A win! A win! One step closer to...well...not much really but winning is still SOOOO sweet!
Nuggets 91, Blazers 100
--Now this was a semi-ugly game and we are still a pretty bad team compared to most of the NBA, so take that into account when I say this, but tonight was about the perfect kind of game for us against an opponent that is clearly better. I don't know if the plan was entirely intentional or part serendipitous but it worked like a charm. Give the coaching staff some real credit for this win.
--The first half was kind of like a chess match, or a boxing match for a fighter who knows he wants to get to the later rounds. We didn't run, we didn't score a lot, we just "uglied" the game up good. We stayed pretty even in rebounds. We held Denver to a reasonable number of shots and left them without a ton of fast break points. The score at the half was 42-40 Denver. Neither team played very well...but you see that was good for us. It meant we went into the second half all but even. We couldn't have sustained that for the whole game, nor would we have won had we tried, but it was a great strategy (or happening, whichever) as it turned out.
--The Nuggets came out of the half semi-discombobulated, much like they were in the first half. We, however, switched gears with three very distinct points of emphasis. (Again it seems like the coaching staff should get a lot of credit here.)
Emphasis #1: Brandon Roy, having spent most of the first half lofting long, but open, jumpers and missing them, made a huge effort to get into the lane. The results were almost always good every time he penetrated: a layup, a foul, or a dish to an open player. In the space of 24 minutes he went from having a completely non-descript game to a fabulous one. He really triggered this win for us.
Emphasis #2: Zach had some plays in isolation, but when he was double-teamed instead of fighting it he passed the ball. It got moved around and that's where you saw the threes from Wesbter, Roy, and finally Jack to ice the game. When the ball moved the score moved.
Emphasis #3: One of the worst parts of the first half was the pounding all of our non-Joel big guys were taking from Marcus Camby and Nene. What they were doing to Zach and Jamaal was fairly brutal and shouldn't have been shown to children. In the second half the defense collapsed hard every time the ball went inside. Their big guys put up contested shots in the middle of traffic and since they were surrounded they seldom got the rebound.
The combination of those three is exactly how a two-point deficit became a nine-point victory.
--The best part of it all was even with the increased scoring (49 for them, 60 for us in the second half) the game never really stopped being ugly. They weren't getting a lot of pretty plays, or fast breaks, or sweet, open jumpers. They had to fight. And they didn't expect to have to fight. And that's why we won. You could tell about four minutes into the fourth quarter that they were just not coming back. It wasn't in them tonight. It was in us. That's why this, while not one of the more eye-pleasing wins of the year, is probably one of the better ones. This is one of the few times we took a game plan, executed it, and fought hard every step of the way.
--On the bad side, I wonder every...single...game why we start off shooting jumper after jumper without even thinking about penetrating. We got down by eight early tonight doing the same thing. And I know I'm not imagining it because everybody else in the chat is noticing it too. I've mentioned it before, but WHY should it take a timeout to right the ship like that? Isn't all of pre-game one, big, extended timeout expressly for the purpose of going over the game plan? Coach McMillan just can't be diagramming a baker's dozen of bricked jumpers to start every contest. As my friend the Hurricane used to say, "What's up with that?"
--Let's be honest here...some smarty-pants blogger pegged the chances of a win tonight as pretty small, even without Iverson. Shall we look at the preview?
A. Ime steps in and plays the game of his life against Carmelo, which would basically mean limiting him to 20 points or so.
The boxscore says `Melo had 33. That wasn't really Ime's fault per se. Nobody stops Carmelo one-on-one and he wasn't getting any help tonight. The big guys were too busy getting torched themselves in the first half and the second half game plan called for Ime to help them out, not vice-versa. He made Carmelo take tough shots and earn his points and that's all you can ask. Anthony did only get two rebounds tonight, and that's a credit to Ime and the big men.
B. Zach just goes freakin' crazy out-of-his-mind, scoring 35 points on 20 shots and grabbing 16 rebounds away from Denver's clutching grasp.
