North of the 400

North of Toronto, South of a championship

Nuggets bend but don’t break in game four win

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If they say there are no easy baskets in the conference finals, they’re wrong.

Game four of the Western Finals seemed to be an exercise of foul shooting at times, in a game that was constantly stopped by the officals.

In the fourth quarter, the game got a little chippy and the refs started to crack down, calling fouls all over the place: to Denver and to LA… plus four technicals, with two called to the Nuggets without a second of gameplay in between.

Hence, LA got a few uncontested shots from the line.

Mind you, Denver got more then a handful too. Combined, both sides had 84 chances from the line… and with all those stoppages, it wasn’t just a blowout, it was kind of a stinker.

It wasn’t as bad as some games have been in these playoffs – game seven between the Celtics and Bulls, I’m looking at you – but it was hard to keep a flow going with this many trips to the line. Yes, play was choppy, but this is the playoffs. Things are supposed to be tough here, aren’t they?

It’s a shame that’s the lasting impression from game four, too, because it was an important win for a few reasons:
– An injured Carmelo scored 15 points, even though he was hobbling around on the floor early on.
– The Nuggets bench contributed 42 points, led by JR Smith who had a great shooting night and hit some late three’s that broke the Lakers’ back.
– Chris Anderson gave a great Dennis Rodman impression, grabbing boards like a vacuum and even shot a wildly amusing – and off mark – three. In all, he had 14 in just 24 minutes.

But there was one more thing that’s extremely telling about this win: the Nuggets composure.

When the refs cracked down late, the Nuggets started to break. They were fouling and looking lost. Carmelo picked up a technical for a stupid shove, and while Kobe shot the corresponding free throw, Kenyon Martin picked up another technical foul for the Nuggets. As a team, they were close to complete self-destruction, the kind where they lose their composure, miss shots and blow a big lead.

You know, the kind of self-destruction that the Kings and Blazers have had against the Lakers in conference finals of years past.

After the refs got everything sorted out, Bryant hit his foul shots and cut the lead to 10.

That was as close as he’d get. The Nuggets didn’t fall apart, but rallied and had a strong finish to the game. Martin hit the bench and the team settled down. When JR Smith hit two consecutive threes and made the score 113-96, the Lakers were finally out of contention.

So, it’s an important win for the Nuggets. They showed that while they have the self-destruction potential, they also can keep their head (and their lead) when it matters.

Besides that, it means the Lakers don’t have a stranglehold 3-1 lead on the series and the Nuggets gave themselves a little bit of breathing room. They showed that even without Carmelo at his best, they can still win: Billips and JR Smith both had great scoring nights (24 each), while Martin, Nene and Anderson each grabbed double-digit rebounds. They showed how deep they are, especially compared to the Lakers: 42 bench points to LA’s 24. That’s important – in a long series, that depth can pay some serious dividends.

But as the series moves to game five, the Nuggets have to be at least a little worried: if this could happen in game four, what’s to say it can’t happen again? And what happens with a hostile crowd? What if Smith misses those shots? Do they still hang on?

Still, it was a good win for the Nuggets. One that raises some questions, yes, but compared to the ones that a loss would have raised, I’m sure they’ll take them.

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Written by M.

May 26, 2009 at 5:03 am

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