NBA Playoffs: Nuggets continue to ignore defense, fall behind 3-1 to the Jazz

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The Nuggets have all the talent in the world, but they have seemed determined to squander it in their first-round series with the Jazz. First of all, they continued to let the Jazz score at will on Sunday. The Jazz scored 54 points in the paint, and added 30 points on free throws. That’s 84 points the Jazz were able to get without having to make a jump shot. The Nuggets were no slouches themselves, scoring 80 of their 106 points via points in the paint and free throws. But in the end, the Nuggets didn’t play enough defense to hold their early lead, and lacked the composure to get back in the game when they fell behind. 

The game started out just like the Nuggets wanted it to. They went to Carmelo early and often in low isolation. He answered the call by scoring in every way imaginable. He made hard drives to get himself to the line. He hit open jumpers. He posted up. He crashed the boards and got put-backs. He hit turnarounds in the lane. The Nuggets jumped out to a quick 10-2 lead, and looked like they might be able to execute and keep the Utah crowd out of the game. 
Then Deron Williams and Carlos Boozer let the Nuggets know they didn’t plan on letting the Nuggets tie the series. The two combined to score nine points in two minutes to get the Jazz back in the game. and got the Utah crowd right back into the game. By the 3:00 mark of the first quarter, Utah had taken the lead. They didn’t give it back for the rest of the game.
Utah was able to get to front of the rim all game long against Denver. Boozer got whatever he wanted en route to 31 points on 13-19 shooting. There were ugly baskets. There were drives to the rim from the free-throw line. There were post-ups. There were put-backs. Deron Williams was consistently able to feed Boozer and the rest of the Jazz with bullet passes that led to layups from the three-point arc. Everything worked, and for the second straight game an undersized power forward tore the Nuggets’ interior D apart. 
Denver never threatened the lead because they were never able to string together stops. On top of that, they weren’t getting good shots, and Carmelo was the only reliable offensive option — the Nuggets only managed 13 assists on 37 field goals. For a high-octane team like the Nuggets to succeed, they have to be comfortable playing from behind. When the Nuggets got behind in Salt Lake, they alternated between panic and dejection. Now they find themselves in a 3-1 hole. 
The Jazz were also get production out of their wing players, while the Nuggets struggled to get anyone not named Anthony going from the perimeter. C.J. Miles and Wes Matthews scored 39 points on 26 shots; meanwhile, Billups/Smith/Lawson combined to go 12-32 from the floor. Billups’ struggles were particularly damning, as he never got his shot going, took control of the offense, or did anything to slow the Jazz down on defense. 
Deron Williams had a (relatively) quiet 24 points and 13 assists, but there was no mistaking that the game belonged to him. He set up his teammates with great looks, and whenever the Jazz needed a basket Williams got it. He’s carried the Jazz all series, and he’s making a strong case for himself as one of the absolute best players in the league. Thanks to him, the Jazz are on the verge of knocking off a team considered the #2 team in the West for most of the year, and are looking like a threat to any team they face in the next two rounds. (If the Lakers make it through, do you think Derek Fisher is looking forward to guarding this guy? Russell Westbrook has been tough enough.) 
The Nuggets have a great chance to turn this into a series with a win in Denver, and have the talent to compete for a title. However, they’re going to have to buckle down on both ends of the floor if they want to make a serious title run anytime soon. 

Rockets bench hams it up over Andre Roberson missed free throw (video)

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Russell Westbrook might not want to talk about his supporting cast distinctively, but it’s a real issue for the Thunder, who trail the Rockets 3-1 in their first-round series.

Even Andre Roberson, who has impressively defended James Harden, brings a glaring weakness: free throws. Roberson is 2-for-17 from the line in the playoffs, including 2-for-12 in Game 4 yesterday. Houston even repeatedly intentionally fouled him late.

It was agonizing for all but the most partisan Rockets supporters – though even Houston’s bench, while at least implicitly mocking Roberson, appeared put off that he missed yet again.

Isaiah Thomas: ‘Mentally and emotionally, I’m not here’

AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast
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Isaiah Thomas previously explained his emotions in a statement, but the Celtics guard spoke publicly yesterday for the first time since the death of his sister in a car crash just before the playoffs.

Thomas, via A. Sherrod Blakely of CSN Northeast:

“Mentally and emotionally I’m not here,” Thomas said after Game 4, the first time he has spoken publicly since his sister’s death. “So I just feed off of what the guys give me. They give me a lot of confidence. I can’t do it without those guys. They believe in me. Being here is what makes me sane and makes me feel somewhat normal through these tough times.”

Thomas has played well for Boston, which won twice in Chicago to even its series with the Bulls, 2-2. It’s remarkable considering the heavy emotional burden and extra travel, going to Seattle for his sister’s funeral then joining the Celtics in Chicago.

His teammates have clearly rallied around him, and that surely helps. But I can’t even imagine how he’s simultaneously handling such a tragic family situation and the biggest games of his career.

Kyrie Irving knocks flamingo from Pacers fan’s hands (video)

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Pacers super fan Matt Asen brings his lucky flamingo to each game.

He also annoyed the heck out of Kyrie Irving by trying to hand it, rather than the ball, to the Cavaliers guard.

James Harden reveals he’s playing through ankle injury

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James Harden didn’t lead the Rockets in scoring in their Game 4 win over the Thunder yesterday.

He didn’t even rank second – or third.

Nene, Eric Gordon and Lou Williams each outscored Harden, who scored 16 points on 5-for-16 shooting, including 0-for-7 on 3-pointers.

What happened to the Houston star?

Calvin Watkins of ESPN:

Houston Rockets star guard James Harden said he has been hobbled by an ankle injury that occurred in Game 3 of this first-round series against the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Harden made the revelation to ESPN’s Lisa Salters after the Rockets’ 113-109 Game 4 victory on Sunday afternoon.

“It was pretty tough; we don’t make excuses,” Harden said in a news conference when asked about his health. “We just try to go out there and get the job done. You build trust, and trust in your teammates all year long. When there’s moments like this, guys step up and they did tonight. We have another opportunity in a few days to go out there and win on our home court, and we’re going to have to get off to a really good start.”

Many players are grinding through injuries this time of year. Is Harden’s exceptionally bad? There’s no way of telling from the outside.

But he didn’t look quite right in Game 4, and if he’s hobbled, that opens the door slightly wider for Oklahoma City to come back from its 3-1 deficit.