2008-09 Game 35: Denver Nuggets 105 – New Orleans Hornets 100

Box Score | Highlights

In the game preview I requested the Denver Nuggets observe December 15, 2008 night while the fans at the Pepsi Center observed 80’s night.  Well, I got what I wanted, for about 30 minutes.  Unfortunately NBA games last 48.

If you ignore the flow of the game and just look at the final score this tonight’s 105-101 victory by the Denver Nuggets over the New Orleans Hornets would seem to be a very good win, but the way Denver collapsed in the last 18 minutes makes it difficult to enjoy the win.  After playing one of their best halves of the season and coming out of the gate in the second half playing very well Denver completely lost their defensive intensity and their minds.

After playing as well on offense as any of us could have hoped or imagined they went brain dead and rolled out the comeback carpet for the Hornets.  The sad thing is that the play that preceded their collapse was a beautiful play where Chauncey reversed the ball over to Melo on the right wing who passed on the open three to drive.  He drove baseline and right before he made it to the rim he dumped the ball to Kenyon who laid it in and was fouled.  The Nuggets had built their lead up to 26 points.  However, as beautiful as that play was what transpired over the next twelve minutes or so was completely depressing.  I will spare you the details, but this is the short of it. 

Missed jumper, made layup, turnover, turnover, missed jumper, two free throws, offensive foul, missed three, two free throws, missed jumper, missed shot in the paint, missed three, missed jumper, missed jumper, missed jumper and turnover.

Things soon improved briefly as J.R. Smith entered the game and scored seven straight points, but soon after all of the 26 point lead had evaporated.  The pre-J.R. surge damage was six points in sixteen possessions.  In case you were wondering that equates to an offensive efficiency rating of 37.5.

After rewatching the second half my stance on the game softened a little.  The Hornets did take a lead 100-99 on a three by James Posey and the Nuggets easily could have folded, especially considering the fact that they just blew a 26 point lead and they lost the previous meeting with the Hornets on a three by Posey.  Instead they fought back and won the game.  Melo made his second game winning shot in as many nights, although his layup tonight with about a minute left was not quite as dramatic as his three in Oklahoma City. 

It is probably inevitable that a team up 26 who has been dominating their opponent will loose some of their intensity, over the course of a 48 minute game both teams are going to go on runs, but the fact that they completely gave up their lead, and in just 14 minutes to boot, was astounding.  These guys all know how good Chris Paul is.  Why for one minute would you let up when you are playing against him?

Even so the way they responded was respectable.  After giving up 54 points in the first 20 minutes of the second half, including 43 points in a 13 minute stretch from the five minute mark of the third quarter to the four minute mark of the fourth, they only allowed six points over the final four minutes of the game. 

From a tactical standpoint the Nuggets, namely Nene, did a poor job of stepping out on Chris Paul and they switched much more frequently.  The result was open looks for the Hornets and they are too good of a team to go a whole game without hitting shots. 

What may have saved the Nuggets was during a timeout with 2:29 left in the game the decision was made to switch Kenyon onto Hilton Armstrong who was setting the high screen to spring Chris Paul.  It then became Kenyon’s job to hedge on Paul and he did a much better job of jumping Paul and forcing him away from the paint.  On one possession Kenyon pushed him all the way back out to half court.

Like an avocado as time passes I am softening.  The Nuggets did get a win against a good team tonight and it is a good start to a long home stand filled with playoff teams.  The Nuggets are in position to make a move in the Northwest Division as Utah is going to be without Carlos Boozer for another month or so and Portland will be missing Brandon Roy for another week.

