to teammates and not the upper crust of Denver society seated at midcourt they almost equally as badly need Barea to play well.
I am also a little worried about how well Chris Andersen can do against Dirk. The Birdman was amazing when pressed into duty on the big German in game one, but I think Dirk can drive on him. If Dirk throws a little pump fake at Birdman to get him to at least raise up on his toes will free Nowitzki to drive past him and get to the rim. I still believe Kenyon is the best option to defend Dirk.
Apart from their slow start the Nuggets played a very strong game. I have very few recommendations for the Nuggets. They should keep pounding the middle with pick and rolls by Nene. J.R. Smith needs to be relentless going to the rim. Melo needs to be aggressive as well both in the post and driving from the wing.
Defensively I believe they can do a better job of fighting over the high screen from Dirk. There were instances where they just switched without forcing Nowitzki to set a strong screen. Dirk typically sets very strong screens, but do not let him off the hook by anticipating that he will do so. Force him to set a strong screen and absorb the contact.
From a rotation standpoint the only way Kleiza should be in the game is if Josh Howard is not. Of course, it will help if Melo can avoid foul trouble. I would also cut Dahntay Jones’ playing time from 18 down to the 10 or 12 minute range to get J.R. Smith and Anthony Carter more floor time.
However, everything comes back to which team is going to play tough playoff basketball. So far the Nuggets have raised their game to the perfect level of aggressive physical play while their opponents have not been willing or able to do the same.
I have never felt so confident about the Denver Nuggets in my life. They are nearly unbeatable at home where they are playing with supreme confidence and being pushed to new heights by great crowds. I do not need to hope Denver will win, I know they will and I can get used to it.
Take this with you: I am going to pass on a couple of links here. First George Karl is not a big fan of the NBA’s decision to fine Kenyon Martin. Secondly, celebrate Cinco de Mayo with LaPhonso Ellis. It has been exactly 15 years since Ellis’ 27 point 17 rebound game in the first round series against the Sonics in 1994. Oh Yea and one more. Footage from the lockerroom right after the Nuggets won game five to beat the Hornets.
Thanks to Brandon from BallerBlogger for the link.
Olivia Newton-John had the right idea (Let’s Get Physical)
Dallas’ reaction to the Nuggets’ physical play is exactly what the Nuggets should want it to be. Instead of talking about how they need to match the Nuggets’ physicality Carlisle is talking about sending video to the league of the fouls that were not being called. Mavericks fans get grumpy if you call their team soft. Well, I have read a handful of articles from the Dallas Morning News, but I did not see a quote anywhere where a Mavs player said we need to welcome that style of play and see how they like it. I am sorry, but the response the Mavs have given of please call these plays a foul from now on is not how a strong fierce team reacts to getting manhandled the way they were in game one.
There is an article from Jean-Jacques Taylor who says he wants to see a Mavs player put a Denver player on their butt and implement the no layup rule.
Carmelo Anthony would be a fine victim. So would Chauncey Billups. Or if they’re really feeling bold, they could send Kenyon Martin crashing to the ground.
If he thinks a hard foul will prove to Denver that the Mavs are a tough team and should be respected, I have news for Mr. Taylor. Tyson Chandler tried to do that for the Hornets in the first round. There was one specific play where Chandler gave Nene a forearm to the ribs on a shot attempt. It was almost exactly the same hit Kenyon gave Dirk except for the fact Nene was in the air. Did the Nuggets care? No, because they knew it was a fake show of toughness. In fact Nene made the shot. What shows more toughness a shot to the ribs or scoring on a play where someone gives you a shot to the ribs?
You do not prove physical toughness by hitting someone hard once. You prove it by playing with intensity and physicality for 48 minutes. Knocking a Nugget player down may make the Mavs and their fans feel better, but it is not going to transform them into a tough physical team. It is simply not in their team DNA.
