(Boulder-CO) The Denver Nuggets bounced back like "Magic" against the Chicago Bulls tonight, 114-101, in what was the most balanced effort of the season so far. Led by Kenyon Martin's best performance of the year, the Nuggets are now 9-5 overall with a stretch of well-deserved rest ahead of them before traveling to Los Angeles to take on the Clippers on Wednesday.
At the end of one, the Nuggets had jumped out to an early lead, 27-18, after hunkering down on defense. Unfortunately, the intensity that opened up that nine point lead was short lived as Denver would allow the Bulls to score 36 points in the second quarter on the backs of Ben Gordon (15) and Drew Gooden (12) combining for 27 points. Thankfully, Carmelo Anthony's six first half assists led the way for the Nuggets teaming up for 18 first half dimes and a, 58-54, advantage at the end of two.
The Nuggets were paced at the half by the tag team of Nene's 13 points and four rebounds, and Kenyon Martin's ten points on a perfect 4-4 from the field. The jack of all trades at the break was Carmelo Anthony who had a very well balanced first half consisting of the aforementioned six assists, nine points, and four rebounds while the spark off George Karl's bench was Linas Kleiza's nine points in nine minutes.
Things really didn't get interesting until just 2:40 remained in third quarter after the Chicago Bulls battled their way to an, 83-77, lead by way of a trio of momentum swinging turn of events. A made technical free-throw after Linas Kleiza was whistled for illegal defense, a four-point play by Ben Gordon, and an old fashioned three-point play by Aaron Gray capped off consecutive possessions and an 8-0 Chicago scoring burst to give the Bulls their first lead since the first quarter entering the fourth quarter.
Perhaps sensing the uneasiness of the Pepsi Center faithful, the Nuggets kicked their defense into high gear as Kenyon Martin personally raised his level of intensity to accept the challenge of guarding Ben Gordon in the fourth quarter. Gordon, who up to this point had scored 25 points on the Nuggets, would only score on one more three-point attempt as Kenyon Martin hassled him up and down all 93 feet of hardwood. The result of Kenyon's unbelievable effort was the rest of the Nuggets contagiously following his defensive lead while Denver outscored Chicago 18-5 after the game was tied at 96 with just over six minutes to play.
I truly feel that without Kenyon Martin stepping up to contain Ben Gordon the Nuggets probably lose this game. It was the way K-Mart's play silently screamed to his teammates that this game was not going to be taken from them on their home court at any cost that willed the Nuggets to victory, 114-101.
Martin's team and season-high 26 points on a perfect 10-10 from the field paced all Denver scorers as three other Nuggets (Billups, Anthony, and Nene) each scored 21. Carmelo just missed a triple double by adding 13 rebounds and eight assists, Chauncey dished out eight assists without a single turnover, and Nene's six rebounds and three blocks were huge as the bench (J.R. Smith hitting two free-throws and a jumper by Anthony Carter) only scored four points in the second half.
It should also be noted that the Nuggets shot a season-high 54% from the field with 31 assists on their 40 made field goals.