DENVER -- "Share the ball," was George Karl's mantra heading into Game 4 against San Antonio.
This wasn't the right Answer
And for the most part, his team did it, tallying a series-high 23 assists on the evening. But for long stretches in the second half of Denver's 96-89 Game 4 defeat, one player in particular didn't seem to get the memo. Repeatedly, Allen Iverson took San Antonio's bait by going one-on-one with Bruce Bowen and trying to force up contested midrange jumpers. He ended up shooting 9-for-25 on the night, and it was an ugly 9-for-25 -- he only had four free-throw attempts.
But in the second half, while Iverson was shooting 4-for-15, Anthony hardly got the rock. In a related story, Denver shot 39.5 percent in the second half and scored 39 points, undoing a nearly flawless first-half effort to put the Nuggets on the brink of elimination.
I don't mean to put it all on Iverson. Certainly he plays with incredible spirit, and the Nuggets will swear to you that he's been nothing but exemplary since coming here -- that he's been at every practice, that he's been a great mentor for the young guys, and that nobody is more devoted to winning.
I don't doubt any of that. In fact, I'm not saying Iverson was playing selfishly; I just think he still has "Philadelphia syndrome." He's so used to having to create every shot he possibly can -- even if it's a low-percentage one -- that he occasionally gets into shot-happy ruts like he did tonight.
That's backed up by his contention after the game that he was taking quality shots. "I had so many good looks, so many easy baskets that I missed," Iverson said. Maybe on the Sixers they were good looks, but not here. Tonight, he was the best defense on Melo that San Antonio could muster.
To be fair, fatigue may also have been a factor. Iverson played the entire second half, and Karl intimated afterward that his short bench rotation may have resulted in the Nuggets' running out of gas down the stretch -- especially given the physicality of tonight's game, and the relatively rare whistles that limited players' on-court rest time.
And of course, the opponent had something to do with it too. Going up against a defender like Bowen, with Tim Duncan as the backstop behind him, can make life miserable for any scorer.
"The scheme they are running on me has been effective," Iverson said. "They are making me take tough shots. I drive to the basket, they are shadowing me and making sure I see more than one defender. It's just something I've got to get through."
"We are not going to stop people like Allen Iverson, he's a great player," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. "But we hope at the end of a game that he's worked hard to end up with what he ends up with."
Certainly they succeeded on that front -- aside from one fast-break layup, none of Iverson's points came easily. Still, there were sequences that had to gnaw at a Nuggets fan -- like watching Anthony picked up by Tony Parker on a switch, and then seeing Iverson keep the ball and go one-on-one against Bowen, ultimately picking up an offensive foul.
Perhaps in the bigger picture, this is just a sign of how new the Nuggets are to each other. Karl pointed out after the game that the Spurs have been together for eight years and his guys have been together for eight weeks. Anthony and Iverson clearly need to develop a greater familiarity with each other, which is one of many reasons I think Denver will be a much more potent contender a year from now than it is at the moment.
Yet if the Nuggets are going to get back into this series, they're going to need that chemistry to come around real fast. Because sharing the ball as a strategy only works if all five players are in on the plan.
John Hollinger writes for ESPN Insider. To e-mail him, click here.
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Robert Horry gives some encouragement to Tony Parker in the third quarter. Then Horry delivered a big 3-pointer that helped deliver a Game 4 win for San Antonio.
What's the difference between Mavs coach Don Nelson and Raptors coach Sam Mitchell?
Well, I can think of quite a few differences, but one is called, "Not freaking out when his best player gets two fouls."
Nelson made the most underrated coaching move of the playoffs last night. Or non-move, I guess you'd call it. With 8:07 to go in the first quarter, Baron Davis picked up his second foul when he charged into Dallas' Devin Harris. The book says to take Davis out for the rest of the quarter; Nelson just shrugged his shoulders and left him to continue wreaking havoc on the court. Davis ended up playing 44 minutes, leading the Warriors to a 103-99 win and a shocking 3-1 series lead over the Mavs. But he could do that only because Nelly allowed him to.
