It was a short-lived bad omen.
The first five minutes of the game offensively for the Nuggets were hard for me to watch. J.R. Smith tried to get too fancy with an unnecessary behind the back pass that caught Renaldo Balkman off guard. Compounding the turnover was how there was no reason for J.R. to even throw the pass because he had a clear lane to the basket for an easy lay-up. The play made George Karl bury his face in his hands for the first of many times in the quarter. Kenyon Martin made a bad decision shortly thereafter trying to hit Chauncey Billups with a backdoor bounce pass that had no chance to get through as the Nuggets opened up with three out of their first seven offensive possessions resulting in turnovers.
Thank God the Kings caught a touch of the buzzard’s luck in the second half of the first quarter. Sacramento turning the ball over on four consecutive trips down the floor after Bobby Jackson was whistled for an offensive foul with under three minutes to play were just what this doctor ordered. The Nuggets may have been down by a lot more than just eight points entering the second quarter after the kind of horrible funk they started this game with. And when you consider Denver turned the ball over five times, committed fouls, not once, but twice on long range shot attempts including a 30-foot buzzer beater by Francisco Garcia that could have easily turned into a four-play, and how Denver was 0-5 from downtown things could have been a lot worse.
I’ve seen more resistance from strapless prom dresses than the Nuggets showed in the first quarter and to say the Denver defense in the first was soft would be a gross understatement. Sacramento shot 73% from the field connecting on 11-15 of their attempts and eight of their eleven made buckets came with an assist.
The Nuggets tightened their belt on the defensive end and thankfully held the Kings to just 2-8 shooting in the first four minutes of the second quarter. And once the shots stopped falling for Sacramento, the Nuggets were able to saddle up the horses and run the break to regain the lead, 37-36, on a great pass from J.R. Smith to Anthony Carter for an easy lay-up in transition. Two made free-throws made by Linas Kleiza extended the lead to three, then a soaring tip-slam by the Birdman, and Linas Kleiza taking advantage of a huge size discrepancy on Kevin Martin for an easy bucket in the post led to three consecutive scoring trips down the floor and a five-point lead for Denver as they started to build some palpable momentum. The Nuggets continued to limit the Kings to one shot on the defensive end and after J.R. Smith climbed the stairway to basketball heaven for a scintillating two-handed stuff and LK muscled his way to another transition lay-up Denver was out in front by ten, 52-42, on the back of a 29-11 run spanning the first ten minutes of the second quarter.
The decision to defend, rebound, and run in the second quarter completely changed the complexion of this game for the Nuggets. Denver’s 34 second-quarter points were a direct result of holding the Kings to just 6-28 shooting after their red-hot start in the first quarter and numerous crisp, long outlet passes which led to easy transition scores as the Nuggets were able to score 18 points in the second quarter alone on the fast break. Linas Kleiza benefited more from this than any other Nugget. LK scored eleven of his 13 points at the half in the second quarter with eight of those coming on the fast break. J.R. Smith’s 15 points at the break were a game-high and four of his five rebounds came in the second quarter in the aforementioned effort to limit the Kings to one shot-and-out on the defensive end. Chris Andersen also deserves mention for blocking three shots and altering numerous others in 13 minutes of burn in the first half. The Birdman also finished the half with six points, two rebounds, and a steal.
Additionally, the Nuggets made 16-20 free-throws in the second quarter and 21-27 total in the first half as they led, 57-47, at the break.
The third quarter couldn’t have been scripted any better for the Nuggets. If there was one area in the first half that really left the Nuggets Nation pining for more it was the goose egg from downtown Denver posted on their first five attempts. Chauncey Billups started to correct that by cashing two treys within 90 seconds of each other as the Nuggets jumped all over Kings with a 17-4 run which opened up an 23-point lead to start the second half after Kenyon Martin did his part with a three from the right corner.
Following Denver opening up their biggest lead of the game, the Kings tightened the score back up with a 14-4 run of which cut the Nuggets’ lead to 13 with four minutes and change remaining in the third. I knew at this point in the game the Nuggets were going to do one of two things: A) Denver was either going to cinch things back-up on defense and win this game easily or B) play as if the game was already won and allow the Kings back into this game entering the fourth quarter.
Fortunately for my blood pressure, Denver’s choice was outcome “A”. The Nuggets carried a 19-point lead into the fourth after shooting a blistering 77% from the field (13-17) in the third quarter. Finally, Denver didn’t disappear in the third and it was largely in part to Chauncey Billups’ cool head and steady shooting hand. Mr. Big Shot scored 16 of Denver’s 37 points in the third while handing out three assists.
With the game cemented, everyone started to get into the act, and the box score, for the Nuggets. Anthony Carter and Chris Andersen hooked up on an alley-oop early in the fourth that the Birdman threw down reverse, and on Brad Miller, to open up a 26-point lead, 105-79. It was as if the piñata I eluded to in tonight’s pregame had been split open and the Nuggets were all scraping to get their share of the candy.
The Denver final stat sheet is bloated from the eventual, 118-99, laugher. Linas Kleiza led all Nugget scorers with 27 points on 11-17 shooting. Anthony Carter led all Nugget passers with ten assists. Chauncey Billups scored 16 of his 22 points in the third quarter, handed out eight assists, and made 10-11 free-throw attempts. Nene recorded his second straight and third double-double performance in the last four games with 13 points and twelve rebounds and J.R. Smith may have had the best overall game for the Nuggets with 19 points, seven rebounds, six rebounds, and four steals.
The rest of the box score is complete domination by the Nuggets as only former Nugget, Bobby Jackson, finished with a positive +/- for the Kings.
Up next for the Nuggets are four days of rest before the division rival, and hated, Utah Jazz come to town on Sunday. This four-day break is the longest stretch between games this season other than the All-Star break.