Overmatched Jazz Can't Slow Carmelo
With Utah defensive specialist Andrei Kirilenko out for the West first-round series with a strained left calf, it was Miles who drew the short straw and had to primarily guard the Denver star on Saturday night. It wasn't pretty.
Anthony shot 18-of-25 for his career-high playoff total and made Jazz defenders look like totem polls as the Nuggets pulled away in the fourth quarter to win 126-113 in Game 1 at the Pepsi Center.
Miles left the game for more than a quarter after he banged into Nuggets guard Chauncey Billups early in the second half and had to go to the locker room with nausea. As if Anthony hadn't made him sick enough already.
"He shot like he was shooting layups most of the time,'' Jazz coach Jerry Sloan said of Anthony. "Most of the time, we couldn't get close enough to put any pressure on him.''
Anthony played much of the game with a smile on his face, and why not? He had his way all night, shooting jumpers and driving to the basket while passing off for five assists and not committing a single turnover.
"I tell myself if we are to succeed in the playoffs, it was going to come down to me,'' Anthony said. "I know I shouldn't tell myself that, but me being the leader of this team, I got to set the tone out there.''
Actually, Anthony should tell himself that. When Kirilenko aggravated his strained left calf in a workout Thursday and was called out for at least two weeks, the Nuggets, who had been reeling to end the regular season, suddenly became solid favorites in the series.
Then, with 8:04 left in the second half, this series pretty much came to an end. Jazz center Mehmet Okur re-injured his left Achilles, and will have an MRI on Sunday. Utah players didn't seem too optimistic after the game that Okur will be back any time soon.
"Extremely,'' Utah swingman Wesley Matthews said of how worried he is about Okur's situation.
Matthews was the other guy who spent a good bit of the night guarding Anthony. Or at least trying to.
Realistically, though, Miles and Matthews don't have much of a chance. While Kirilenko is 6-foot-9 with long arms, Miles is listed at 6-6, 227 pounds, Matthews at 6-5, 220 pounds and Anthony at 6-8, 230 pounds. But there's got to be something not right because there's no way the bulky Melo is just three pounds heavier than the slight-of-frame Miles and just 10 more than Matthews.
Despite the Jazz looking quite out-manned against Anthony, Utah power forward Paul Millsap let it be known what should be done in Monday's Game 2.
"We've just got to be physical with (Anthony),'' Millsap told FanHouse. "We've got to beat up him a little bit and hopefully he'll get tired and not want to shoot as much. ... We probably should have sent two guys at him and gave him different looks every now and then.''
Beat him up? If the 6-8, 250-pound Millsap was available to do that, that might be a thought. But Millsap admits that, with Okur hurting, he's now going to have to play down low and wouldn't be able to guard Anthony.
Miles talked about the Jazz "putting our bodies on him.'' But asked if Miles really could overpower the bigger Anthony, he admitted that would be a trying task.
"It's not so much overpower him, it's just making him work,'' Miles said. "If I overpower him, he's going to get me in foul trouble anyway. It's just me being more in his way to make sure he knows I'm there at all times to try to take his rhythm away.''
Good luck, Jazzmen. Throughout most of the fourth quarter, Anthony really had a big smile on his face, which Miles said bothered him and "put a fire in guys to make them want to come back and guard him.''
Whether the Jazz will have any players Monday left to guard Anthony on Monday remains to be seen. In addition to the injuries involving Kirilenko and Okur, forward Carlos Boozer played despite missing last Wednesday's regular-season finale with a strained right abdominal muscle. Boozer actually looked good, scoring 19 points while guard Deron Williams led the Jazz with 26.
And then there was Miles running into Billups and hitting the floor with 10:43 left in the third quarter. Miles said he had the breath knocked out of him and felt sick to his stomach, retreating to the locker room before returning with 6:51 remaining in the game.
Not that Anthony, who had 13 points in the first quarter against Miles, ever seemed to really notice who was guarding him. He had 15 points in the third quarter and 12 in the the fourth to finish with 27 in the second half.
"It's the playoffs,'' said Anthony, whose previous playoff high was 41 on May 11, 2009 against Dallas. "Shots were falling. I was patient and took advantage of what they were doing. When they played me straight up, I took advantage of that and made shots. When they double-teamed, I passed the ball.''
Then it was guard J.R. Smith who took over. Smith scored 18 of his 20 points in the fourth quarter, including shooting 4-of-7 from three-point range, in a quarter that featured the Nuggets breaking away from a 90-90 tie with 11 minutes left to lead 120-104 with 3 minutes remaining.
The combustible Smith really can change a game when he gets hot, but he also can shoot the Nuggets out of a game. Don't count on that happening with Anthony, who averaged 27.2 points in last season's playoffs to really begin to establish himself as a big-time NBA star.
"(It) was a great night for him,'' said Nuggets acting coach Adrian Dantley, who, replacing the cancer-stricken George Karl, coached his first playoff game. "Carmelo is capable of having nights like that.''
Anthony shot 11-of-15 in the second half, including 5-of-5 in the fourth quarter. Anthony, who averaged nearly nine free-throw attempts per game during the regular season, only shot 4-of-4 from the foul line on the night, with Jazz players usually not even close enough to foul him.
"As far as Kirilenko being out there or not being out there, it really didn't matter to me,'' Anthony said.
Perhaps he's right. In two regular-season home games this season against the Jazz (Anthony missed both games at Utah due to injury), Anthony averaged 33.5 points and Kirilenko played in both.
But 33.5 looks a heck of a lot better than 42. And Anthony, who seven times logged 40 or more in the playoffs last spring, played a modest 38 minutes.
No doubt a lot of Jazz players felt nauseated watching Anthony take Utah apart Saturday.
Chris Tomasson can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @christomasson