Fast Breaks: Nuggets-Jazz, Game 1
Adrian Dantley did enough of the right things to guide the Nuggets to victory
Carmelo Anthony continued to shoot well against the Jazz, who had no answer
J.R. Smith's 11 consecutive points in the fourth quarter helped Denver's cause
The Nuggets put aside their worries of playing without George Karl for at least one night to take Game 1 from Jazz, 126-113. In addition to little defense and a lot of sharp-shooting (the teams combined to shoot 56 percent), the first-round matchup ended with another Jazz player on the injured list and Denver's Carmelo Anthony showing his best and worst sides. Consider the following:
The Nuggets got by without their coach. Adrian Dantley hadn't necessarily won over his team or his fans in guiding the Nuggets to an 11-8 record as an interim coach, but he pushed enough of the right buttons in Game 1. He took advantage of Utah's injury-ravaged frontcourt, pushing the ball toward the basket, which allowed the Nuggets to outscore the Jazz 52-34 in the paint. He let his team know at halftime to pipe down on the technical fouls in a game that looked as if a bucket would be the difference. And he rode rookie Ty Lawson through most of the fourth quarter to a 115-105 lead while sitting Chauncey Billups, who picked up four fouls. It wasn't a perfect performance (a veteran like Billups surely can be trusted with four fouls in more of the fourth quarter, and the lack of physicality on defense was glaring), but if the immediate task is to protect home court, Dantley did his job Saturday night.
Utah has no answer for 'Melo. Carmelo Anthony muscled through the Jazz defense early and he shot over it late, racking up 42 points on 18-of-25 shooting. That isn't anything new for 'Melo, who shot 54.5 percent against the Jazz during the season. Without Andrei Kirilenko, who is sidelined for the first round, the Jazz couldn't find anybody to at least make Anthony work. C.J. Miles offered some sense of resistance in trying to make Anthony work on defense a little, but banking on a player who averaged 23.8 minutes per game is not a strategy that will get you to the second round.
J.R. Smith won Game 1. A scout once told us Smith has the offensive skills that can allow him to win a game by himself. He did that in Game 1 when he drained three straight three-pointers and dropped 11 straight Denver points overall in a 2:15 stretch of the fourth to turn a 90-90 game into a 101-93 cushion. After the game, Dantley told reporters he likes to play Smith a bit more than Karl. We can argue whether or not Smith's outburst would have been needed had Karl been on the bench, but in this game, Smith's ability to shake off a sluggish first three quarters (he only had two points) to break the backs of a pesky Jazz team saved Dantley from a raft of ridicule.
The basketball gods are still angry with Jerry Sloan. Why else would they take his starting center out in the first half with an aggravated Achilles ? The Jazz are going to have their hands full matching up with Denver point for point, and with Mehmet Okur out, that robs the Jazz of 13.5 points a game and their second-most prolific three-point shooter. Toppling Denver without Kirilenko in the frontcourt is difficult enough; should Utah face a series without another starter up front, Sloan will head into summer still ring-less. Even after coaching 1,190 victories, Sloan can't catch a break.
Carmelo still has some learning to do. Anthony's growth as a scorer and team leader helped fuel his candidacy for MVP this season. But the chasm he has to bridge in merely running for the award and winning it was on display in Game 1, when he soiled a brilliant first half (7-10 shooting, 15 points) with a pair of stupid fouls. A timeout in the middle of the second quarter saw Anthony earn a technical by jawing to referee Joey Crawford a few minutes before he reached in on a corner attempt by C.J. Miles to earn his third foul of the game with 40.3 seconds left in the first half. If the Nuggets are to go anywhere in these playoffs, Anthony has to play smarter. Deeper opponents won't be so injured as to be unable to take advantage of Anthony's immaturity.
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