I like to try to diagnose tactics and strategies that lead to wins and losses. I watched the Denver Nuggets’ 107-94 victory in Houston against the Rockets twice and it sure seemed like more of a pickup game than an organized professional basketball contest.
The game was played at a very fast pace and thanks to a gaggle of missed field goal attempts by Denver the Rockets had plenty of opportunities to trigger their fast break. With guards like Kevin Martin, Kyle Lowry, Chase Budinger, Courtney Lee and the fastest of them all, Aaron Brooks, the Rockets have the guards to run the floor effectively. Add in the fact that their bigs are willing to run as well, especially Luis Scola, and the Rockets are built to take advantage of their running opportunities.
When the Rockets were not completing a fast break they were executing their early offense to get a quick shot off. The result of that fast paced attack was a bevy of three point attempts most of which were uncontested, but I would also say were not high quality shot attempts. On a night when the Rockets were able to make 34 of their 62 two point attempts, a 54.8% conversion rate, they attempted 19 three point shots making only three which equates to a much less effective 15.8%. As a result of not being able to make their three point attempts, or shun them in exchange for more two point attempts, the Rockets were never able to put the Nuggets away. When the fourth quarter came around Denver was able to produce an 11-0 run early in the quarter and then a 9-0 later on to break the game open.
The real key to the victory was the effort with which Denver played all night. Following on the heels of a frustrating loss the night before in New Orleans the Nuggets never showed any signs of fatigue and out executed the a well rested Houston team in the fourth quarter.
Denver received solid performances from their free agent big men Shelden Williams and Al Harrington, which makes you wonder what the Nuggets are going to do with five quality big men when Chris Andersen and Kenyon Martin return (which sure would have been a nice problem to have last season).
Williams continues to show that his previous employers missed the boat with him. He clearly has a knack for rebounding and despite having a very high turnover rate for a non scoring big man is clearly a smart player with solid instincts. There were three separate occasions where he made a series of nice plays in a row whether it was a couple of offensive rebounds, a block and a rebound, or a deflection and run out. Williams is a player who deserves to be on the floor and reminds me of a bigger version of Renaldo Balkman.
In addition to a big night from Williams, Harrington led the team in scoring, recorded a double digit rebounding night and showed the Nuggets what they had been missing without employing the ever popular stretch four. Harrington dropped in five three pointers on eight attempts, including a dagger that put the Nuggets up nine with 65 seconds remaining in response to a made three at the other end by Brooks. Harrington continues to impress on the defensive end as well. He has been playing solid post defense and is a much better pick and roll defender than he showed in New York.
While his defense has been a surprise, he is who we thought he was on offense. He is a volume scorer who can light things up when he is hot. Harrington tossed up 24 shots in his 29 minutes on the court and made only 5 of his 16 two point attempts. At this point in his career Harrington should be either popping open threes or attempting a shot at the basket. He is hoisting a shot every 1:46 he is on the court which is a bit much. Still, the Nuggets do not win in Houston without his offense and his true shooting percentage was a solid 56.8% thanks to his 5-8 shooting from behind the arc and 3-3 from the line. Harrington would benefit from a better shot selection, but which Nugget player wouldn’t.
Harrington does provide a new dimension on offense for Denver. His three with just over a minute left came on a drive by Chauncey. The defense had to collapse and instead of only having Afflalo in the corner to kick the ball out to, Billups was able to find Harrington.
The rest of the Nuggets did not shoot well though they did a good job of getting to the free throw line to mask that fact. Chauncey earned 11 free throws for the third straight game, converting on ten of his attempts for the third straight game. Melo earned six free throws thanks to his propensity to attempt to prove he can make jump shots over Shane Battier. The nice surprise was Arron Afflalo getting to the line eight times. Denver is rewarding his offseason work by running more set plays for Afflalo, but opposing defenses have already taken note of his improved play as he is garnering more and more attention.
The Denver defense, which I raved about so extensively after the opener, did not look as crisp and organized as it did against Utah. Still, the Nuggets are all working hard and covering for each other when necessary. Their pick and roll defense continues to look much better and their rotations are reasonably consistent and well executed.
The Nuggets now have a couple of days off prior to a busy end of the week. Denver will enjoy a two game home stand against the Mavericks and Clippers prior to a stretch of games where they will travel 12 straight times. The Nuggets are playing well, should be confident and have weathered the latest storm involving Carmelo after the “It’s time for a change” story.
Additional Game 3 Nuggets
Amazing Advanced Stats
Pace Factor: 100.8 – Very fast for a game in which Yao plays. The Rockets ran a lot last season because they were a small team. They still have not adjusted to having Yao available and I recommend this piece by J.A. Adande on the schizophrenic issues Houston is experiencing with Yao back, but not always available.
Defensive Efficiency: 93.3 – The Nuggets defensive improvement is showing. Two out of three games they have posted a defensive efficiency well below 100.
Offensive Efficiency: 106.2 – Not great, but on the road on the second night of a back to back it was good enough.