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The Sum of the Parts

By Jeff Koch on January 16, 2011.

Denver 97, San Antonio 110  //  35-6  //  1st in the West

After getting down double digits early in the 2nd quarter, the Spurs used a monster run (during which they hit 14 straight baskets) to close the first half up by 12. Through most of the second half, the Spurs operated within a 10-18 point lead, never able to fully put away the feisty Nuggets, yet never really being challenged, either. The final margin could have been greater if not for some pesky defense by the visiting team that led to some late, easy buckets long after Pop had pulled the starters and the victory was assured.

The Nuggets give us a nice contrast to compare to the Spurs. Both teams are full of talented players, and on paper, the games played between the two teams should be a toss-up. But watching how the teams play, especially late in games, can illustrate precisely what the differences are. In the 4th quarter, attempting to make one final push to close the gap, the Nuggets offense consisted almost entirely of one-on-one basketball. While it did produce some points and some highlight plays, it wasn’t a group effort, and you never got the sense that the team was making any sort of comeback, just individual players trying to do it alone. On the other side, the Spurs never abandoned their offensive principles, kept moving the ball, making the extra pass, playing within the offense, and never failed to get wide open shots, often from 3-point territory, which were often made.

On defense, the Nuggets started to turn up the pressure in the 4th quarter, and were able to get some steals and pressure some ball handlers. But the full-game commitment didn’t exist to defense, nor the full-possession commitment. And their defense and defensive pressure is again based on risk and individual skill, rather than trust and teamwork. With a few extra passes, those wide open shots were still there, even as the Nuggets appeared to be working hard on defense. For the Spurs, the commitment to defense was all game long, and during the 2nd quarter run that put the game away, the Nuggets only scored 2 points in about a 6 or 7 minute stretch. Our defense is rarely based on extreme pressure, superlative individual play, or the appearance of extra work, but, again, on sound team principles, communication, teamwork, and a full-time commitment to the craft. Defense isn’t something we try to get back into games; it’s something we do to win games.

D. Clarke Evans/NBAE/Getty Images

One team appears to be greater than the sum of its parts, the mark of a true championship contender; the other team appears to be less than the sum of its parts.

Which is not to say that the Nuggets aren’t a fine team; they are. They’re just not where we are right now. And based on the rumors out there, this could very well have been the last game for these Nuggets. It was interesting that both Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups didn’t play from late in the 3rd quarter on, right about the time that Marc Stein’s report started scrolling across the ticker. It might have been because neither were playing particularly well. Or, it might have been because, if a trade is imminent before the Nuggets next game on Wednesday, the organization did not want to risk any sort of injury before the trade is finalized.

Either way, if this is the last we’ve seen of these Nuggets that we’ve battled so many times over the last few years, it was a fitting send off: hard fought, a little nasty, a little scary, yet still a resounding victory.

D. Clarke Evans/NBAE/Getty Images

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