Nuggets/Hornets Game 1 Recap
Too Much Mr. Big Shot
by Cub Buenning
***Weather disclaimer: After months of dry, snowless winter weather through December, January, February, and March, the high altitude regions of the state of Colorado have spent most of April’s days buried under feet of the white stuff. The past few days, the city of Denver was largely void of much snow (although plenty of rain fell) the foothills west of the city were spared no such luxury. At 8800 feet, the flakes slowly started flying early on Thursday morning, snowed steadily all day and night, snowed hard (like five inches per hour) all day long on Friday and for much of Saturday before slowing late that night.
More than four feet of snow, for real.
Due to this powerful and somewhat unexpected, blast of moisture, my family and I were without power for the better part of the last three days. Late Saturday, we finally wised up and made tracks to my parents’ house (got almost three feet of their own) which was about 1200 feet lower, but possessed the genius stylings of Thomas Edison. By this time, getting any kind of semblance of normalcy to our lives was not going to happen and taking out the back-half of the Sunday evening to venture “down the mountain” was out of the question. My dad just recently got a new HD, so my cranky three-year-old daughter and my over-worked, 8-month’s pregnant wife were going to have to be my neighbors for Game 1 of the NBA’s First-Round series between the Denver Nuggets and New Orleans Hornets. Fear not, Game 2 will be a live game recap.***
After a season of watching predominately the “amateur” version of the game, but hundreds of professional ones over the past five years, I was ready to see if things had truly changed for my local side, when it mattered most.
The last five years of Denver Nuggets playoff basketball had followed a similar script. Patches of regular season inconsistencies led to a lower-seeded playoff birth (and no home-court advantage) followed by an eventual first-round exit against a superior team. They were always talented, but when push came to shove, the rubber hit the road, or in other words, the postseason, they lacked any direction, focus or leadership. They struggled in the half-court, couldn’t get stops on defense and their young star (Carmelo Anthony) continually failed to achieve the playoff success that defines the game’s true superstars.
As the season commenced this year, the prospects of a winning season in Denver were dreary. Many feared that the losses of their only semblance of defense in Marcus Camby and Eduardo Najera would be too much to overcome, they couldn’t improve. But just days into the season, a move was made; a trade. The mercurial Allen Iverson was jettisoned for a proven leader and provider, but a scorer, too. They got a point-guard, but a lethal marksman, whose famous moniker actually involved scoring; rather the values (defense, leading, team, team, team) that helped spur the team to match their best record in franchise history.
Not one to wait around for the action to come to him, the Denver-native, Billups started in on his opposition from New Orleans early and scored often. He made four three-pointers (while taking just four) in the first quarter on the way to 16 in the first stanza. The veteran point guard’s counter-“point,” Chris Paul did more than could be expected. The Hornets’ star-leader played a beautiful first half (15/4 r/8 a), doing everything in his power, keeping his team to within just eight after the first-half.
The game’s action took a more physical tone during the third quarter. But through out the pushing, shoving and double-technicals, it was Billups. He did his first-quarter self one better by scoring 18 third-quarter points (including four more from long-range and 36 total) as the home team was able to expand their halftime advantage to a whopping 18 at 87-69 going into the final quarter.
Cruise control was the story of the fourth quarter story and the home team easily procured the series’ first game, 113-84. The Hornets got little production from anyone outside of their young leader, Paul, while their opposition got solid outings from the likes of JR Smith, Linas Kleiza, Chris “Birdman” Anderson (who played a particularly perfect first-half) and Nene. Anthony? While not a great performance, he contributed when necessary and was more than happy to take rest and a Game One win.
Last year, the Hornets were the upstart, Western Conference team just a sniff away from the conference finals. But a year (and 83 games) later, it appears the roles of the teams in this series may have reversed.
Can one guy make that much a difference?
Just ask Denver Nuggets’ fans.