Denver 117, Dallas 105 (Denver leads series, 2-0)
Dallas coach Rick Carlisle doesn't want to use fatigue as an excuse, and he shouldn't, because the better team wiped the floor with the inferior team in Game 2. But it was there. I don't know if it was enough to create the eventual 12-point deficit, but it was there. The Mavs were beat. And, eventually, beaten.
And the Nuggets were brilliant. TNT's P.J. Carlesimo talked about what a great front-running team they are, that they tend to play better than most teams when going from that eight-to-18 point advantage, and he's right. But what he didn't point out was the fact that they have the out and out talent to front-run that way.
That Carmelo Anthony(notes) squaring his shoulders and taking a 25-footer off an offensive rebound with 22 seconds on the shot clock -- something that would be considered a heat check by most players -- is actually a pretty successful ploy. Because he's so damn good.
Denver scored 117 points, but somehow that doesn't do them justice. About 129 points per 100 possessions for the Nuggets, which is a huge number, and the team managed 12 offensive rebounds on a night where they shot .500, no less, in a somewhat-slow (91 possessions) game. Quick hits, ball movement (28 assists on 39 field goals, tremendous), but it was the finishes that were the best part.
These guys hit shots, and I'm not talking about the highlight-pleasing three-point bombs (Denver missed 20 of 28 tries from there, actually). Even taking away Carmelo Anthony's 1-8 mark from long range, they still shot 35 percent from behind the arc. An average mark.
No, it was those paint finishes (Nene? 25 points), the pull-ups, the drives, the lay-ins ... those were what put Denver over the top. Smart, hard drives, followed by tough, collected finishes. Fantastic effort from the Nuggets. They did exactly what they had to do to Dallas' zone in the first half, they trounced on the Mavericks when it became obvious that tongues were dragging, and it never got shook by a third quarter run that briefly put Dallas up two points.
And I have to credit the coaching staff, here. George Karl's been on Anthony for years, but now he's looking for his teammates, and working as an all-around threat. Same with J.R. Smith's(notes) defense ("remember, J.R., if you steal the ball, you usually get to shoot it on the other end"), or Anthony Carter's(notes) offense (Tim Grgurich, assistant coach of the century, good on ya), or Nene and Kenyon Martin's(notes) newfound ability to stay on the court and stay in the game.
I don't know where I can criticize the Mavericks. The thing that stood out to me was more than a few missed chippies, but how can you rip on an offense that scored 115 points per 100 possessions (a mark that would lead the NBA in the regular season)? They were hurt on the defensive glass, so maybe a little too much zone, but that's only done because Denver presents such tough matchups that a zone seems necessary. Denver's just a better team.
Not in the areas that you've been told, of course.
Listening to Charles Barkley and Kenny Smith prattle on about the supposed bench advantage that the Nuggets have was typical "sounds good in my head, regardless of what's happening in real life"-stuff from those two. Dallas' bench outscored Denver's, but because the younger Denver starters took it to the Dallas reserves at the outset of the fourth quarter, it looks as if the Mavs bench was off. Forgetting, of course, that it was Carmelo Anthony that just hit that shot in James Singleton's(notes) face, and not Linas Kleiza(notes).
If Josh Howard(notes) continues to sit with that ankle injury, then, yes, Dallas' bench will suffer. It won't be that great. But, yeah, that's what happens when your second best player goes down. If Pau Gasol(notes) turns an ankle and Lamar Odom(notes) has to start, suddenly the Laker bench is pretty awful. That's kind of how this thing works.
*The halftime back-and-forth on TNT regarding Dirk Nowitzki's(notes) sober and accurate assessment of what Kenyon Martin, Chris Andersen(notes), and Nene will try to do to stop him was, of course, ridiculous. And because Chris Webber(notes), Kenny Smith, and Charles Barkley can't remember what they had for lunch -- much less what Michael Jordan used to say about Joe Dumars and Jeff Malone -- we were subject to a whole lot of preening and nonsense.
Did Nowitzki's take on the three defenders strike me as uncharacteristically (for jocks, not for Dirk) honest? Did it sound like a bit more than the usual gameday pablum that we usually get in these soundbites? Of course. But was there anything wrong with it? Did he actually say, as Webber, Smith, and Barkley kept attributing, that these three were having any success at checking him? Or "a great job," as Smith incorrectly quoted? Or did they just not listen, not think, and move ahead regardless?
Guess what? I've heard Kobe Bryant(notes) soberly and accurately assess what different types of defenders, by name, will try to do with him. All sorts of halftime interviews are full of "he's long, so I have to try to get around his length"-takes from the leading scorer on the leading team (because that's who gets the halftime interview).