It was 26 points on 23 shots, but he did get 17 rebounds. I think I get, like, half credit on this one.
C. Lamarcus Aldridge came back from the flu with a stellar performance, drawing Camby away from the hoop to guard him, hitting that feather-smooth turn-around a few times anyway, coming over to block some shots when Nuggets drive, and streaking down for a couple unopposed dunks.
His performance was fairly stellar for him. He scored 11 points on 5-8 shooting and grabbed 6 boards. He was really, really fighting hard for rebounds tonight which was great to see. That will keep him on the floor as much as anything. He got one unopposed, streaking dunk but no blocks. Half credit again.
D. We make them turn the ball over.
We did, but they did the same to us. We doubled them up in points off turnovers though.
E. We out-hustle them to every loose ball.
We did a fair amount of this too.
F. By some miracle we get more foul shots than they do.
Not even close. They got 31 and we got 23.
G. We make them.
Nope. They made more foul shots than we even attempted. (We did shoot 19-23 for 83%.)
H. Juan Dixon shoots 8-10 en route to 22 points.
Hah! Dixon got YANKED early in his stint in the second half and only played nine minutes, scoring two points. It was all about Brandon in the extra scoring department tonight.
I. Martell hits a miracle three to win it.
Martell did hit a couple threes but they were neither miracles nor buzzer-beaters.
In other words, the Blazers showed a lot more than I thought they would tonight. Their game wasn't near that perfect but they still won. Maybe the preview was a little off, but as my high school teachers always used to say, "Dave, it's better to be good looking than right any day."
--Other than the aforementioned defensive difficulties Zach really had an excellent night. He was energetic, he shot near 50%, and those 17 rebounds helped us KILL Denver on the boards, 40-31. When you stay pretty close to Carmelo in scoring and more than double Marcus Camby's rebounding output you've done something!
--In addition to all the other praise we've heaped on Roy, these things are of note: He ended up with 25 points, shot 6-6 from the foul line, he dished out 8 assists, only had 1 turnover, and he didn't let J.R. Smith kill us (9 points). He and Zach are co-MVP's
--Jarrett Jack, much like the team, was having a non-descript game in the first half. He ended up with 14 points and matched Roy's 8 assists, only turning the ball over twice.
--We already mentioned Lamarcus. It was one of his most active games of the year.
--Joel had 5 blocks tonight because he looked almost like that monster Joel we used to see. He helped shut down the Denver slashers as much as anybody. If it wasn't for the refs' propensity to whistle him for moving screens every second trip down the court he would have gotten more minutes. (Technically they're correct, as the screens are moving, but they're not calling that on anyone else in the league this year. Look at the Suns' offense, for Pete's sake. Every screen they set is illegal and they set a ton of them! Why is it always Joel? Did he steal the bride of the god of referees and defile her upon a whistle-shaped altar?)
--Webster hit a couple of nice shots but also missed a couple of what should have been nice shots. Not quite his best game.
--As I said before, give Ime a pass for Carmelo's points and just say he played a nice game given the position he was put in.
--In the ugly department Jamaal had three turnovers and five fouls in fifteen minutes.
--In the also ugly department Juan Dixon got himself back in the doghouse with 1-4 shooting and 2 turnovers in 9 minutes. I can describe to you the exact play he got yanked in the second half, never to return. He was the guard making the entry pass to Zach on that right post. Zach got doubled so he passed it back to Juan to begin the "swing around the horn" deal. There was a man wide open in the corner too. Except instead of swinging Juan shot from three right where he was...and missed. Now to be fair I'm not entirely sure if the guy who replaced him was coming off the bench already and Juan simply was pulling the veteran trick of getting one last shot in before he sat, but he hadn't played that long in the first place so I kind of think not. But I couldn't swear to it. What I can swear to is that after that play-breaking shot Juan didn't get back in the game. Even if Jason Quick hadn't printed that story about Nate and Juan you'd still get the feeling something was up here.
--We broke 500 comments tonight. A dozen or so more interested chatters/rooters would put us over that magical 1000 mark.