After a dismal performance in Game Three, it was interesting to see how the Denver Nuggets would approach Game Four in order to steal a road win and recapture control of their first round series with the Utah Jazz.
However, aside from a too-little, too-late rally when Utah let its guard down—a near disaster given Denver’s ability to score in a broken field—the Nuggets were once again throttled in a gutless performance, 117-106.
Denver actually started off the game with several offensive tweaks designed to create more room for Carmelo Anthony to operate. Middle screen rolls put pressure on Kyrylo Fesenko to make aggressive shows, or stay in front of Melo’s drives, something the youngster had nary a prayer of doing.
Denver also used a weak-side split cut that freed up Melo for an open layup.
Aside from these tweaks designed to get Melo away from situations where Utah’s defenders could anticipate his drives and coax offensive fouls, the Nuggets let Aaron Afflalo attack off the dribble and draw a foul to start the game.
These were signs that the Nuggets weren’t going to play as passively as they did in Game Three, and that Carmelo was going to find different ways to attack the basket aside from setting up on either elbow where the Jazz had preplanned strategies to shade or double him.
After blitzing off to an early 18-11 lead, perhaps the Nuggets had come to play.
After the initial few minutes, Denver settled back into their predictable isolated routines for the rest of the game, with several screen rolls thrown in for show. The split and diagonal cuts tapered off, and the Nuggets again settled into playing one-on-one basketball.
One-on-one basketball never works in the playoffs unless individuals have heroic performances.
Unfortunately, too many Nuggets were complete no-shows.
Kenyon Martin would like to think he’s a defensive bully, but he had his lunch money stolen from him by Carlos Boozer and Paul Millsap. Pushed around under the basket, absent in his help, and 1-for-5 on his mid-range straight line jumpers, K-Mart continued a history of being all talk on the road.
Nene is another player who failed his manhood test, registering only three shot attempts in almost 40 minutes of play, and missing half of his 12 free throws.
Whereas in the initial three games of the series Carlos Boozer would spend his time above the free throw line popping mid range jumpers, he spent Game Four taking the ball right into Nene’s chest whether posting on the right block, or on quick spinning drives from either elbow—neither of which Nene had any answer for.
Like Martin, Nene’s interior rotations were poor and he was a non-factor on the offensive end of the court.
The Nuggets wisely curtailed Chris Andersen’s minutes, as his high flying theatrics are useless when an offensive player takes the ball into his chest. Indeed, Utah’s gladiators have turned Birdzilla into Mother Goose.
Carmelo Anthony did most of his damage very early or too late. He was also the victim of two bogus calls against him, a questionable double foul with Carlos Boozer (which should have been a no-call), and a flop job by Deron Williams when Melo turned and made minimal contact.
Still, Melo was so flustered by Utah’s pressure on him and well-timed rotations that he missed five layups, and committed nine turnovers—many of them unforced.
While he finished with 39 points, for most of the game, Melo was just another mistake player.
After J.R. Smith’s fourth quarter barrage to open the series, Jerry Sloan has had him shadowed wherever he goes. The Jazz don’t help off of Smith when doubling elsewhere, and go over the top of all screens to prevent him from finding open three-point looks.
With the Nuggets unable to get enough stops to attack in transition, and without the Jazz affording Smith with open looks, he lost composure and simply fired away without discretion—3-for-11 for 10 points.
Johan Petro overran Boozer when trying to recover to him and missed a jumper, which were his only notably plays in three minutes.
Afflalo scored on broken plays but he missed his open jumpers—0-for-3 on three-pointers.
Chauncey Billups couldn’t overpower Deron Williams and subsequently get to the free throw line offensively. Defensively, like everyone else, he had trouble guarding Williams. Instead of providing quiet leadership, Billups was just quiet.
Ty Lawson was the only Nugget who played with spunk, but he’s so overmatched by Williams at the other end of the court, he was mercifully switched onto Wesley Matthews towards the end of the game.
With how Utah’s flex creates opportunities to post and seal down low, Lawson is at a permanent disadvantage in the game except against Ronnie Price.
Unfortunately for Denver, Adrian Dantley doesn’t appear able to rouse the team from its collective malaise.
Judging by the team’s slumped shoulders, slow reaction times, and disinterested faces, the Nuggets have already given up on the series.
Meanwhile for the Jazz, it was business as usual.
Screens, cuts, fans, and seals put the Jazz’ players in prime scoring opportunities. Indeed, Utah registered assists on 24 of its 41 field goals and shot over 50 percent from the field.
Only Steve Nash is in Williams’ class of vision and passing, and while Chris Paul is equally as elusive, Williams has the threat of finishing through you, as opposed to around you, a much more physically and psychologically potent method of destruction.
He had complete mastery of his team’s offense—and the Nuggets’ defense—6-14 FG, 2-5 3-point FG, 10-12 FT, 4 REB, 13 AST, 2 TO, 24 PTS.
Boozer had the range on his mid-range springers, and his quick drives into the paint punished Denver’s tardy rotations.
If Matthews and C.J. Miles couldn’t connect from downtown, they were active along the baseline and on curls into the paint, and sank their two-point jumpers.
Kyrylo Fesenko was late inside, decided to close out on Nene at the three-point line inviting a blow by layup, and missed three layups. But simply by the nature of his massive size and forcefulness he had an impact—six point and two blocks.
Indeed, Fesenko may be the second coming of Greg Ostertag.
For the Jazz, they’d be best served to wrap this series up as quickly as possible. With the Thunder and Lakers engaged in a tooth-and-nail struggle of their own, a quick turnaround against a fresh Jazz team and its efficiency and physicality may allow them to a steal a game they otherwise would have no business winning.
For the Nuggets, as they’ve gone belly up, they’re now faced with the truth that to advance, they’ll have to win a Game Six in Utah. Whether or not they believe they can actually win there will determine how much fire they come out with in Game Five.
The NBA Playoffs. Where not trusting in yourself happens.