Since the NBA/ABA merger, Denver has yet to make the NBA Finals. That's 1976-2013 - a 37 year drought. Denver have made it to the Western Conference Finals a few times with the most recent being the 2008-09 run that ended against the Lakers (who were in their first run of back-to-back championships).
Carmelo Anthony arrived in Denver a part of the famed 2003 class that has spawned All-Stars and future Hall of Famers such as LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, David West, Mo Williams, and solid role players (like Kyle Korver, Matt Bonner, Zaza Pachulia, Luke Walton, Josh Howard, Leandro Barbosa, Carlos Delfino, Boris Diaw, Nick Collison, Luke Ridnour, and Kirk Hinrich). Nearly all of the non-All Star players hold at least a key bench role for playoff teams and the All-Stars are the best known basketball players alive. The Nuggets lucked out with the third pick in a stacked draft and Carmelo Anthony became an NBA stud right away. Carmelo won every single Conference Rookie of the Month award, joining HoFers like David Robinson, Tim Duncan, and LeBron James as the only players to ever do so. Carmelo led the Nuggets to their first playoffs appearance after an eight-year drought, starting every game that season and averaging 21 points, 6 rebounds, and roughly 3 assists per game. Unfortunately for Denver fans, the Nuggets faced Kevin Garnett in his MVP year (24ppg, 14rpg, 5apg, 2bpg) and his Timberwolves, who ousted Denver in 5 games. Denver would make the playoffs every single season after that (including this season) but never past the first round until 2008-09, when they made it all the way to the Conference Finals, eventually falling to the Lakers for the second straight postseason. The Nuggets lost their next three forays into the playoffs in the first round, leading to most fans and analysts to claim that Denver needed something more to go deep into May and June. Carmelo no longer wanted to be a part of the Nuggets' frustrations and forced a trade to the Knicks in 2011. Denver gained what was then deemed "scrap" pieces in Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler,and Kosta Koufos. The Nuggets also waved goodbye to Nenê as they traded the Brazilian to the Wizards for JaVale McGee. The Nuggets also added the talent of Ty Lawson and veterans Andre Miller and Andre Iguodala. In a few transactions, the Nuggets became much younger and suddenly a much different team but one that is a serious threat in the Western Conference. The mile-high gunners are now a fast paced squad that doesn't even take the time to set up plays (Coach Karl prefers his players to read and react). This team is talented. This team is deep. And this team is dangerous.
The Denver Nuggets had the third longest winning streak this season at 15 games straight, behind only the Clippers run of 17 earlier this season and the Heat's now dead streak of 27. The Nuggets streak came to end courtesy of the Hornets and backup point guard Brian Roberts' 18 assists. Nevertheless, these Nuggets are quickly climbing the Western Conference seeding ladder, currently sitting in the third spot. Coming into last night's game, Denver had taken the season series from Oklahoma City and Memphis, winning both 3-1, and have a lead on the Clippers (2-1). The Nuggets were tied with the Spurs at 1 game apiece in the 4 game series. Even though Tim Duncan had one of the best games this season (31 Points, 18 Rebounds, 6 Assists, 2 Steals, 5 blocks), Denver defeated San Antonio when the Spurs visited the Pepsi Center in December. Winning against the Spurs would give Denver the tiebreaker over every possible playoff team in the West. The Nuggets have a high power offense but lack a reliable defense, reminding me of the Spurs these past couple of years (but way more athletic). Denver runs fast, they pass the ball, they shoot the three and attack the rim. They rank 3rd in the league in points per game, 3rd in assists, 2nd in steals per game, 2nd in rebounds, and 3rd in blocks. BUT the Nuggets are 24th in points allowed due to their fast pace and, at times, lack of discipline. Nonetheless, they have nine players who average at least 8 points per game, and six who average nearly more than 12. They lead the league in points in the paint, due to their active big men (Kenneth Faried and JaVale McGee) and their bench's reliance on small ball, using Wilson Chandler at the 4 and McGee as a high-jumping center, posing problems for any defender. Danilo Gallinari and Ty Lawson each average 16 points a game and are the go-to scorers that late-game finishes rely on. But ever since Carmelo left town a few years ago, they haven't had a true reliable finisher.
Popovich Before the Game
"You know what I'm going to say. So write it that way. 'George, you can...' Yeah."
-Coach Pop on Coach George Karl's comments on how unfair it is that the Spurs have become a top five team in free throw percentage.
Quickie Game Hash
Check out Matthew Tynan's recap for more on last night's game.
