Denver, Mostly Melo & Billups, Played About as Dumbly as You Possibly Can Down the Stretch


First of all, I’m pretty sure “dumbly” isn’t a word.

Secondtively, I was personally going to break down all of the Nuggets possessions in the final minutes last night just so you could see exactly how poorly they played down the stretch, but I opted for some head-clearing sleep before I totally ripped apart one of my favorite teams to watch for its collective idiocy.

Then I saw this Nuggets/Jazz Game 2 recap from Phillip Barnett over on TalkHoops today, which pretty much does the same thing and saves me some typing.

Here’s a full rundown of how Denver finished last night’s game, essentially negating any chance they possibly had to win. (I’m just going to excerpt very liberally here since I know Zach Harper doesn’t have a copyright attorney):

2:13 – Chauncey Billups brings the ball up court, dribbles to the right to take a screen from Nene. After he stumbles coming off of the screen, he dribbles back out and takes another Nene screen, this time he raises up to take an ill-advised three-pointer. With a one-point lead, they run an offensive set like the Lakers as Mike Fratello tells us that Chauncey Billups had 10 assists on the game at that point. (106-105 DEN)

1:43 – After the Nuggets get a stop, maintaining their lead, they come back down and run another isolation play, this time for Carmelo Anthony. C.J. Miles forces Anthony to the middle where both Paul Millsap and Carlos Boozer come over to help. Millsap gets his hands on the ball and forces the turnover. To top it off, while Millsap is fighting for the ball on the ground, Nene comes over and tackles him and picks up the first utterly stupid foul in the last 1:45. (106-105 DEN)

1:25 – After the timeout, Kyle Korver brings the ball up, being hounded by J.R. Smith. After Korver gets the ball to Deron Williams, he runs to the left wing, cuts across the middle of the floor to the right wing, spots up and knocks down a relatively open jumper. On this play, Korver was seemingly a decoy as no screens were set for him, but J.R. Smith had no intention in chasing him around, leading to the trey. (108-106 UTH)

1:18 – The Nuggets come down the other way, set a couple of down screens for Anthony who catches the ball near the three-point line. He swings through to his left, lowers his shoulder and (get used to this) gets called for the offensive foul.

:40 – After a Utah turnover and Chauncey making one of two from the free throw line, Kyle Korver is forced to make a play after Billups denies Williams the ball at the top of the key. He drives right, out of control and (wait for it) gets called for the offensive foul. Keep in mind that, at this point, Denver’s fans are blowing the roof off the top of the place, Denver has the ball and is only down one. (108-107 UTH)

:31 – Billups brings the ball up with Anthony coming to set a screen on his right. Billups fakes like he’s going to take the screen, crosses over, drives left and bowls over Kyle Korver and (there it is) gets called for the offensive foul. (108-107 UTH)

:25 – After the Billups charge, the ball is inbounded to C.J. Miles who is hounded by Anthony. After riding his shoulder for 20 feet, he decided that he has to make the referee blow the whistle by reaching across Miles’ body and slapping him on the arm 774 feet away from the basket. Whistle. Number six for Anthony. We get a shot on the screen foreshadowing a Nuggets loss: Denver is 1-10 all time when Carmelo Anthony fouls out. (108-107 UTH)

The rest of the game was six free throws for the Jazz, a couple of terrible Billups three-point shots and “I can’t believe this just happened” looks on the faces of the Nuggets. Utah takes game two 114-111.

My break-down would have had a lot more vitriol, name-calling and unnecessary adjectives, but that unabridged play-by-play right there is most everything you need to know about Utah/Denver Game 2.

Carmelo, who had been picking up legitimate offensive fouls all night long, simply committed one of the dumbest fouls I’ve ever seen a player commit to foul out of a Playoff game. He probably fouled Miles four times before the ref even called it. There’s no way he would have done that if he was aware at that moment that he had 5 fouls already, so he clearly spaced out. And him disqualifying his team’s best player — himself — isn’t even the worst part.

That was just a dumb, dumb time to put the other team on the line.

There are 30 seconds left and you’re down 1, Melo. That’s a situation where you just knuckle up, play good defense and don’t allow any offensive rebounds. Absolute worst-case (unless your team is bad enough to give up a trey or an and-one) is that Utah scores after 22 seconds and you have the ball back, down 3 with about 8 seconds to play.

Best case? You get a stop (possibly by forcing an early-in-the-shot-clock miss) and have the ball back, down 1 with at least 8 seconds to go. In your home arena.

You don’t foul. You just don’t.

And you certainly don’t foul if you already have 5 fouls and your name is Carmelo.

Then, in a shocking development, Chauncey Billups almost immediately made everyone forget just how dumb Melo’s behavior was by taking two hard-to-even-describe-how-bad-they-were treys in the final 30 seconds. The first one was bad shot selection. But it was mostly bad just because of how badly he missed. He seriously hit all backboard on a straightaway three. That’s pretty hard to do.

But that pales in comparison to the terribleness of his final shot, which can only be described as a one-footed, running floater from 28 feet. It looked like a desperation heave from 60 feet that someone would take as the first-quarter buzzer went off in a regular season game. And he took it with 2 seconds left in the game and Denver down 1 three after he dribbled all the way up court and had enough time to square up and take a legitimate shot attempt.

Just flabbergasting.

And just so we don’t think it was only Melo and Billups, the whole team failed pretty hard in an Andy Reid-type way by not understanding clock management. With only 20 ticks to go and Denver only down 1, they let the Jazz dribble around as 10 seconds dwindled off the clock before fouling. I’m all for the “go for the quick steal first” before fouling strategy, but you can’t let that much time disappear before you send someone to the line. I don’t care if it’s Kyle Korver. You have to extend the game and hope he misses. They’re aren’t many professional basketball players who are just going to turn the ball over in that situation. Just foul and hope for a miss.

I honestly can’t recall a poorer last two minutes of basketball that was played this year. That might be recent-ness and hyperbole speaking a little, but I really can’t. It felt like I was watching the end of some melodramatic sports movie where an impossible sequence of positive, increasingly improbable plays all go the way of the lovable team on its way win the championship game — only the exact opposite.