Rocky Mountain Low
Nuggets race past Rockets en route to 132-114 win
DENVER, CO - The non-stop, high-flying, awe-inspiring highlights made Saturday’s clash between the Rockets and Nuggets at times take on the feel of an And1 mixtape. The dunks were showstoppers, the pace positively frenetic. Unfortunately for Houston, however, this was no mere exhibition. The game counted. The Rockets couldn’t keep up. And when the music stopped and Denver’s delirious fans finally made their way toward the exits the Nuggets had completed their four-game season sweep of Houston with an emphatic and one-sided 132-114 romp.
The result perhaps was not entirely unexpected given the circumstances. Denver came into the contest riding a 19-game home winning streak and the last ten teams who had flown into the Mile High City to play the second half of a back-to-back – as the Rockets were Saturday – had won only once. An excuse? Nah, fatigue is just a fact of life while running the marathon that doubles as the NBA’s regular season. But Houston certainly did itself no favors against a Nuggets team that has had its number all year. After coming into the game preaching the importance of both ball security and defensive rebounding, the Rockets came up woefully short in both areas Saturday allowing Denver to dominate with its trademark transition attack and interior supremacy.
“They had 32 points off our turnovers and 18 points off offensive boards,” lamented Houston head coach Kevin McHale. “There’s no defense for throwing them the ball for layups – that’s very hard to overcome.”
Indeed, Houston’s tendency to turn the ball over reared its head at the worst possible time as it rapidly took the shine off what had been a nearly flawless first quarter. The Rockets raced out to a 35-25 edge in the opening period, hitting six of their nine attempts from three-point range, assisting on eight of their nine made baskets and owning a 14-to-2 disparity at the free throw line. The period also featured one of Houston’s plays of the season as rookie Terrence Jones sensationally swatted a shot at one end, directly leading to James Anderson putting Evan Fournier on his own (or is that “pwn?’) personal poster with an outlandish dunk over the Denver guard. That spectacular sequence put the Rockets up 32-20. Little could they have known that their evening was in for the freefall that almost immediately ensued.
The tide quickly turned in Denver’s favor when the enigmatic Corey Brewer began doing Corey Brewer things. His mere presence seemed to push the pace to a level the road weary Rockets simply didn’t have the legs to match. He was disruptive on defense and unrelenting with his forays to the rim that came largely via the leak-outs he makes more often, and more effectively, than does any other player in the NBA. In no time, seemingly every Houston mistake was being punished with a layup, dunk or drained three at the other end. When the first half came to a close, Houston’s 12-point lead had been transformed into an 8-point deficit. The Rockets were hardly down and out. But the writing was certainly on the wall.
“We played very well (in the first quarter),” said McHale. “Then Fournier and Brewer came in and just changed the whole dynamic. They started scrapping and double-teaming in the backcourt. We couldn’t push it and couldn’t move it and then it just snowballed.”
The third quarter featured more of the same. Jeremy Lin was outstanding again – his 23-point, 8-assist effort capped what has to be his finest five-game stretch of the season – but his backcourt mate James Harden struggled mightily against Andre Iguodala’s world-class perimeter defense. Houston’s D, meanwhile, possessed little in the way of answers for dealing with Denver’s devastating, paint-bludgeoning offensive assault. The Nuggets attacked the rim in wave after wave, turning every turnover and offensive rebound into a storm of rim-rattling showmanship. By the time the third quarter was complete, the damage had been done, the deficit insurmountable.
“They scored 38 and 39 points in the second quarter and we really just couldn’t get stops,” said Lin. “We couldn’t get rebounds, they were hitting their threes, they pretty much broke it open in the second and third quarter and challenged us to play that pace for 48 minutes which we weren’t able to withstand.”
Under different circumstances would the Rockets be able to withstand it better? Or would Houston, forever dedicated to pushing the pace themselves, be wise to perhaps slow things down at least a little when facing Denver’s assemblage of long, hyper-athletic greyhounds? The general consensus within the Rockets’ locker room was that they don’t need to play slower, only smarter. And after having arrived at their mile high hotel around 4 AM Saturday morning, a little more rest next time – assuming these two clubs meet again in the playoffs – would certainly be welcome, too.