The Nuggets starting five wasn't that effective against the Spurs but their bench stepped up, scoring 59 points. JaVale McGee scored 21, Wilson Chandler had 15, and Andre Miller had 14. The Spurs only had 18 points from their reserves, as the other 82 came from their starters. This was helped by their 27 free throw attempts and the eight threes between Danny Green (6), Tony Parker (1), and Kawhi Leonard (1). Denver's bench took control of the game whenever they played against the Spurs reserves, winning the plus/minus differential with double digits on the positive side. They also thoroughly out-rebounded the Spurs' bench, 24 to 4. JaVale McGee had three great blocks, rising up higher than human beings are supposed to go. JaVale had a relatively better game than Timmy Duncan, as he played 26 minutes to Duncan's 36 and still recorded 21 points (10-11 FG), 11 rebounds, a couple steals, and the aforementioned 3 blocks.
This game was back and forth, with the Nuggets owning the second and fourth quarters, but ultimately fell too far behind in the third to be able to come back all the way. Down a single point with 11 seconds left, the Nuggets tried to go to Danilo Gallinari but the Spurs shut him down, forcing the ball handler, Andre Miller, to drive to the hoop and force up a shot. Miller's shot nearly went in but the Spurs survived this time around. Miller e put up 18 shots in total, playing 28 minutes in place of a semi-injured Ty Lawson. The most telling statistic is 3PT field goals: the Nuggets missed all ten of their attempts, while the Spurs made 10 of 15. In a one point win, those three point plays meant the game to the Spurs.
Timmy once again had a great game, even against the very active JaVale McGee. Timmy was a calming force on the Spurs every time the Nuggets got close in the second half, and impacted the game on both ends of the court. Even though he missed the Spurs last shot in the game, San Antonio and their defensive anchor pulled this game out.
Ty Lawson was invisible this game and didn't have much of an effect other than his few assists and a couple of steals. He played under 20 minutes, likely due to his heel injury, which also likely affected his game. No other Nugget played poorly, so Lawson ends up with this award.
Numbers of Note
- 11 - Assists by Tony Parker, 10 of which came in the first half alone, and the 11th came less than three minutes into the third.
- 9 - Assists by Spurs other than Tony Parker. The Nuggets played the Spurs close and were disrupting passing lanes, keeping the Spurs five below their season average (and league leading) 25+ assists per game.
- 0 - 3 pointers the Spurs allowed this game.
- 59 - Points scored by the Denver bench.
- 5 - Games that Timmy has had at least 20 points, 10 rebounds and 5 blocks.
- -3 - Rebound differential for the Spurs. They were out rebounded by three offensive boards, but had the same amount of defensive boards. A good game against one of the best rebounding teams in the league.
- 3.6 - Blocks that Tim has averaged over the past five games. In chronological order: five, four, two, two and five tonight.
- 6 - Tim has had at least 12 rebounds and 17 points each game (6) since returning to full form against Dallas.
- 32 - Point differential for the Nuggets in the paint, where they scored 68 of their 99 points, more than two thirds of the total. The Spurs only had 32, but also had 30 from 3 point range.
Odds & Ends
- Spurs hitting threes: corner/sideline threes were open all day. Danny took advantage of that, as did Kawhi and Cory Joseph.
- Is it just me (or the Denver announcers) but did the seven foul discrepancy between the Nuggets and the Spurs have any effect towards the game in San Antonio's favor?
- Kawhi's coast-to-coast dunk was amazing. He was not able to do this last season, and not even earlier THIS season. His ability to lead the offense at points and drive to the hoop has helped the Spurs so much, especially with Manu struggling. On that point...
- Manu came back with a decent game. 4/9 Field Goals, 9 points, a timely three and a few assists. Nothing spectacular, but Denver's wings are good defenders, and he had a tough time with them. Let's see how he fares against Chauncey Billups and Jamal Crawford.
- If McGee had any semblance of an offensive game that didn't include alley-oops or tip-in dunks, he would be a top ten center. He's great defensively and can block anything you throw up. McGee gets a lot of free dunks because he's always on the perimeter, and whoever guards him is too slow to react when he spins or moves quickly to the basket, leaving him with a wide-open dunk. He also attacks the offensive glass, because he's fast enough to still get back on defense if he fails to get the board. McGee - asthma + BBIQ = ?
- The Nuggets aren't as disciplined as the Spurs, but they have a similar playing style as the San Antonio and are doubly as athletic. They cause turnovers by attacking passing lanes, which reminded me of OKC last year. Bad memories.
- Nando De Colo had played the previous two games, but Pop replaced him with Cory Joseph, who played decent defense and scored five points. They might have a few more minutes ahead of them, as Tony has to deal with a sprain in his middle finger on his shooting hand.
Going into the Next Game, the Spurs Need to…
…keep winning. It won't be easy, as they face the Clippers on Friday and then the Heat on Easter Sunday, which has a lot less potential as a national game now that the Heat's streak is broken. If both teams play at full strength, it'll be a good measuring stick game. Will the Spurs ace their final exam or need to go to remedial classes with Pop in the film room?