It was the best of times and it was the worst of times. A tale of two halves indeed as the Denver Nuggets blew an 11 point halftime lead to lose on the road to the Utah Jazz 103-105.
This game should have been the Nuggets’, but give credit to the Jazz for coming out after the half and physically imposing their will. With three seconds left and the Nuggets with the ball, it came down to one of the biggest letdowns I’ve ever seen for last second shot. In their three seconds to shine, the Nuggets didn’t even get a shot off in time to hold their breath, a fitting finish for a team that failed to execute down the stretch and close out when they were ahead.
The first half was a shining example of the Nuggets’ potential. Their defense was forcing turnovers, they were rebounding ahead of the Jazz and running the fast break to perfection. This led to a bevy of dunks, alley oops and finishes as the Nuggs coasted to a comfortable 65-54 lead at the half. Then things got messy.
The second halve was an about face for both teams. The Jazz played their way back in to the game and held the Nuggets to a spartan 19 points in both the third and fourth quarters. With Al Jefferson (28 pts, 5 reb) leading the charge, the Jazz tied the game at 77 apiece just in time to light the match for the combustible Nuggets… And if the Jazz were lighting the match, the referees certainly provided it. The calls weren’t imbalanced by any means, but the fouls ranged from absurd to atrocious for both teams. The Nuggets were completely out of sync and frustrated, showing it when Andre Iguodala (10 pts, 3 reb, 4 ast, 2 stl) was ejected with 3:24 left in the third quarter.
For the rest of the game the Nuggets played about even with the Jazz, trading back and forth until the final bell. The real issue in the game was free throws. Memo to opponents: Foul the Nuggets. Denver was a pitiful 18-32 from the line. With a whistle being blown every time a fan got up to buy nachos, the Nuggets lost this game and have nobody to blame but themselves. They went 56.3% from the line, which is even worse than their average of 67.7%!
If the Nuggets lose a game by two points, then there were 14 opportunities to trim that to one, or seven opportunities to tie it, or … you get the picture. The point is that the Nuggets will have to do something concerning their free throw marksmanshit if they even remotely expect to come away with close games.
The final minute of the game was disheartening to say the least. After coming out of two timeouts with three seconds left, the Nuggets gave the ball to Ty Lawson (16 pts, 9 ast, 5 reb, 2 stl), who hesitated at the top of the key, drove and kicked the ball out after meandering among the Utah bigs for a few seconds. Only problem was that there weren’t any seconds left after the kick out. Time expired and the Nuggets left the court without a remote chance of the basketball gods rewarding a last second shot attempt. The gods can’t reward a shot that isn’t taken, nor should they reward a team who does shoots like Ray Charles at the carnival. It was a disheartening ending for a team that simply lacked the fire they needed in the second half.
Takeaways from the game:
- This team needs Iguodala’s consistency. His consistency on defense leads to turnovers and easy buckets. The ejection was questionable in itself, but with an ailing Gallinari, Iguodala needed to be in this game at the end.
- Evan Fournier is making a case for his minutes. After Iguodala left, Karl played the rook for seven minutes, enough to sink a three and grab two rebounds, although he made a rookie mistake by throwing a fastbreak pass into the courtside seats.
- Javale McGee was… well, Javale. He threw in 10 points, with the majority coming on rim rocking dunks, and then four missed free throws while having a tough night on the boards with only three rebounds.
- Good game from Corey Brewer as he had an efficient(!?) night going 4-5 for ten points and pacing the Nuggets defensively. For as erratic as Brewer’s offense is, his defensive rotations are perfect and has saved Denver’s D on multiple occasions. He was also the only Nugget to go perfect from the line tonight (2-2).
- The Nuggets had more rebounds and assits, but couldn’t overcome the turnover and free throw battle. The Nuggs will return to work and prepare for thursday’s nationally televised game (TNT) against the Warriors (8:30 PM, MT)