The Denver Nuggets appeared to catch a bit of a break as they prepared to take on the Phoenix Suns. Despite the fact Denver had lost 11 straight games in Phoenix, the Suns were coming off a hard fought game against the Los Angeles Lakers the night before during which they converted 22 three pointers. As the Nuggets learned from the Pacers, cold teams heat up, but the reciprocal corollary is true as well. Hot teams cool off. Surely the Suns would not be as hot from behind the arc as they were the night before.
The law of averages held true once again for Denver as the Suns did not shoot well from the perimeter. However, despite having played the night before, the Suns played with more energy and focus in the second half than the well-rested Nuggets did. The Nuggets were the team standing and watching on defense, playing lazy offense and making unforced turnovers.
The other big story of the game was Denver’s insistence on switching screens and not helping on the mismatch on the block. In the fourth quarter the Suns enjoyed success on switched repeatedly, primarily with Hakim Warrick posting up Arron Afflalo. It has been a while since we talked about switching screens here, but suffice it to say, I find it the most distasteful version of pick and roll defense. If you are going to switch, you must have your guards front the post and then have the weakside big ready to help on any lob pass into the lane. As the Nuggets found, switching and having the guard simply hang out behind the offensive player is a recipe for disaster.
It was frustrating to see Denver play such a stout first half only to fumble the game away through a combination of poor scheme and lack of energy. The Nuggets dominated in every way with the most telling stat being the Nuggets’ points in the paint, of which they accumulated 42 in the first two quarters.
In the second half Phoenix was able to adjust, while Denver failed to do so.
The Suns packed the paint while Denver played in fear of a Phoenix three point attack that never materialized. Perfect example of how Denver defended Phoenix came with 3:42 remaining in the third quarter. Phoenix had Nash up top with Warrick to his left and Frye to his right. Basically the set will allow Nash to pick which direction he goes and allows for the big setting the screen to dive to the lane, or pop out and the other big can do the opposite. Nash went to his right and drove off a screen by Frye. Frye then popped out behind the arc just to the right of midcourt. Nene and Lawson put a soft double on Nash and Harrington, who is guarding Warrick on the weakside chooses to rotate out to cover Frye. Warrick continues his slashing cut through the lane and receives a nice pass from Nash at the rim for an easy lay in. By having Harrington run at Frye, Denver showed they were more concerned with Frye 24 feet from the rim than Warrick at the rim. Of course, it would have helped had Melo stepped into the lane and challenged Warrick before he reached the rim, but the design was clear. Denver defended from the outside in and as a result on a night when the Suns were 4-20 from behind the arc, Denver allowed themselves to be dominated in the paint in the second half.
Phoenix on the other hand, after giving up 42 points in the paint in the first half, played defense from the inside out packing the paint with defenders. We all know when Denver has to work hard to get into the lane, they stop working hard and simply settle for jumpers.
Nene was a major culprit in the loss as well. After being aggressive in the first half, he allowed himself to be pushed around by smaller players. On one telling possession Nene was looking at the baseline referee and complaining about how Hedo Turkoglu was pushing against him while Chauncey was waiting for him to turn around and get position so they could dump the ball into him. For a player with Nene’s size he should welcome a player like Turkoglu trying to be physical with him because that means he can be physical right back. Instead he allowed himself to be taken out of the game. The Suns also doubled him aggressively, sometimes on the catch and others on the bounce, and that kept Nene off balance as well.
With Denver dropping the game the biggest story of the night turned out to be the first 20/20 performance of Carmelo Anthony’s career. Melo actually had double digit boards before he had double digits in points. Carmelo deserves credit for continuing to work hard and he is posting a career high rebound rate.
Additional Game 9 Nuggets