Torrey Craig

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Frustrated, ’embarrassed’ Mike Malone rips Nuggets: ‘We’re a great talk team’

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Before the season tipped off, the expectations in Denver were this Nuggets team was ready to be a contender. Even outside the Rockie Mountains, the sense was the Nuggets were a top-four seed with the potential to push the Clippers and Lakers in the postseason if things went right.

Thursday night, Denver fell to 3-2 on the young season and handed the Pelicans their first win, a 122-107 New Orleans win on a national TNT game.

After the game, a pissed off Nuggets coach Mike Malone ripped into his team for reading their own press clippings, via Andrew Lopez of ESPN.

“I’m embarrassed,” Malone said at his postgame news conference. “That was an embarrassing effort defensively. Gave up 37 fast-break points. You can give all the transition defense rules that you want. To me, transition defense boils down to one thing — effort. Get back. You can tell them. You can lead a horse to water, whatever analogy you want to use. We did not get back.”…

“We’re a great talk team. We can talk before the season starts about all the things we want to accomplish, and we want to be a contending team,” Malone said. “It’s all bulls—. Don’t tell me about it, show me. And right now we’ve got a lot of guys that aren’t showing me much.”

Malone specifically called out his starters — Jamal Murray, Gary Harris, Torrey Craig, Paul Millsap, and Nikola Jokic — who were -9 in a little less than 14 minutes on the court together, struggling mostly on the defensive end as a group. That five-some has struggled all season on both ends of the floor (Craig was starting in place of Will Barton, who is out with toe inflammation). 

The Nuggets have just been okay to start the season, with a middle-of-the-pack offense and defense, and a negative -1.3 net rating. After winning their first three games, the Nuggets have dropped two in a row and now travel to Orlando, before returning home to face red-hot Miami.

It’s not just one thing leading to the slow start, but at the heart of it is Jokic’s game is off. He is hitting just 21.4 percent from three and is down five points per game, he is fouling and turning the ball over more. Beyond all that, when he gets the ball he doesn’t move like the decisive man with a plan of years past, and that passivity quickly spreads through the offense. It’s not all the time, early on against the Pelicans he was calling for the ball and making plays, but it’s not consistent (as he was in previous seasons)

It’s far too early to read much into this (Denver is 3-2 still), it could be just a malaise to start the season (with Jokic coming off having played in FIBA’s World Cup in China). The Nuggets could use to play a little faster, get some easy buckets, and find a rhythm. They need to be a little more focused on the defensive end.

If not, there are more embarrassing nights coming.

 

Portland’s Rodney Hood diagnosed with left knee bone bruise, questionable for Game 1

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Rodney Hood has some key moments for Portland against Denver — 25 points in Portland’s Game 6 win, with Denver coach Mike Malone calling him the series MVP — but not in Game 7 Sunday. He had no impact down the stretch because he was out, having fallen to the ground after banging knees with Torrey Craig, leaving the game to not return.

https://twitter.com/NBCSNorthwest/status/112768319710454579

Hood is probably out for Game 1 against Denver, with the team officially listing him as questionable after an MRI revealed a bone bruise.

The good news is no major issues were found, so he should return this series.

The bad news is the Trail Blazers will need all hands on deck to have a shot against Golden State.

Golden State will be without Kevin Durant for Game 1, and likely Game 2, as he recovers from his strained calf muscle.

Blazers beat Denver, advance to first Western Conference Finals since 2000

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Sunday’s Game 7 between the Portland Trail Blazers and Denver Nuggets was not a pretty one.

The Nuggets, who had relied on Portland’s inability to hit a jumper for the entirety of the first quarter, never were able to capitalize on an early 17-point lead. Slowly but surely, it dribbled away from the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference playoffs until the Blazers crept back into the game. By halftime, Portland had cut the gap to just nine points.

Then, with 12.1 seconds left on the clock at the end of the third quarter, CJ McCollum hit a floater to briefly put Portland ahead, 71-70.

It was a shot that would foreshadow how the fourth quarter would go.

McCollum, who scored a total of 37 points on 17-of-29 shooting to go with nine rebounds, was Portland’s hero. His face steely and flat, Portland’s “other” guard kept scoring and making impact plays.

A layup with eight minutes left. A rebound with seven minutes left. A chase down block with 4:44, then a recovery four seconds later to contest a Torrey Craig 3-pointer that would have cut the lead to one. Another skying rebound with 4:09. A pull-up 16-footer with 2:57. A second at 1:25.

Then finally, the dagger that sealed the game.

