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April 18, 2010
Playoff Prospectus
Nuggets-Jazz, game one

by Bradford Doolittle

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Nuggets 126, Jazz 113

Pace: 90 possessions

Offensive Ratings: Denver 139.6, Utah 125.2

We thought this would be an offensive series, but game one of the Jazz-Nuggets matchup was almost completely devoid of defense. The Nuggets scored 1.4 points per possession thanks largely to a playoff career-high 42 points from Carmelo Anthony to go up a game on the Jazz. Denver's win gave the home teams a perfect 4-0 mark on the first day of the NBA playoff season. The Nuggets were hot early and just kept getting hotter as the game progressed, culminating with a 166.7 Offensive Rating in the final quarter.

With Andrei Kirilenko out, the Jazz had to use undersized C.J. Miles and Wes Matthews primarily against Anthony, so the 6'9" forward simply rose and stroked jumper after jumper. The Nuggets beat the Jazz at its own game, outclassing Jerry Sloan's team on the boards and posting better ball-movement indicators. Nevertheless, it was a nip-and-tuck affair until J.R. Smith heated up with an 18-point fourth quarter.

The series got off to the offense-slanted start we anticipated but, at least for both teams, it was an atypical first period. (Two-thirds of which was missed by most of the country because the Miami-Boston game ran long). The Jazz failed to get an offensive rebound and were outscored in the paint 22-6. Nine of Utah's 19 shots were from three-point range. C.J. Miles was aggressive early, scoring 13 points in the opening period and getting to the line five times. For Denver, it was Chauncey Billups and Anthony leading the way with 21 combined points on 15 shots. Despite the success in the paint, Denver was outscored 9-1 from the foul line. The teams got to where we thought they'd be, they just took a very different route than we mapped out.

Defense was even more rare in the second quarter, as the teams combined to average 1.28 points per possession in the period and 1.23 for the half. Utah continued to get to the foul line and Denver started to get there as the teams combined for 20 free-throw attempts in the period. Ty Lawson was a standout off the Denver bench with eight points and three assists. Utah's Paul Millsap played almost the entire quarter after starting center Mehmet Okur went down with a foot injury and scored eight points, grabbed three boards and blocked a pair of shots. Miles scored four more points and Carlos Boozer chipped in with an array of rainbow jumpers. That helped to offset the poor half from Deron Williams, who scored six points on six shots--just one made field goal--and handed out just two assists. The Nuggets held a 57-56 edge at the break on the strength of a 30-10 edge on points in the paint. One key we cited coming into the series was whether Anthony was getting his points on jumpers or by attacking the rim. Well, in the first half he was 7-of-10 from the floor, but didn't attempt a foul shot. You can't argue with the production or the efficiency, but you had to wonder if there wasn't a bit of fool's gold in the numbers. Of course, Anthony thought he was getting the short end of the stick from official Joey Crawford and his crew and picked up a technical late in the first half.

The injury problems grew even more dire for Utah early in the third quarter after Miles was knocked to the floor and exited the game. The Nuggets looked to take advantage and jumped ahead by eight, but Utah erased that on threes by Kyle Korver and Williams, plus a layup from Boozer. Denver responded with five quick points, capped by a three-pointer from the corner by Arron Afflalo. That's how this series is going to go. Points, quick, in bunches. It's going to come down to fourth quarter stops. Anthony did finally get his first foul shots in the period but, by then, it didn't really matter because it was apparent that he had his stroke going from the perimeter. He added 15 more points in the period, capped by a three in the final minute, pushing the Nuggets to an 88-86 lead entering the fourth quarter. Anthony had 30 points on 20 shots through three quarters, taking the lion's share of an attack somewhat stalled by Billups disappearance, partly due to foul trouble. After scoring eight points in the opening period, Billups scored just four in the next two. Deron Williams came alive in the third, putting up 13 points on five shots and handing out four assists. You thought those first two quarters were all offense? Well, in the third period, the teams combined to score 1.41 points per possession. Can anybody finally get some stops? Meanwhile Utah, typically a force on the offensive boards, had its second quarter of the game without an offensive rebound. However, they only missed seven shots, so there were only so many boards to be had. Nevertheless, that lowered the Jazz's offensive rebound rate to .107 for the game. Boozer did not have an offensive board while his counterpart for the Nuggets, Kenyon Martin, had nine defensive boards and 12 overall.

Forget about stops. In the last quarter, Denver's J.R. Smith got hot and when that happens, everything else falls by the wayside. Smith hit three threes in 1:41, putting Denver up by seven. When Smith heats up like that, he doesn't need much room to operate. However, the Jazz's Kyle Korver--who was stroking it at the other end--was not doing a good job of sticking with Smith away from the ball. You just can't let Smith get comfortable. One thing Denver doesn't do as much of as it probably should is run clear-outs for Nene in the post. They did so once in the final quarter and he easily beat Boozer to the rim, scored and drew a foul. It was an isolated play, but something to watch with the Jazz shorthanded. Billups sat out until the 3:56 mark because the Nuggets were rolling so well with Lawson running the point. Anthony continued to hit from the perimeter and Smith stayed hot. Meanwhile, the Nuggets mixed in a few stops and when Billups hit a three shortly after returning, Anthony punctuated a steal with a layup to hit the 40-point mark and put the Nuggets up by 16. Even in this series, that was enough. Smith and Anthony combined for 30 points in the last frame and need just 14 shots to get there. They also combined for five assists.

The second game is Monday in Denver, a quick turnaround that would seem to favor the Nuggets. Kirilenko isn't close to returning, but now the Jazz have to sweat Okur's re-injury of his Achilles tendon. He looked awfully gimpy when he left Saturday's game. Miles returned after getting his bell rung and should be fine for Monday.

G1: Denver 126, Utah 113 (Nuggets lead 1-0)
UTA  28  28  30  27 - 113
DEN  30  27  31  38 - 126
JAZZ          Pace   oRTG  eFG%  oREB% FT/FGA TO%  TCHS
First Quarter   24  114.7  .500  .000  .474  .082  4.36
Second Quarter  22  130.2  .553  .300  .368  .140  5.50
Third Quarter   22  139.0  .694  .000  .278  .093  6.44
Fourth Quarter  23  118.5  .632  .125  .158  .132  5.84
-------------------------------------------------------
FIRST HALF      46  122.0  .526  .143  .421  .109  4.93
SECOND HALF     44  128.5  .662  .083  .216  .059  6.16
-------------------------------------------------------
FINAL           90  125.2  .593  .111  .320  .111  5.54
=======================================================
NUGGETS       Pace   oRTG  eFG%  oREB% FT/FGA TO%  TCHS
First Quarter   24  122.9  .558  .273  .038  .082  5.42
Second Quarter  22  125.6  .588  .200  .412  .093  5.25
Third Quarter   22  143.6  .643  .250  .190  .093  6.62
Fourth Quarter  23  166.7  .775  .375  .350  .088  6.41
-------------------------------------------------------
FIRST HALF      46  124.2  .570  .238  .186  .087  5.33
SECOND HALF     44  155.5  .707  .263  .268  .046  6.53
-------------------------------------------------------
FINAL           90  139.6  .637  .270  .226  .089  5.92
=======================================================

Bradford Doolittle is an author of Basketball Prospectus. You can contact Bradford by clicking here or click here to see Bradford's other articles.

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