This was kind of a guilty pleasure of a game — it was fun to watch, it came right down to shots at the end, there were some stunning highlight plays. And it was sloppy and messy and filled with missed perimeter shots. Not how you want future generations to play the game, but it was fun for a night.
In the end Portland won 86-83 because its defense (and the continued absence of Kenyon Martin and Chris Anderson) had Denver living and dying by the outside shot. And with the game on the line they missed.
Yes, Denver fans, Arron Afflalo probably was fouled on that last three ball (or maybe two ball, if you look at his foot). But you’re not going to get that call in that spot often. That’s not what cost you the game, anyway.
The Nuggets bigger issue is that they settled all night — they had just 16 points in the paint and most of those came on fast breaks. A lot of those fast breaks came in the later stages of the first quarter when Portland — also plenty happy to settle for jump shots all night — went ice cold and turned the ball over for a stretch. The result was a 17-0 Nuggets run that gave them a comfortable early lead.
That didn’t last because Wes Mathews got hot from three. Mathews has been getting the run with Brandon Roy out and he is not nearly the shot creator or offensive initiator, but he can hit shots. He hit key ones here, along with Lamarcus Aldridge knocking down some midrange, and the game was close again and would stay that way.
The fourth quarter went to Portland 17-12. As the score indicates, we weren’t looking at pretty basketball. Portland turned up the defensive pressure and combined with better rebounding it was all contested perimeter jumpers for Denver. When the Nuggets weren’t turning it over.
That gave Portland and opening they barely walked through. Rudy Fernandez was impressing nobody for three quarters but nailed some shots when it counted. Portland as a team played with passion. No Roy, the Greg Oden news and this team still brought it. That is saying something.
Denver didn’t have that same passion. Part of their problem is still the lack of an inside game right now. Part of it is that Carmelo Anthony fouled out with three minutes left so in a battle of contested two pointers they were missing their best player. But it’s still hard not to wonder if the Anthony trade situation doesn’t sometimes bleed onto the court.
J.R. Smith got a DNP-Coach’s decision tonight. After the game he tweeted “This too shall pass.”