I've heard Magic talk about it. I've heard LeBron James(notes) discuss what Paul Pierce(notes) used to do to him. And you know what? I also heard Charles Barkley say, "I have seen the future, and he wears number 21" after his first game going up against Tim Duncan(notes) -- knowing full well he was going to be playing TD four times a year (or more, in the playoffs) for the next two years.
Short memories, hard-asses, poor quoting abilities, national TV audience. Not a good mixture.
Nowitzki had a great game. He had a few shots rim out, one strip that should have been called, and two post-ups involving Dahntay Jones(notes) (who eventually played great defense in pulling the chair out from Dirk) that saw Jones defend the post with two arms, which is tres illegal. Even with all that, 35 points, nine rebounds, four assists, three turnovers, and that's with the Mavericks basically ignoring him in the fourth quarter.
The first three quarters were solid, though. It seemed like Martin, Andersen, and Nene were waiting on up-fakes that Dirk wasn't pulling. And while this didn't mean they weren't contesting Nowitzki's jumper (they were, the guy had a hand in his face all game long), it did mean that when Dirk finally did pull the up-fake (midway through the third), a three-point play resulted as both Martin and Andersen bit.
*I agreed with Kenny Smith when he mentioned how Carmelo Anthony can sometimes bully his way into a score better than just about any other player in the NBA, with the de rigueur "maybe other than Kobe Bryant" tossed in. This stuff always amazes me. It just seems that, in lieu of actually analyzing the game, we just get lazy and throw in a "besides Kobe," because we've shaped so much to think Kobe = best.
Sorry for going back to this, but for the last two years we've lived in an era where LeBron James has scored more often than Kobe Bryant, and I'm sure you'd agree that James' upper body tends to bully its way into more baskets than Kobe Bryant, but we just keep going to Kobe as if he's been the best player for the last two years. When he isn't.
And it doesn't matter what we're talking about. "Best clutch scorer, other than Kobe." (When he isn't). "Guy I want taking that last shot, other than Kobe." (History tells you that you should want someone else). "Best lockdown defender, other than Kobe." (Seriously? Still?). It just amazes me how Kobe, while amazing, gets to be that default guy. In spite of so many better options.
Cleveland 99, Atlanta 72 (Cleveland leads series, 1-0)
Cleveland is so, so good defensively; you look back at the quarter-by-quarter box score and wonder how Atlanta even got those 44 first half points.
And, you want a bad bench to talk about? The Hawk reserves shot 4-19, turned it over seven times, fouled a ton, and played bad defense. And that's sometimes matched up against a Cavs bench featuring Sasha Pavlovic(notes), Ben Wallace(notes), and Joe Smith's(notes) first real stinker (zero points, just two rebounds in 20 minutes).
(By the way, did anyone catch Wallace's comment yesterday, referring to LeBron James? "You could make the case that we wouldn't be where we're at without him."
I know I'm killing a guy for a throwaway comment meant to speak to James' great year, but ... "you could make the case?")
James was a killer, running a 3/1 screen and roll to perfection on the game's opening possession, getting a two-handed dunk as Mike Bibby(notes) and Maurice Evans(notes) watched, and taking off from there on both ends. 34 points on 20 shots, 10 rebounds, three assists, three turnovers, four steals. Makin' cases all over the place.
I'm not going to excuse the Hawks in the same way I excused the Mavericks, because while they are the inferior team going up against a squad with the best player in the universe, they didn't play nearly as smart or sound a game as the Mavericks did.
The Cavs exude greatness, they are talented beyond LeBron, but they win games like this by 27 points because they play smart, consistent basketball. You can't say the same for Atlanta. Not at any point in this entire season have they been consistent, week-to-week, game-to-game, quarter-to-quarter. Atlanta is 90 games in, and they're still flailing.
This team isn't underachieving its way out of the playoffs, they wouldn't have a chance against Cleveland even with some perfect, robot-play, but the lack of focus on both ends is the reason this game was over with 11 minutes to go. And the credit for that is team-wide, while not falling squarely on the coaching staff. The coaching staff isn't turning the ball over on 21 percent of their possessions.
*Dick Stockton used the word "Twittering," in the first quarter.
*Understand that, for every time I point out something ridiculous about the TNT batch of studio analysts, there are 20 things they bring up that have me nodding in agreement. They're a fantastic team, and not just in comparison to what we have to deal with on other networks.
*The fake -- let's say, V6 -- engine noise that TNT tacked onto a shot of Timothy Hutton pulling away in an electric Tesla Roadster in that Leverage commercial? Gotcha. Although it is nice to see Gina Bellman get stateside work.