“That’s our pace, we just got tired,” said Harden, who finished with 14 points and three turnovers on 2-10 shooting from the field. “We ran out of gas and you could see it a little bit. But that’s how we like to play. That’s what’s gotten us to this point. We just didn’t make shots, we were sluggish a little bit. The first quarter we came out with a lot of energy and the second quarter was kind of just the total opposite and that’s what got them going and their crowd into it.
“They move the ball very well, they do a good job of getting a lot of paint points and using that to their advantage and that’s how they get open threes. We lost to them four times but each time we learned something from them.”
And 1s: Chandler Parsons (strained right calf) and Carlos Delfino (flu-like symptoms) both missed Saturday’s game. Parsons, however, said after the contest that his leg is feeling much better and he’s hopeful that two more days of treatment will have him ready to return in time for Tuesday’s matchup against the Phoenix Suns.
Us throwing the ball to them was probably a bigger focal point. They had 32 points off our turnovers and 18 points off offensive boards. There’s no defense for throwing them the ball for layups – that’s very hard to overcome.
We played very well (in the first quarter). Then Fournier and Brewer came in and just changed the whole dynamic. They started scrapping and double-teaming in the backcourt. We couldn’t push it and couldn’t move it and then it just snowballed.
They’ve beaten us the same way every time. We throw them the ball quite a bit and they score.
(know you want to push the pace every night, but would it perhaps behoove you to slow things down a bit against the Nuggets?) I think when you play a team like Denver who runs like we run, it has to be more wise. We definitely want to push the pace but I think there’s a way to push the pace conservatively so we don’t give them 20-to-50 points in transition. That’s what it seems like we’ve been doing is giving them a lot of points in transition off of our turnovers. I think we can push the pace without being so loose with the ball.
(what’s the key to striking that balance?) I would just say making good plays. We’re not going to ever play a perfect game – that’s not what we expect – but to be able to push the ball up the floor and then get to our spots and play without throwing crazy passes or cross-court passes, or just things that we know they have length and a lot of taller wings. Just for us to be smarter with how we push it. Maybe less up-court passes and more pushing it with the point guard bringing the ball up the floor.
(what happened in the second quarter?) They scored 38 and 39 points in the second quarter and we really just couldn’t get stops. We couldn’t get rebounds, they were hitting their threes, they pretty much broke it open in the second and third quarter and challenged us to play that pace for 48 minutes which we weren’t able to withstand.
(any thoughts that this might be the team you’re facing in the postseason?) I think we’re confident and it doesn’t matter who we play. I think we’ve shown to ourselves that we can beat anybody in this league. That’s in no way a guarantee of anything but I’m just saying going in, whoever we face, we feel we’ll be just fine with what we have in this locker room.
(if you face Denver in the playoffs, is there value in having gone through this?) Definitely. They move the ball very well, they do a good job of getting a lot of paint points and using that to their advantage and that’s how they get open threes. We lost to them four times but each time we learned something from them.
(know you want to push the pace every night, but would it perhaps behoove you to slow things down a bit against the Nuggets?) No. That’s our pace, we just got tired. We ran out of gas and you could see it little bit. But that’s how we like to play. That’s what’s gotten us to this point. We just didn’t make shots, we were sluggish a little bit. The first quarter we came out with a lot of energy and the second quarter was kind of just the total opposite and that’s what got them going and their crowd into it; they started making shots and getting dunks and things like that.
(feeling okay?) Oh yeah, I’m good. It was just one of those nights.
(on breaking Moses Malone’s free throw record for most made in a season) It’s a good individual accomplishment. I’ll probably think about it toward the end of my career, but as of now I’m just trying to go out there and compete and try to do whatever it takes to help my teammates. I didn’t know.
