In a Monday post in which I argued that theNuggets were bound for a first-round playoff loss
, I predicted that they'd win game five at home -- whichthey did last night
, 116 to 102.
The results were enough to prompt upbeat comments from KEPN radio early-morning host Ryan Edwards about a possible game six victory in Utah tomorrow -- one that would set up an exciting game seven showdown back home.
I wish I was that optimistic. In my view, the way the Nuggets won last night (and in game one) isn't going to translate on the road.
Yes, the Nuggets performed better last night. There were actual flashes of defensive effort that recalled their performance in last year's playoffs, and the assist numbers were way up, suggesting that J.R. Smith's tweet about selfishness actually had a positive impact. Speaking of Smith, he heated up for the first time since the series' first game, taking smarter-than-usual shots that helped him hit four of five from three-point-ville, with a lot of the damage being done in a fourth quarter that ended on a 22-10 Nuggets run.
The Jazz hung around for almost the entire game due largely to the killer performances of Carlos Boozer and (especially) Darrent Williams, who's still being allowed too much room to shoot -- and he frequently drew blood as a result, draining one mid-range jump shot after another. Even in a loss, the Jazz scored more easily than did the Nugs, once again exceeding the 100 point mark.
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The difference in the game, then, was that fourth quarter outburst -- the kind of points bonanza Denver manages far more often at home than on the road. Indeed, if they enter the final frame on Friday within a few points of the Jazz, they're almost certainly going to lose, not go off.
Moreover, they'll likely be playing without Nenê, whose knee injury last night looks serious. He's been disappointing and underwhelming throughout, so his absence won't be crippling, but he did provide one more big body in the lane.
So what's the winning formula? The Nuggets have got to steadily build a lead through the game so that they have a substantial cushion before tightening up late to withstand a final Utah charge. That means more consistent, more harassing D, especially when it comes to Williams, even more sharing the ball, and contributions from alternate scorers like Kenyon Martin, who looked surprisingly good last night. That way, they won't have to live or die by Smith as the game clock winds down.
Can that happen? Yes. Will it? Probably not -- but I'd love it if Edwards proves right and I'm wrong.