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NBA Playoff Recap - West First Round, Game 5

(4) Denver 116, (5) Utah 102 - Jazz lead series, 3-2

 

The Denver Nuggets took care of business Wednesday night on their home court. Yet, their work has only just begun.

There are a few times in a best-of-seven series when a team trailing three games to one can send an emphatic message with a Game 5 win. Did this Denver dusting of the Utah Jazz qualify? Probably not. Yet, the only way to find out is to see what happens on Friday night, when the Jazz host Game 6 and try to close out the Nuggets in Salt Lake City.

This 14-point Game 5 triumph - which prolonged Denver's season for at least 48 more hours - doesn't appear to be the type of conquest that will transform coach Adrian Dantley's team as it makes the trek to Utah for its make-or-break moment. For one thing, Denver's big men got knocked around in this tussle. Chris Andersen, a high-energy guy who gives the Nuggets considerable amounts of defense and shot-blocking, was seen limping around and grimacing in the fourth quarter after suffering what seemed to be some sort of lower-leg injury. Andersen - who delivered 10 points, seven rebounds, and three blocks in Game 5 - will play in Game 6, but he might not be fully effective.

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What's much worse for Denver is that its starting center, Nene, suffered what is at minimum a sprained left knee and left the game in the second quarter. Team officials voiced concern after the game that the injury could be as bad as a torn ACL, but that has not yet been confirmed. Without Nene's active brand of ball and his mobility near the basket, the Nuggets would lose a major source of defense against Utah's Carlos Boozer. Denver still allowed over 100 points in this game, and since the Jazz have been able to execute extremely well throughout the series, there's little reason to think that the Nuggets will slow down Utah in Salt Lake. Had Denver limited Utah to 90 points, hoops junkies might have gained a new perspective on this series, but it's hard to take a Denver-based leap of faith at the present moment.


 

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If Game 5 offered any evidence of a potential swing in favor of the Nuggets, Denver's J.R. Smith provided it. The mercurial wing, who is explosively talented but emotionally volatile and mentally weak, threw down 17 points and hit multiple 3-pointers in a dynamic fourth period that turned the game in Denver's favor. Utah trailed by only three points (91-88) with 9:30 left in regulation, but after Smith hit two triples, the Nuggets were able to push their advantage to 99-92, and the Jazz never made another credible response down the stretch. Smith had 10 points in the final quarter, and it was his timely injection of offense that the Nuggets had been missing in Salt Lake City. If Smith plays big on Friday, a Nene-less Denver team can go into EnergySolutions Arena and pull out a win.

The past is prelude. Denver grabbed Game 5, but as is always the case with a favored team that trails late in a seven-game series, the upcoming Game 6 road trip - with the season on the line - will truly tell the tale about the 2010 edition of the Nuggets.

Buckle up.

 

By: Matt Zemek
Pro Basketball Fans Guest Writer


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