You have to understand what a knee-jerk move this is for almost every coach in the league. Virtually every time a player gets two fouls in the opening quarter, the coach will sit him out the rest of the first quarter, and for good measure a little bit of the second. For good measure, the coach will take him out again toward the end of the first half, because God forbid he use three of his six fouls before halftime.
What ends up happening is rather ironic. The outcome the coach is trying to avoid -- losing a player to his sixth foul -- is effectively guaranteed by him instead, as he diminishes the player's minutes much more than a sixth foul in the fourth quarter could ever do. And as I keep reminding people, points in the first and second quarter count just as much as they do in the fourth.
In fact, that knee-jerk coaching reaction is exactly what Sam Mitchell did with Chris Bosh in Game 1 of the Nets-Raptors series, and it's something he may have all summer to ponder. Playing most of the half without Bosh meant Toronto carried a nine-point deficit into the break, and when the Raptors couldn't make it up after halftime, the Nets had the one road win they needed to take the series.
Crack LeBron James' supporting cast all you want, and there have been plenty of nights when it seemed appropriate, but they showed up over the last eight days. Which, of course, is when it matters. If they continue the pace, they'll likely be a tough out for whomever they face.
"I have always said," James relayed with a confident shake of the head afterward, "that I don't have to win games by scoring."
James did plenty of scoring in the series, averaging 27.8 points, right at his season average. In Game 3, though, he didn't score a basket in the fourth quarter of that tight victory. On Monday, the last of James' 31 points came with six minutes to go, a long 3-pointer to tie the game. In fact, it was his last shot, but far from his last bit of influence.
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Tracy McGrady (26 points, 16 assists) helped lead his Rockets to a 96-92 win over Utah, giving Houston a 3-2 series lead.
Quote of the Day:
-- Andrew Ayres
Chris (Chicago): The winner of Detroit-Chicago goes on [to] the finals right?
John Hollinger: Yes, I believe so. But one thing you have to consider is a fatigue factor -- if this thing is a physical seven-gamer and Cleveland breezes through in five, then that may give Cleveland some daylight -- especially if the Cavs play Chicago, whom they would have home court against.
The NBA announced Sunday -- hours before Dallas' 103-99 Game 4 loss to Golden State -- that its awards schedule for the coming week does NOT include an MVP ceremony.
The next three awards presentations, as announced via e-mail Sunday:
The league's All-Defensive Team, as voted on by the coaches, will be released Monday ... followed by Rookie of the Year on Wednesday ... and then the NBA's Sportsmanship Award on Thursday.
If Dirk Nowitzki wins it, as widely expected, it appears he won't receive it before May 7 at the earliest.
Dallas must win its next three games, including Thursday's Game 6, to still be playing on May 7.
One of the reasons the Spurs match up so well against fast-paced teams like Denver and Phoenix is their flawless transition defense. San Antonio once again limited the Nuggets' fast-break opportunities, holding them to 10 fast-break points Monday -- a fraction of their 18.6 average this season that ranked second only to Golden State.
"I marvel at their transition defense," Nuggets coach George Karl said. "They did the same thing to us two years ago [when the Spurs beat Denver in five games in a first-round series]. They do it with balance and they also do it with their superstars being committed to transition defense, which is so unusual in this league. Duncan, Ginobili and Parker run back harder than anyone on their team, which makes it easier to demand that everyone else do it."
Amazingly, those 10 fast-break points were the Nuggets' high total of the series thus far. Denver has a total of 29 in four games -- something they often could tally in one night during the season, especially in the high altitude conditions of their home court.
"It's always been a priority of ours," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. "We'll continue to concentrate on it because they're so good at pushing the basketball."
If they can do it for one more game, they should be headed for the second round.
-- John Hollinger in Denver