Additional Game 35 Nuggets

  • It would not be fair to only focus on how badly the Nuggets played after building up their lead without acknowledging how great they played from the end of the first quarter through the middle of the third.  They were active on defense, jumping screens, challenging shots and on offense they were moving the ball and earning good shots.  Chris Marlowe pointed out that they had 20 assists on their first 25 makes.  They played as well as they have all season.  Even though they fell back to earth quickly, hopefully they can learn from this and get back to playing great defense.
  • If you do not believe me that every team gives up a big lead from time to time check out the San Antonio/Philly game tonight.  The Spurs had a 21 point lead at home and needed a buzzer beater from Tony Parker to win the game.
  • If Dahntay Jones does not either dribble or shoot as soon as he catches the ball he is nearly useless on offense. 
  • Some fans may be down on Karl for not calling more timeouts when the Hornets made their run.  The truth is Karl called a time out with 2:49 left in the third quarter and the lead down to 18 before Chris Paul went to the line for two free throws.  The Hornets drew within 12 on a buzzer beater shot by Paul at the end of the third (more on that below).  Obviously there was the fourth quarter break and then Karl called a TO less than two minutes into the fourth with the lead down to five.  He did not just sit and watch a lead evaporate.  You could make an argument that he should have called one when the game was tied at 94, but the Nuggets did a good job of responding at that point.
  • With the Nuggets up 18 and Chris Paul driving to the basket on a fast break Chauncey waited until he got to the rim before he reached out and fouled him.  If all you are going to do is foul to stop the layup, do it out on the floor before it becomes a shooting foul. 
  • After having a great deal of success posting up last night Carmelo played an almost entirely perimeter based game.  The couple of times he posted up he allowed himself to be pushed out well beyond the block.  I can see how he might feel that against the Thunder he had a size advantage on Desmond Mason and his advantage was quickness with Stojakovic guarding him, but I was disappointed that after pulling that baseline spin move out of mothballs last night that it went right back up in the attic with the old eight tracks and lava lamps.  Even so, Melo had another efficient scoring night and his midrange jumper looked smooth. 
  • Another play that made me nuts was at the end of the third quarter.  J.R. took a shot and missed it with four seconds left on the shot clock and eight seconds left in the quarter.  Paul ran the ball up the floor and J.R. and Andersen had a chance to double him outside the three point line and make it difficult for him to get to the rim.  Instead Andersen dropped off into the lane which created a wide open path for Paul to get to the basket before time ran out and he made a layup over Andersen.
  • Tonight we had a pretty good mix of good play from the starters and off the bench.  Everyone played well except for Chauncey who took a few bad shots and screwed up a couple of fast breaks with poor passes, he even almost forced Kenyon into a charge as he did on a couple of breaks against the Thunder.  We all love it when he hits a big three, but I wish he did not go for the “Mr. Big Shot” three pointer so often.  I would much rather he be a point guard and demand a good shot from his teammates.  He is also not directing the offense like he was earlier in the season.  It used to be a common occurrence when Chauncey would be waiving his arms organizing the offense to get the shot he wanted for the player he wanted to take it.
  • I was surprised at how Chris Paul chose to push the pace, especially after the Hornets had eaten away the Nuggets lead.  He was playing aggressively looking for cracks in the Nuggets defense right away instead of winding the shot clock down before driving off the high screen.
  • Linas Kleiza sparked the offense in the first half, but then did not play in the second.  There was no explanation in the Rocky Mountain News game recap and I have no idea why he did not play.  Perhaps Karl was afraid he would only add to the perimeter jump shot mindset.

Mind blowing Game Stats

As you would expect almost all of these stats show a tale of two halves. 

Pace Factor:  First Half – 80.3 | Second Half – 96.5 | Game – 88.6

Defensive Efficiency:  First Half – 99.7 | Second Half – 124.4 | Game – 112.9

Offensive Efficiency:  First Half – 144.5 | Second Half – 97.4 | Game – 118.6

Featured Blogs:  Hornets 24/7 | At the Hive 

2008-09 Game 34: Denver Nuggets 122 – Oklahoma City Thunder 120

Box Score | Highlights

Yes, Carmelo Anthony hit an amazing last second shot and the Denver Nuggets overcame another second half double digit deficit to win on the road, but just because it was exciting does not mean it was a good win.  I do not want to see how badly they will lose tonight against the Hornets if they play defense like they did against Oklahoma City.

You can whine and complain that the Thunder were hitting all their shots.  Well, the reason why they hit so many shots is because 90% of them were wide open looks.  If you leave Kevin Durant open, he is going to make you pay.  If you leave Jeff Green wide open, he is going to make you pay.  If you leave NBA shooters open they are going to make shots.  It is their job.  I know not every player gives it his all every minute of practice, but shooting is fun and everyone likes to practice that part of their game.

I actually thought the starters played pretty good defense in the first quarter and it took a couple of lucky shots for the Thunder to reach 26 first quarter points.  Then one of the recent issues came to the forefront in the second quarter.  For some reason the Nuggets cannot have a good game from both their starters and their bench at the same time.  

When the second stringers entered the game was when Oklahoma City started finding their groove and the result was a 38 point second quarter.  The Nuggets did play with more intensity in the second half, their rotations were better, they attacked screens better, but the Thunder already had found their confidence.  The Nuggets increased pressure on defense may not have made an impact on their shooting, but it did help create some turnovers and made Oklahoma City work harder for their points. 

The one thing I was glad to see tonight was Melo playing in the post.  He has a very good post game, including a nice spin move and a serviceable short range turnaround jumper.  He is also very good at getting off the floor to tip in his misses.  Tonight Melo dusted off that spin move on the block and it worked for him.  Melo has really gotten away from his post game lately and I think it has hurt him.  During his career best scoring season of 2006-07 where he averaged 28.9 points per game Melo took more shots in the paint than he has the past couple of seasons.  In 2006-07 43% of his shots qualified as in close.  In 2007-08 his percentage of in close shots dropped to 38%.  This year his percentage of in close shots has fallen further to 36%.  If Melo can once again embrace his post game I think he can get back close to the level he was performing at in 2006-07.

