While nobody officially said it, no doubt everybody felt it.
Thursday night’s contest versus the Dallas Mavericks, who were riding a 10-game winning streak into the Pepsi Center, was a must-win for the Denver Nuggets.
The Nuggets were a slumping team over the previous few weeks; losers of five of their last seven games and taking a two-game losing streak into Thursday meeting – not to mention also a two-game home losing streak. And they were arguably the worst defensive team in the NBA over the past few weeks – allowing at least 110 points in five of their last seven games. The Mavericks on the other hand were quite possibly the hottest team leading up to the Late Night Game. And the way the season has gone for the Nuggets it looked to be another trying night.
Of course it never hurts to have two proven winners on your team- Chauncey Billups and Carmelo Anthony. The duo carried the load for much of the night and combined for 72 points. But it was the hardest worker in the NBA, Arron Afflalo, leading Denver’s furious rally in the fourth quarter and hitting the biggest shot of his career.
AAA scored 17 of his 24 points in the quarter and nailed a difficult 20-foot jumper (with a hand in the face) to steal the win and quite possibly safe the Nuggets season.
It was definitely a storybook finish and an interesting final 20 seconds:
- Anthony was called for his sixth foul after kicking fouling Dirk Nowitzki and was the second Nugget to foul out (Birdman fouled out earlier in the fourth).
- Nowitzki, who is an 88 percent free throw shooter, made only 1 of 2 free throws. Ball don’t lie?
- Much like the night before the Nuggets decided to run a play and not call a time. Of course the difference in the two games was the right person had the ball in the closing seconds Thursday – Mr. Big Shot. Instead of forcing a shot Billups found Afflalo and unlike the night before the right guy took the right shot at the right time.
For much of the night Dallas’s bench was destroying the Nuggets, but Denver kept answering with their big two.
Billups started the game red-hot. He nailed his first four 3-pointers and almost outscored the Mavericks by himself in the opening period (Billups 18, Dallas 19). Melo was the Yin to Billups Yang in the second and third quarter. He went for 11 points in the second and with the Nuggets struggling with foul trouble in the third quarter, Anthony exploded for 15 in the quarter.
The Nuggets couldn’t catch a break the entire game. Nene, who had the highest field goal percentage in the NBA (.640), missed six of his eight shots. Denver’s usually reliable bench only scored seven points and the Nuggets were plagued with foul trouble for most of the night (Birdman and Melo each had six and Nene had five). The Mavericks on the other hand had 72 points from their bench and only had one player with four fouls (NBA scrub Brian Cardinal).
- Nene, C, Denver’s center reverted back to his passive ways and unlike the night before settled for jumpers early in the game and when he did start to get his groove he was plagued by foul trouble.
- Kenyon Martin, C+, Martin still is struggling putting the ball in the basket, but made up for it by hustling on defense in the third and finding his teammates with four dimes. He also was forced to play center due to foul trouble.
- Anthony, A, Melo has been on his game of late and was once again unstoppable on offense (17-25, 5-7 for 3-pointers). He also played better defensively as well.
- Afflalo, A, SEE ABOVE.
- Billups, A, SEE ABOVE.
- Chris Andersen, C, Birdman didn’t look as rusty Thursday, but he foul trouble limited his minutes. Before fouling out, Andersen had two points, four rebounds and a block (but also had an ill-advised jumper in the first half).
- Al Harrington, D, Big Al’s shot wasn’t dropping and he also turned the ball over three times. Not a good outing.
- Gary Forbes, C+, Forbes did a good job running the floor and played solid defense in his short stint on the floor.
- JR Smith, C, You have to give him props for playing through his illness. Zero shots=zero points.
- Ty Lawson, B-, Lawson gave the team a spark against JJ Barea in the second half. Attacking the guard on back-to-back drives to the basket.
- George Karl, B- (If shot missed D), Since the Nuggets won you have to give Karl props for the call. Of course if they missed… Karl didn’t do his team any favors by playing small ball late in the first half and forcing Melo to guard Nowitzki and having Martin guard Tyson Chandler. Yes, the Nuggets don’t have a lot size on their bench, but Shelden Williams isn’t a bad option and Melvin Ely, who was inactive for the game, helped the Nuggets beat Dallas back in November. Harrington at least would provide a mismatch option.
Topics: Al Harrington, Arron Afflalo, Birdman, Brian Cardinal, Carmelo Anthony, Chauncey Billups, Chris Andersen, Dallas Mavericks, Denver Nuggets, Dirk Nowitzki, Gary Forbes, George Karl, J.R. Smith, JJ Barea, JR Smith, Kenyon Martin, Melo, Nene, Shelden Williams, Ty Lawson, Tyson Chandler