Nuggets/Mavs Game 1 Recap
Sure, it’s the second round, but Denver’s not satisfied yet.
The Dallas Mavericks have long been a team that has given the Denver Nuggets fits. Year in and year out, the team from the Rocky Mountains has struggled with the squad from the Metroplex. This year, however, things have changed.
In their hardwood encounters this season, the Nuggets came away winners in all four contests. At face value, that seems to present a pretty daunting task for Mark Cuban’s boys, but other than a ten-point game in Dallas early in the season, every game was decided by a bucket or less. Throw in the fact that Josh Howard and Jason Kidd each missed game(s) in the series and the “4-0 factor” should probably be thrown out the window.
Which raises another question: Which team is playing better right now?
Denver finished the season winning 14-17 and combined with their lopsided first-round series against New Orleans, the Nuggets have won 18 of the last 22 games they have played; impressive, to say the least. The defense has been downright unbelievable (especially if you have paid any attention to this team over the past few years) and their ability to start fast and jump on teams has been almost record-setting.
Dallas, on the other hand, finished the regular season winning 9-13 and 13 of their last 18 games. But, the Mavs’ first-round victory over their rivals from down Interstate-10 must be applauded and at the same time, revered, regardless of the unhealthy condition the San Antonio Spurs found themselves heading into the postseason.
So, who wins?
Which team wins the match-ups?
Will the veteran point guards (Chauncey Billups and Jason Kidd) balance each other out?
Can the interior defense of Denver (Nene/Kenyon Martin/Birdman) nullify the dominance of Dirk Nowitzki?
And which team wins the battle of the benches?
All of these questions were paramount as the series got underway in Denver on Sunday afternoon. For a team that hadn’t lost a home game in almost two months, the Nuggets came in with confidence, swagger and a bit of an nasty edge.
While the outcome was similar to those played recently at the Pepsi Center, it took until the game’s final quarter before the Nuggets actually took control. Cruising through a four-minute stretch filled with defensive pressure and quality shot-making, Denver turned a close game into a route, taking Game 1 on the best-of-seven series, 109-95.
Leading the way was Nene with 24 alongside Carmelo Anthony with a steady 23 points (19 in the second-half), 5 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals and 2 blocks in fewer than 30 minutes of action. The 100-plus-point outing for Denver was largely a product of a suffocating defensive front anchored by Head Coach George Karl’s unrelenting eight-man attack.
Dallas was led by Dirk’s 28 and 10 and trio of 15-point scorers, but was ultimately undone by 20 turnovers. The Mavs actually enjoyed the bulk of the action through the game’s first 18 minutes, leading by as many as eight, but a three minute stretch mid-way through the second quarter evened things up. Nene was integral, running the center of the court, seemingly operating his own lay-up lines. The Brazilian got three-straight bunnies (aka monster dunks) at the cup while his team was able to score six-straight buckets (in seven possessions) in similar lay-up fashion to knot the game for the rest of the first half.
With out much early contribution from Carmelo (a result of rather bogus foul trouble) the Nuggets played tough just before half, spurred by the inside combination of a powerful Nene and an energetic Chris Anderson. The home team closed strong, going into the locker room, up four at 51-47.
Extended minutes for the Birdman and the entire Denver bench were granted through the game’s key moments and the Avian Aviator, Anthony Carter and J.R. Smith more than delivered. The trio not only combined to score 38 points but also shot 62 percent between them.
The bench proved crucial during the deciding fourth-quarter stretch where the game went from a back-and-forth affair to a blowout. The signature play in that run being a three-on-one started by Carter (followed by a Smith behind-the-back pass) and finished with an Anthony two-handed flush.
The game’s ultimate conclusion does raise a question, however.
Can Dallas muster enough resistance in Game 2 to make this series interesting and sent it back to the Big D even at one game a piece?
If they can, it will be very telling not only about their own postseason prospects, but also may predict whether these “new look” Nuggets are an actual, viable threat to contend for the Western Conference crown.