It sure was nice to beat the Oklahoma City Thunder in a game that did not require a last second shot for once. Denver was in control from start to finish, but before we get too carried away with an easy win against a less than stellar squad, let’s take a look at how Denver did in the areas we highlighted earlier this afternoon.
The Nuggets definitely cranked up the running game. Led by the return of Anthony Carter and the aggressiveness of Linas Kleiza and Renaldo Balkman Denver posted 25 fast break points. That is the most they have scored in a single game since February 6 in Washington, which was 16 games ago, when they accumulated 27.
The pace factor was a relatively slow 90.7, but that is most likely due to the number of offensive rebounds, the two teams combined to nab 33 offensive boards and offensive rebounds prolong possessions. We can tell from the fast break points, and from simply watching the game itself that both teams ran early and often.
The Nuggets addressed the issue of declining assist totals by playing unselfishly and earning good shots. 18 of the Nuggets 22 first half baskets were assisted. For the game they finished with 33 assists on 42 makes and 22 of those 33 assists were on shots converted at the rim. The movement and passing, especially in the first half, was outstanding. One of my frustrations lately with Chauncey Billups was that he rarely makes imaginative passes. It has been weeks since I saw him throw a pass that took me by surprise. He even made some nice passes to the roller off the pick and roll. Tonight was as good of a passing game as Denver has put together in a long time.
The other primary pitfall on offense was the fact the Nuggets had been shooting blanks. Against the Thunder they shot 50% for the game and that was made possible by the fact they shot 64% at the rim. They also shot 50% between fifteen feet and the charge circle. As I pointed out earlier today that range is typically the least accurate of the four areas we analyzed (layups, charge circle to fifteen feet, fifteen feet to the three point line and behind the arc). The key to shooting that well was the fact that the shots they took from that range were mostly wide open looks. As we moved further away from the rim their shooting on long twos and threes was not spectacular. The Nuggets shot 35.7% on both long twos and threes, but that beat their pathetic percentages from the previous ten games.
Another positive sign was 47% of Denver’s shots were layups. That is up from their season average of 44.5%. Denver was incredibly aggressive in the first half as 56.8% of their shots attempted were layups. Part of the reason for that increase I believe is the Thunder lack a shot blocking presence in the lane and the Nuggets felt comfortable attacking the rim (Tyson Chandler anyone?).
While the Nuggets made progress on offense there is less of a reason to be excited about their defense. The two areas I sited where Denver has fallen off were in committing shooting fouls and defending the three. Denver sent the Thunder to the line 32 times where they amazingly made 30 of them. Those 32 free throws were slightly higher than the Nuggets had been allowing during their 11 game slump and Oklahoma City attempted one more free throw than Denver.
The Nuggets would appear to have defended the three pretty well as Oklahoma City made only 3 of 13 attempts. A closer look reveals the Nuggets contested only four of the Thunder’s 13 attempts from behind the arc. They did miss all four of those attempts and only made three of the nine open attempts, but that ratio of open shots to contested ones was not good a better shooting team will make a much higher percentage of their open threes.
As I mentioned this afternoon the real issue was with the Nuggets’ poor rotations and overall team defense. The Thunder do not have any deadly three point shooters with Kevin Durant out of action and because of that when they played drive and kick the recipient of the pass either took a midrange jumper or drove. Both of those plays are easier to defend than a three point attempt because there is not as much ground to cover. The few times the Nuggets were required to rotate they did not do a particularly good job.
Overall Nuggets fans should just be happy with a win in which the Nuggets were not seriously threatened. On the other hand there were some red flags. Aside from the tendency to foul and their inability to consistently challenge Oklahoma City’s three point attempts the Nuggets yet again struggled to hold the lead. Denver built up a 42-23 second quarter lead and saw the Thunder gnaw it down to five in roughly six minutes. The key was another problem we have seen in the past and that was the Nuggets inability to defend the fast break. Earl Watson continually drove through the Nuggets sluggish transition defense as he was allowed to drive as deep in the lane as he pleased. The one time Anthony Carter tried to stop him about 16 feet from the rim AC never even moved his feet and was called for a tripping foul. It was not just Carter though all of the Nuggets’ guards were guilty. J.R. was the worst offender and Chauncey was only slightly better as he at least made Watson change directions before making a layup.
The Nuggets built up another 19 point lead in the fourth quarter, but once again allowed the Thunder to whittle it down to nine with over three minutes left in the fourth quarter. Their inability to put the game completely out of reach is unsettling.
The Nuggets have four more games against subpar teams to get these kinks worked out. Both the Jazz and Trail Blazers lost tonight and it is tempting to get excited about the Nuggets’ prospects to win the division again. Before I anoint the Nuggets favorites again they will have to prove to me that they have addressed all of the problems we have dealt with today.
Additional Game 66 Nuggets
- Fourteen of the Nuggets first 16 shots were layups or dunks. You cannot complain about that.
- Anthony Carter sure showed what he can do when he is on his game. He did a great job fueling the running game as he racked up a season high 12 assists. He made great decisions with the ball and he has not passed ahead to whoever was streaking up the floor that well since last season. I vote for AC only playing every fifth game.
- Linas Kleiza did a great job running the floor and only took two threes. He actually displayed a midrange game and was able to get to the line nine times. The last time he shot more than seven free throws was mid November. I can deal with the Kleiza we saw tonight even though he did miss a couple of layups.
- I need more Renaldo Balkman like Christopher Walken needs more cowbell. As I wrote in the game thread how can any coach watch him play and not think to himself, “I have to get this guy on the floor for 20 to 24 minutes a game.”? One of the concerns is his apparent lack of offense, but he creates offense by hitting the offensive glass, running the floor and finding open space in the defense.
- As promising as the Nuggets play on offense was I think we all suspect the Nuggets will forget how much easier it is to score when they play unselfishly, move the ball and move without the ball the way they did tonight. As soon as they face a tougher foe it will be back to superhero basketball. Stand back, I’ll handl this!
Mindboggling Game Stats
Pace Factor: 90.7 – Slow for a game in Denver, but understandable due to the high offensive rebound rate.
Defensive Efficiency: 109.2 – Not as strong a performance as we hoped for, but they did hold the Thunder to 40.2% shooting. However, if Durant had played this number would obviously have been much higher.
Offensive Efficiency: 123.5 – Very good offensive performance, but we already knew that.
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