D.R.: J.R. didn’t lose game | VailDaily.com

D.R.: J.R. didn’t lose game

Don Rogers

Reserve guard J.R. Smith went brain dead during a few key moments in the third quarter of the Nuggets-Spurs game Saturday night and Denver never did recover.

But he didn’t lose the game. Sure, he inexplicably tossed the ball in the backcourt right to Robert Horry. Horry gets a three-pointer. Then J.R. gets a steal; oops, Horry blocks his attempt at a layup. Michael Finley hits an open three-pointer.

The little nightmare for Smith isn’t over. Manu Ginobili gets past him for a layup and Smith basically tackles him ” flagrant foul, which means two free throws and the ball back. Ginobili hits both free throws. The game has gone from essentially tied to the Spurs up by 10.

Hey, I told you that J.R. would be key to the Nuggets’ fortunes in this playoff series, and that we just didn’t know whether it would be for good or ill.

This time it was both. He also scored 12 points. That turnover was his only one. He got two steals. He was a big reason that the Nuggets played the game as close as they did.

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Coach George Karl showed a ton of patience with his youngest, most athletic player. I think it will pay off in the long run. If not for this series, then for the bigger-picture future.

I wouldn’t say this to the Nuggets themselves in the heat of the moment. But while I hope they do win this series, and please, please at least one more game, it’s next year when we see what this team can really do. Next year, when former all-star Kenyon Martin returns, hopefully with most of his spring back from knee surgery.

Smith might just have the most potential of all the Nuggets, including Carmelo Anthony and Allen Iverson. He’s a better outside shooter than both of the superstars. He’s as quick. Watch out when he grows a brain and learns how to play team defense.

Besides, if you want to hang this defeat on a player, Iverson is the guy. Again. He’s the real difference in the Nuggets’ fortunes. Making seven of 20 shots isn’t going to cut it against the Spurs. Letting the Spurs’ lightning-quick guard, Tony Parker, get that step ahead for layups, or Michael Finley have space for three-pointers, or Manu Ginobili stride out for lefty layups, hooks and scoops ” that ain’t going to cut it. The series is over if Iverson can’t take one of those options away.

The bench hasn’t produced to its potential, but it hasn’t played the minutes it usually gets either. Najera is playing well, even if not hitting his rare shots. Linus Kleiza will break out yet. Remember, he started slow in the regular season, too. Smith is Smith; right now he’ll lift you in one sequence and kill you in the next. That’s not a surprise, though. Give him a chance to grow his confidence and get more comfortable, and he’ll do mostly good things for this team.

Anthony is playing well. Nene is playing well. Blake is playing well. And so is Marcus Camby, the NBA’s defensive player of the year on one of the very worst defensive teams in the league statistically.

We know they are potentially one of the best. When they commit to it and keep their focus, the potential becomes fact and you can see this team beating anyone.

But they won’t beat the Spurs without sustained defense. Camby cannot do it all.

And they can’t do it with Iverson playing beneath his ability, as he did in the Nuggets’ two losses.

Don’t hang this on J.R. The difference is The Answer.

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