In the NBA typically talent wins out. The Clippers have some talented players, the future is brighter than usual with players like Eric Gordon, Bledsoe, Aminu and of course Blake Griffin. Chris Kaman is a solid player and the Clippers have added some notorious Nuggets killers from seasons past in Craig Smith and Rasual Butler (Ryan Gomes has had his moments in the past versus Denver as well).
The script was a typical Nuggets versus a team that does not possess their respect. In the first half the Nuggets get outworked, they showed some life prior to halftime and finally showed enough focus in the second half to get by in a game where Denver’s ten point fourth quarter lead felt like 25.
The key to the game was Blake Griffin. Griffin abused Shelden Williams early. Williams did not even attempt to box out Griffin on two early possessions that resulted in two Griffin offensive rebounds. After that Williams realized he needed to do a better job. Williams, as well as other Nuggets, worked hard trying to keep Griffin off the offensive glass. They had little success. Griffin has an incredible mix of strength and quickness and he would consistently out maneuver whoever was attempting to box him out or simply bull rush them under the basket. I was pretty frustrated with Williams early on until I realized it probably is not fair to expect any one player to keep Griffin from corralling a few offensive boards every game.
In the second half when the game turned into more of a half court affair the Clippers were able to hang relatively close as long as Griffin was in the game. The Clippers had weathered a push by the Nuggets in the third quarter and were down 70-64 when Griffin took a break with 4:18 remaining in the third quarter. Griffin returned with 9:19 remaining in the game and the Clippers were down ten. He immediately converted a three point play, but L.A. was not able to build any momentum off of it.
As good as Griffin was, Carmelo Anthony was the star of the game. Melo notched his first 30 point game of the season doing so thanks to 14-20 shooting. The real highlight of his performance was his passing. Following up on a game in which he carried the load on the boards pulling down 15 rebounds, he tallied a season high six assists. His assists were not all just kick out passes from a double team. They were a beautiful of mix of drive and dish plays, skip passes and passes he zipped through traffic resulting in easy looks. Perhaps his fines pass, a bullet that threaded the needle between defenders in the lane to Melvin Ely resulted in a foul at the rim robbing of a seventh assist.
Early in the year, Carmelo is posting career highs in PER, 23.07, rebound rate, 12.3, and assist rate, 13.5. It is early, but Melo is playing very well on offense.
It was not a particularly inspiring win for Denver, but they continue to get good performances from Shelden Williams and Arron Afflalo and saw Melvin Ely do a great job on Chris Kaman.
With Ely playing well against the Clippers, it will be interesting to see if George Karl changes his strategy in the rematch against the Mavericks in Dallas eschewing his small ball strategy from Wednesday.
Additional Game 5 Nuggets
- Nuggets sideline reporter Julie Browman was trying to listen to the Clippers’ huddle during a timeout and she reported Baron Davis was sent over to play human shield to block her view. Finally that extra weight he is carrying around paid off.
- J.R. Smith has been playing well offensively as he has avoided the terrible shots that have plagued him in the past. He has also done a good job of getting in the lane and finishing at the rim. His on the ball defense has been fine, but he continues to struggle in situations when he is required to put forth more mental effort than physical. On more than one occasion J.R. Smith and Harrington failed to communicate on defense. On one play the Clippers were inbounding the ball from the baseline. They set a down screen on the ball side for Rasual Butler. J.R. played switched, but Harrington did not. Once they both realized no one was guarding Butler, who had been red hot to start the game, they both started to run at him. Once they both realized they were duplicating efforts, they both stopped. So to summarize, neither one covered him off the screen, both started to recover and then both of them stopped in their tracks. The result was two players guarding no one for most of a inbounds play, the result of which was a wide open jumper for a hot shooter.
- Later on a double team where J.R. and Harrington were responsible for the lane, J.R. was covering a Clipper big man half way up the lane on the weak side. A second Clipper player, flashed to the free throw line so J.R. left the man he was guarding. When J.R. left, the Clipper big man he was covering cut to the strong side block, right underneath where Harrington was standing. Al was in perfect position to cover the cutter, but J.R. never told him he was moving and never alerted him that there was a cutter.
- The result of the play was a kick out to Butler in the weak side corner. J.R. ran at Butler who put up a shot fake and then took a three with Harrington running at him. On the shot J.R. and Harrington started running up the floor, but the rebound went through Williams’ hands and when J.R. came back into the play, he never once looked to see where Butler was and just backpedaled towards the baseline as if he was guarding someone. He never once tried to locate Butler who simply moved towards the rim and received a lob pass for an easy lay in. J.R.’s on the ball defense is solid, In the first half the Clippers were running their shooters off a lot of screens on curls and they also ran some pick and roll action from the left wing into the middle of the court. J.R. did a better job of he simply does not pay attention otherwise.
- Harrington has played some very stout defense this season although as we saw in the defensive scouting report he is very inconsistent. In one particular Pick and roll with Harrington, Gordon is on the left wing and gets a screen to his right from Craig Smith, We saw Harrington sag back on the pick and roll in our defensive scouting report which showed it is typically not a successful tactic. On this occasion with Gordon driving into the lane Harrington should be blocking the lane and forcing Gordon to his off hand. Instead, Harrington was playing well outside the lane basically rolling out the red carpet to the rim. Not only was it poor lazy defense, it was incorrectly done poor lazy defense. Just stunningly bad. Harrington did successfully foul Gordon before he was able to get an open layup so I guess he did that correctly.
- In possibly the most surprising play of the game Shelden Williams made a step back jumper on Kaman! Williams showing confidence in his jumper and George Karl must be thrilled.
- As we mentioned early in the game the Clippers had success running their shooters off of curl action. The Nuggets guards were getting caught up in the screens and the bigs did not help show on the other side of the screen to push the shooters further from the basket. The downside of the bigs doing so is they open up the lane for the screener to roll to the rim. That would require the weak side big to sink back to the rim to defend the roller. The kicker is the Clippers were running the same action on both sides of the floor. Basically the Nuggets had to choose what to defend. They chose to have their bigs stay between the screener and the basket to take away the easy shots in the lane. Of course, you want the opposition to shot from as far from the rim as possible so the way the Nuggets defended it makes perfect sense. It just puts a lot of pressure on your guards to fight through the screens in order to challenge the jumpers.
- I was very impressed with Eric Bledsoe. He almost always makes the correct decision when he drives the lane or runs the break. He also throws a very catchable ball in traffic. Bledsoe has a great deal of promise. The Thunder basically chose Eric Maynor over Bledsoe when they traded Bledsoe to the Clippers. I think Maynor is a solid player, but I have to wonder if they made the right choice.
- Afflalo should never pass up a three in the corner. He did early in the game and shot a more difficult off balance jumper. It always surprises me how often you see a player pass up an open shot only to end up taking a more difficult one seconds later.
- Everyone knows Shelden Williams has trouble catching the ball. It is no secret. So why do his teammates pass him the ball when he is on the move and in traffic? Are they trying to embarrass him?
- Al Harrington does a good job finishing with his left hand.
- The Clippers switched to a 2-3 zone with 8:44 left in the game. There is a reason why the Mavericks zone was relatively effective against the Nuggets, they know what they are doing. The Clippers…not so much.
- Clippers not named Chris Kaman shot 36-53 on two point attempts. That is 67.9%. They also had 60 points in the paint. That is a lot.
Fancy-Dancy Advanced Stats
Pace Factor: 93.9 – That number seems a little low although the second half was much slower than the first.
Defensive Efficiency: 110.8 – Shoddy.
Offensive Efficiency: 118.2 – obviously that is very good.
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