Fast Breaks: Jazz-Nuggets, Game 5
Chauncey Billups and J.R. Smith gave Carmelo Anthony the help he wanted
The Nuggets suffered a key injury when Nene banged his knee and didn't return
Poor perimeter defense cost the Jazz a shot at ending the series in Denver
Fighting off a first-round upset, Nuggets All-Star Carmelo Anthony finally got the assistance for which he begged, and it resulted in a 116-102 victory over the Jazz on Wednesday. The Jazz still lead the best-of-seven series 3-2 and could close out in Salt Lake City on Friday. But they still have some work to do since Denver got back a modicum of confidence.
Melo gets some help. He had been begging for a teammate -- any teammate -- to step to the fore and offer something of substance to a season that had gone awry after all of the distractions. And finally Anthony got it. Point guard Chauncey Billups, a veteran of so many postseason games, hit big shots when the Nuggets needed them and got meaningful defensive stops when necessary. Billups had 21 points and four assists, while the make-or-break J.R. Smith offered up 17 points, including four three-pointers. He will either make a coach want to pull out his hair or sign him to a lucrative, long-term deal. On this night, Smith got the contract.
Carmelo can't let up. He was not fantastic in this game. Anthony had 26 points on a pedestrian 7-for-19 shooting, and added 11 rebounds and two assists. But if the Nuggets are to stay in this series, they have to continue to get consistently strong performances from their star player. He could be criticized for being undiplomatic in his criticism of teammates, but at this point the Nuggets will take what they can get.
Nene injured. The Jazz had been the team withstanding a series of injuires, including a season-ending Achilles tear on starting center Mehmet Okur and a strained calf suffered by small forward Andrei Kirilenko. On Wednesday, it was Denver's turn. Starting center Nene banged knees with Utah's Carlos Boozer, went to the ground, limped to the locker room and never returned. He has a sprained knee that will be re-evaluated on Thursday. Meanwhile, his stand-in, Johan Petro, did a reasonably good job, totaling six rebounds and four points in 19 minutes.
Bad decision-making. That has been a disconcerting trend throughout these playoffs, where teams are making poor decisions in the final seconds of quarters or halves that give opponents chances they otherwise should not have had. In this game, Denver took a shot too early as the first half wore down, giving Utah another chance at a shot. When Jazz guard Deron Williams drove up the court, he was fouled by Billups, who picked up his third. On this night, the blunder did not necessarily matter. But it could cost a team in a difficult situation if this lack of focus continues.
Utah's defense was very un-Jazz like. With Williams proving his point that he is the best point guard in the league -- he had 34 points, 10 assists and four rebounds -- and Boozer putting in a stellar performance of 25 points and 16 rebounds, the Jazz should have been closer in this game, particularly since Wesley Matthews and Paul Millsap combined for 31 points. But Utah allowed Denver to shoot 50.7 percent from the field and 53 percent from three-point range (9-for-17). The Jazz are going to have to close out on Denver's shooters if they intend to close out the series at EnergySolutions Arena on Friday.
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