Additional Game 34 Nuggets

  • Melo was atrocious on defense early in the third quarter.  On one possession he was guarding esmond Mason, Chauncey was screened off of Russell Westbrook who dribbled right over to Melo and Melo correctly switched to Westbrook.  However, when Chauncey recovered Melo just sunk back into the lane instead of returning to cover Mason.  Durant received a pass from Westbrook and Mason set a screen for him going towards the sideline.  Melo was caught in the middle of the floor and was not in position to help guard Durant off the screen.  The result was a wide open jumper that Durant drained.  On another play Melo completely ignored the very large Robert Swift, who he was practically standing next to, after he rolled to the rim off of a screen resulting in a wide open layup for Swift.  All of those paled in comparison to his foul on Durant with 58 seconds left allowing the Thunder to tie the game with no time running off the clock.
  • One of Melo’s biggest problems is he reaches at really in appropriate times.  I understand taking a swipe at the ball when someone is turning to shoot because you know where the ball will be.  Melo takes dramatic pokes at the ball while his man is still dribbling.  What makes it worse is he stops moving almost every time he does it so not only does he always swing and miss, but he takes himself out of the play. 
  • However, I do need to mention that Melo played pretty solid defense on Durant on the three he made with 2.7 seconds left to put Oklahoma City ahead.  He was trailing slightly, but was in position to challenge the shot, he really crowded Durant and did a good job to get close without fouling.  Durant just made a great shot. 
  • Twice Chauncey passed off to teammates who had nowhere to go other than charge into the defender in transition.  The turnover goes to the player who charges, but on both occasions it was Chauncey’s fault for putting them in that position.
  • This is obvious to anyone who watched the game, but the shot J.R. Smith took at the end of the third quarter was just abominable.  The problem was that it was not quite the end of a quarter.  After receiving the ball with about second seconds left, and the shot clock off mind you, he immediately drove toward the lane from the right wing, was cut off and took a spinning fade away jump hook that barely drew iron.  The result was a break away layup for Oklahoma City.  I have seen Melo and Kleiza take some shots way too early before the end of quarters over the past couple of seasons, but this was the most egregious mismanagement of what should have been the last possession of the half I can remember.
  • Altitude has the quickest trigger I have ever seen when it comes to changing the score after a made basket, well tonight they got caught with their hand in the cookie jar.  With the score 116-113 and 58.9 seconds left Nene had a free throw go halfway down and then rimed out.  Altitude briefly flipped the score to 117 before the ball rimmed out.  I guess they are human after all.
  • A play at 5:41 of the fourth quarter left me wondering after you are fouled, is there anything you cannot do other than dribble to lose your continuation?  With his back to the hoop and the ball on the left baseline just outside the block Nene spun to his left and was bumped by Chris Wilcox.  On his way to the rim Nene hooked Wilcox to get past the original foul and then traveled before he could get the shot off.  Players should start taking advantage of this and do all they can to get a shot off after a foul on the block.  Hook, travel, charge, push all is fair after you have been fouled.
  • That segues into the officiating.  I thought the game was called very differently from the first half to the second half.  In the first half they allowed a lot of contact to go unchecked and then in the second they started to call a lot of touch fouls.   
  • Nene played perhaps his best offensive game of his career scoring 27 points on only 11 shots.  Chauncey deserves some of the credit as he gave Nene several nice passes in the lane.  In fact all of Chauncey’s assists were on layups or dunks.  Anyone can get an assist by just passing the ball to an open teammate on the perimeter, it takes a truly smart and crafty passer to consistently earn his teammates easy shots at the rim. 
  • Usually Chauncey Billups plays the entire first quarter and then George Karl removes him a couple of minutes into the second quarter.  Tonight he took Chauncey out with 2:31 left in the first quarter.  I have no idea if there was a reason for the change in the rotation.  Billups had no fouls.  Perhaps Karl was hoping to give him a little rest before facing off with Chris Paul the next day, but due to the nature of the game Chauncey ended up playing 39 minutes.

Mind Blowing Game Stats

Pace Factor – 95.3

Defensive Efficiency – 126.0 – Remember the Thunder entered the game last in the NBA in offensive efficiency at 97.6.  The great defensive collapse of 2008 has spilled into 2009.  The Thunder shot 58.4% from the floor including an effective FG% of 63.6 (taking the extra point from making a three pointer into account) and a true shooting percentage of 67.8% (taking free throws into account)!  All of those percentages are season highs.

Offensive Efficiency – 128.1 – Second best rating of the season thanks to some fourth quarter three point marksmanship.

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