Save for which side of the floor it came from, it was a move that mirrored Michael Jordan’s shot over Bryon Russell in Game 6 of the 1998 NBA Finals. With Craig guarding, McCollum got Craig to put on skates one more time for the signature bucket with 12.4 seconds left.

For the Nuggets, it was a lesson that perhaps only the young can learn. That is, how to close out in the biggest moments. Jamal Murray went 4-of-18, scoring 17 points. Paul Millsap struggled similarly — a testament to Terry Stotts’ decision to put Zach Collins on him in Game 6 — shooting just 3-of-13. Nikola Jokic scored 29 points to go with 13 rebounds, but had just two assists.

In Portland, as fans rejoiced, it was the payoff the Trail Blazers had been waiting for since their first-round sweep at the hands of the New Orleans Pelicans last season. It came in odd fashion, too.

Damian Lillard, who looked timid all game, used Denver’s concentration on him to his advantage in the final quarter. Instead of letting the Nuggets force the ball out of his hands, the Blazers star instead purposefully deferred. To McCollum, to Evan Turner, to Enes Kanter… to anyone who was in position to make the right play.

Turner, who hadn’t had a made field goal since Game 2 and who had just two baskets all series leading into Sunday, came up big. The Blazers’ point-forward guarded Millsap and Jokic while scoring 14 points off the bench for Stotts. Turner was impactful, including six free throws in the fourth quarter. No bigger were the two that Turner sank with eight seconds to go, the last of which pushed Portland’s lead to four.

In their second-straight series ending with a Game 7, Denver played uneven down the stretch. They gave Portland several chances to stop their eventual run, which the Blazers did. Despite the obvious advantage of the Nuggets’ defensive strategy against Portland, it was the visiting team that was able to counterpunch in a way that pushed the more experienced team to the next round.

The Trail Blazers are heading to the Western Conference Finals for the first time since 2000. Sunday will be huge in Rip City, as will Monday morning, all the way until Tuesday when they’ll meet the Golden State Warriors in Game 1.

For the Nuggets, it will be a chance to learn from their mistakes, and regroup, and try again next year.

The Blazers beat the Nuggets, 100-96, in Game 7.

Seth Curry calls Nuggets ‘sassy,’ ‘front-runners’ after skirmish (video)

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Late in the Trail Blazers’ Game 6 win over the Nuggets yesterday, Seth Curry and Will Barton pushed each other then got in each other’s faces. Those two, Zach Collins and Torrey Craig all received technical fouls.

Curry, via Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN:

“He waited for a few people to get in between us, and when a few people were in between us, he put his finger in my eye,” Curry said of Barton. “You know what I’m saying. I can’t allow people to put their fingers in my eye.

“That’s real sassy. They got a few sassy dudes over there. Front-runners. And we can’t allow that.”

These teams are getting tired of each other – just in time for Game 7, which should make that even more fun.

Was Nikola Jokic’s push of Enes Kanter cheap or just playoff basketball?

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It’s the playoffs and everyone is trying to manipulate the referees to get calls down the line. It’s about planting seeds in the minds of referees.

Enter Portland’s Enes Kanter.

Was that a cheap shot?

Portland coach Terry Stotts unsurprisingly thinks it was, via NBC Sports Portland.

“Yes, I have seen it and I think it was uncalled for,” Stotts said Saturday when asked if he’d had a look at it. “I don’t know if the league will review it or not but I certainly didn’t approve of it.”

Equally unsurprisingly, Denver coach Mike Malone sees it differently. Via ESPN:

“Normal play,” Malone said. “I think Terry is off base there. Personally, I don’t think it was anything malicious. Just like some of their screens in the first two games, I don’t think there was anything malicious to it — with Kanter getting tossed into Torrey Craig. This is the playoffs. We’re all big boys, let’s go out and play the game accordingly.

“I have known Nikola Jokic for four years,” Malone said. “He doesn’t have that kind of personality, he doesn’t have that DNA gene where he’s going to go out there and make non-basketball plays and try to hurt anybody or do anything that is beyond the limits of what is sportsmanship and what is not sportsmanship. So I would definitely not agree with Terry’s assessment.”

I’ll add these three thoughts.

Kater pulled back on this and did not go in to try and get the offensive board, which helps sell the call. If Kanter had pushed in to get the rebound, what Jokic did was just going to create space for himself to get the board.

It’s the playoffs. Things get physical.

This is all about trying to gain an edge in Game 4 on Sunday. Just like all the Rockets’ complaining about landing space was after Game 1 of that series was about trying to gain an edge. Nothing more.