The Nuggets have all the talent in the world, but they have seemed determined to squander it in their first-round series with the Jazz. First of all, they continued to let the Jazz score at will on Sunday. The Jazz scored 54 points in the paint, and added 30 points on free throws. That’s 84 points the Jazz were able to get without having to make a jump shot. The Nuggets were no slouches themselves, scoring 80 of their 106 points via points in the paint and free throws. But in the end, the Nuggets didn’t play enough defense to hold their early lead, and lacked the composure to get back in the game when they fell behind.
The game started out just like the Nuggets wanted it to. They went to Carmelo early and often in low isolation. He answered the call by scoring in every way imaginable. He made hard drives to get himself to the line. He hit open jumpers. He posted up. He crashed the boards and got put-backs. He hit turnarounds in the lane. The Nuggets jumped out to a quick 10-2 lead, and looked like they might be able to execute and keep the Utah crowd out of the game.
Then Deron Williams and Carlos Boozer let the Nuggets know they didn’t plan on letting the Nuggets tie the series. The two combined to score nine points in two minutes to get the Jazz back in the game. and got the Utah crowd right back into the game. By the 3:00 mark of the first quarter, Utah had taken the lead. They didn’t give it back for the rest of the game.
Utah was able to get to front of the rim all game long against Denver. Boozer got whatever he wanted en route to 31 points on 13-19 shooting. There were ugly baskets. There were drives to the rim from the free-throw line. There were post-ups. There were put-backs. Deron Williams was consistently able to feed Boozer and the rest of the Jazz with bullet passes that led to layups from the three-point arc. Everything worked, and for the second straight game an undersized power forward tore the Nuggets’ interior D apart.
Denver never threatened the lead because they were never able to string together stops. On top of that, they weren’t getting good shots, and Carmelo was the only reliable offensive option — the Nuggets only managed 13 assists on 37 field goals. For a high-octane team like the Nuggets to succeed, they have to be comfortable playing from behind. When the Nuggets got behind in Salt Lake, they alternated between panic and dejection. Now they find themselves in a 3-1 hole.
The Jazz were also get production out of their wing players, while the Nuggets struggled to get anyone not named Anthony going from the perimeter. C.J. Miles and Wes Matthews scored 39 points on 26 shots; meanwhile, Billups/Smith/Lawson combined to go 12-32 from the floor. Billups’ struggles were particularly damning, as he never got his shot going, took control of the offense, or did anything to slow the Jazz down on defense.
Deron Williams had a (relatively) quiet 24 points and 13 assists, but there was no mistaking that the game belonged to him. He set up his teammates with great looks, and whenever the Jazz needed a basket Williams got it. He’s carried the Jazz all series, and he’s making a strong case for himself as one of the absolute best players in the league. Thanks to him, the Jazz are on the verge of knocking off a team considered the #2 team in the West for most of the year, and are looking like a threat to any team they face in the next two rounds. (If the Lakers make it through, do you think Derek Fisher is looking forward to guarding this guy? Russell Westbrook has been tough enough.)
The Nuggets have a great chance to turn this into a series with a win in Denver, and have the talent to compete for a title. However, they’re going to have to buckle down on both ends of the floor if they want to make a serious title run anytime soon.