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That's Denver With a Capital 'D'

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A Daily Babble Production

I've got no desire to get into hysterics about last night's debacle at the TD Banknorth Garden.  It's simply going to get me too angry at the quite ungodly hour that this is being written, and there is no reason for that on November 15 with the Celtics playing at far from their best level and also playing .800 basketball ten games into the season.

Simply put, this is the type of loss for the green that one could have seen coming from a mile away.  As we discussed when the team was experiencing trouble on the road in last season's playoffs, the habit of getting behind by double-digits early in games on a regular basis can only wait so long to rear its ugly head.  Sooner or later, a team runs into a game where it takes too much energy just to get back into a game that it doesn't have enough left in the tank to keep going over the top of the mountain and pull away with the game.  After jumping out to an 8-0 lead that was erased seemingly momentarily, that was the way the rest of the game went:  Denver run to stretch out the game, Boston run to make it close, Denver run to stretch it back out.  Constantly playing catch-up makes it tough to win games, and the Celts played just well enough to escape Monday and Wednesday against Toronto and Atlanta, but a third time this week was too much.  It happens.  Hopefully, this team will start putting together more complete games, starting with tonight in Milwaukee.

In the meantime, for as poorly as the Celtics played last night, the Denver Nuggets deserve plenty of credit for coming into the new Garden on the second night of a road back-to-back and playing with a greater sense of urgency than their hosts, especially on the defensive end.

On several occasions since the summer, I have expressed the belief that this Denver defense was going to have a rough go of it this year, that the loss of Marcus Camby (overrated or otherwise) was going to hurt this team and that the poor perimeter defenders were going to be in a lot of trouble without Camby helping in the middle behind them.  It has been easy to be skeptical of the talks of renewed commitment on the defensive end (and the defensive upgrade at the point in the form of trading Allen Iverson for Chauncey Billups was unexpected).

But last night, the Denver Nuggets didn't look like a team solely interested in running and gunning.  In fact, they looked more Celtic-like than anything else at the defensive end.

While the Celts helped out by not doing much right offensively aside from Ray Allen's first-quarter performance and Eddie House's shooting touch, the Nuggets forced plenty of mistakes.  They swarmed the basketball and jumped passing lanes all night, and their quick hands led to 15 steals.  Newly acquired Chauncey Billups headed the effort by locking down on Rajon Rondo, preventing him fro getting to the rim with ease and avoiding giving him any free bailout trips to the line.

The bigs inside followed right along with Billups' lead.  Coming off a night that featured an early exit courtesy of ejection, Kenyon Martin was superb at both ends of the floor.  Martin bodied up Kevin Garnett very well, and after the Nuggets got a big bucket to go up two late in the fourth, he came up with a crucial stop by smacking the ball down off of Garnett's body out of bounds as KG turned to make his move on the left block. 

Next to Martin in the frontcourt, Nene was active all night, nabbing five steals, including one on a play on which he sprinted back in transition to poke the ball away from Paul Pierce from behind.  Nene moved to his spots well, and he made perhaps the game's biggest play when he took the ball from Kendrick Perkins at the top of the circles with the Nuggets leading by two and just outside of two minutes to play.  The steal sparked a fast break that ended with Chauncey Billups finishing a lay-up plus the foul, stretching the Nugs' lead to five.

Beyond the three main catalysts in Billups, Martin and Nene, the Nuggets just worked and scrapped all over the floor.  Renaldo Balkman and Anthony Carter in particular came off the bench to give Denver plenty of effort on 'D', and the team did a fine job of clogging the paint, converging on the basketball and giving each other help wherever possible.  The Nuggets sprinted back hard in transition, and they made the Celtics work and move the ball for every bucket. 

On more than a few occasions, Denver did have trouble rotating out to shooters on the perimeter, and Ray Allen and Eddie House made them pay for that.  But even those baskets came largely as a result of a lot of ball movement and making the extra pass, which the Celtics only did so well for certain stretches at a time.  For the most part, the Nuggets were on the ball, quicker to loose balls, prepared to crash the glass and highly effective in guarding the paint. 

How this defense - which is currently ranked eighth in the league in efficiency - plays over the course of a full season remains to be seen, but for at least one night in Boston, the Denver Nuggets were impressive at that end of the floor.