Kenyon has been upgraded
As I am sure everyone has heard by now Kenyon’s forearm shiver to Dirk has been upgraded from a technical to a flagrant one and has lightened Martin’s wallet by $25,000. As Marc Stein explains in his excellent article on the NBA’s decision once a player surpasses three flagrant foul points (flagrant ones are worth one point and flagrant twos are worth two points) they are suspended for the next game. Kenyon now has one flagrant foul point, as does Chauncey. There is good news here though. That technical would have been Kenyon’s third in six games. After seven technical fouls a player is suspended for the next game. I am more worried about Kenyon getting seven technicals than four flagrant foul points. With the technical from game one against Dallas upgraded to a flagrant one Kenyon remains at two technicals.
As far as the decision to upgrade the technical to a flagrant, I really do not have a problem with it. It was excessive contact and the fact that Kenyon delivered the blow after play had been stopped by his original foul is incriminating. And as everyone has pointed out who has sounded off on the topic Kenyon does have a bit of a history of creating extra contact, which probably counted against him.
Stick with what was working
The Mavs really got away from the high screen with Dirk that worked so well to start the game. There is no penalty for running the same set over and over. Certainly other players need to be involved, but I would have made sure Dirk shot the ball 30 times instead of 22. As the game wore on Dallas ran down screens and cross screens, sometimes for Dirk, sometimes with him as the screener and those played into the Nuggets’ hands. They put Dirk in a one on one situation with Kenyon Martin or Chris Andersen who both did a very good job against him. In the middle of the fourth quarter when they went back to the high screen with Dirk and Jason Terry, more often than not Terry kept the ball for himself.
Kidd’s passes to nowhere
Jason Kidd was terrible. Not only did he make three or four mind numbingly bad passes either directly to Nuggets players or Nuggets fans, but who would have ever thought that Kidd would be guarded by Carmelo Anthony and never once attempt to drive on him. Dallas fans are taking solace that Chauncey did not have a particularly good game either, but as I pointed out in my preview, Dallas needs Kidd to play at a high level much more than Denver needs Chauncey to. The fact that he looked slow and almost afraid of hanging onto the ball is not a good sign for the Mavs.
Of course, it was only one game and Kidd is probably almost as likely to have zero turnovers in the next game as he is to cough it up eight times again, but in the regular season Kidd did average more turnovers against the Nuggets (4.0) than any other team in the league save Orlando (5.5). If you add the eight turnovers from game one to his 12 turnovers in three previous games and that bumps his average up to 5.0 against Denver this season. We saw the Nuggets forcing Chris Paul into numerous turnovers this season and during round one. Teams struggle to play efficient offense when the point guard is struggling to hang onto the ball. If Kidd cannot take care of the rock it will really hurt the Mavericks. Not only will their offense be weaker, but the turnovers can lead to easy baskets thus also affecting the Mavs already average defense as well.
Opportunities in transition
In addition to getting away from the high screen with Dirk the Mavs let the Nuggets off the hook by not being aggressive in transition. I harped on this in the first round and I am going to keep going, but only if you guys promise to keep it to yourself. The Nuggets did do a good job of retreating and I think on many occasions the Mavericks’ guards saw Denver’s big men back and decided to pull the ball out. The Mavs should not fall for that optical illusion. Even if the Nuggets are back, they are still susceptible to giving up open shots especially after a drive and dish or if the opposition runs some kind of quick screen and roll action. Too often the Hornets and now the Mavs have played into the teeth of the Nuggets defense and right now that is a losing proposition. Plus if you want to get some free throws having a quick guard with momentum challenge a big at the rim in transition is a pretty good tactic.
The NBA where where did the backboard go happens…
Thanks to Rob at The Two Man Game for posting this video. I have watched it over and over and it is hilarious every time. It may be the worst footwork I have ever seen.
Home court in the WCF?
Perhaps the biggest news story today, other than my church softball team doubling last year’s win total after just two games, was the Los Angeles Lakers game one loss at home to the Houston Rockets. I have pointed out previously that the winner of game one wins almost 80% of seven games series. There are many games remaining to be played, but you cannot stop me from dreaming of a Nuggets/Rockets Western Conference Finals matchup where the Nuggets would possess home court advantage.