On the second quarter:
“We let the momentum change from our end to theirs [Nuggets] and we let the crowd get into it, and that really affected the game a lot. It was totally the opposite, what we were doing they started doing. We kind of let it get out of hand.”
On possibly facing Denver in the first round of the playoffs:
“We definitely have to go back and look at the film and see what we are messing up on. Turnovers are a big key for us. Playing for us, I think we are averaging 20 something turnovers a game and they [Nuggets] turn it into points. If it happens to be [the Nuggets] in the first round we will definitely go back and learn from this game, and the past three.”
On transition defense:
“I am definitely disappointed in that because we work on it every day. We know our principles, and we didn’t stick to it tonight.”
Denver Nuggets Head Coach George Karl:
On scoring 132 points in tonight’s game:
“I think we wore them out a little bit. They surprised us early with the three-ball and the free throw line got out of control early in the game. I thought they surprised us with how fast they played; I didn’t think our transition defense was very first-class early in the game. As the game wore on, we seemed to get control of the running. We were the running team. We created some turnovers with our active hands. 32 points is, I think, the season-high for points off of turnovers. I think they hit the wall. They hit the wall mid-third quarter. You have to give [Andre Iguodala] some credit. If we don’t foul [James] Harden, we have an incredible defensive game against him. In the second half, I thought we did a better job on [Jeremy] Lin and controlled him. I really think our defense has to stay more engaged and more consistent. In the beginning of the fourth quarter, the ball movement was spectacular and we made the three-ball. We played really good at both ends of the court.”
On team’s that try to play fast against the Nuggets:
“Houston is the only team in the league that has a better pace than we have but again, I think we create more defensive offense. Early in the game, they were packed in pretty tight. Our offense was okay but it wasn’t very good and the defense wasn’t going to slow down. I think they have had a good year playing a lot like we play and I think a lot of reason as to why they’ve have a good year, is because [James] Harden is a hell of a good player. They play faster than most teams; their outlets are really quick. They inbound the ball really well.”
On a variety of player contributions:
“[Evan Fournier] came in at a time when the game was kind of shaky and played eight or nine minutes, he would have played the whole half if he didn’t get in foul trouble, he was playing so well. I thought I had to protect him instead of play him. Corey [Brewer] had a good game and [Andre Iguodala] and [Andre Miller] passed the ball well. When you have 40 assists, it is fun to play basketball and I think the interesting challenge is to figure out our personality quickly, in the next four or five games.”
Denver Nuggets Guard Andre Iguodala:
On playing without Ty Lawson and Danilo Gallinari:
“We have been doing it all year. I am just trying to be the most effective I can be without taking from other guys, really making them better. I feel like I have been able to do that, whether it shows on the stat sheet or not. When we have guys go down, you change some things up, try to make up for the loss, not by myself, but by making other guys better. It worked out tonight. We are going to have to continue to do that as a unit.”
On playing team’s best offensive game of the year:
“We did some good things. We have had some great games with Ty [Lawson] and [Danilo Gallinari] and the whole lineup at full strength. The New York game was good for us but at home, we catch some teams on a back-to-back and try to tire them out a little bit. Things kind of go our way a little bit. We are trying to get a groove going and that might have been the case tonight.”
On scoring 132 points without the two leading scorers:
“Not really. Like I said, we’ve gotten really comfortable at home. We put up big numbers at home, especially teams who come in on the second night of a back-to-back. [The Rockets] got in late last night and I am pretty sure they were kind of tired. The altitude always seems to work in our favor. All those things play a factor in the game.”
Denver Nuggets Forward Wilson Chandler:
On getting so many points off of turnovers:
“We played great defense. Once we get stops, we get out and get easy baskets. We have really athletic guys that can get out and finish on the break.”
On defense picking up over the last few weeks:
“I just think that trusting in each other, like when one person steps up and the next one steps up, it just shows a lot of maturity in [our team].”
On causing so many Houston turnovers:
“First of all, it starts with [Andre Iguodala]. He does a great job on James Harden. I think everyone else locks in even after he pushes them.”