It was something the Nuggets haven’t had to worry about in a very long time. With the ball, shot clock turned off and one bucket away from winning the game. If it wasn’t a straight up inbounds to Melo in isolation, it was a failed high pick and roll with Chauncey and Nene, the ball ending up in Melo’s hands anyway. Just as the Nuggets adapt their style of play to an overhauled roster, the coaches are in uncharted territory trying to re-learn how they are going to close games.
Let me start by saying the effort and execution on a back to back game like this was fantastic. I expect continued growing pains figuring out an offense like this where it’s not only the new players having to carve out a role here quickly. It’s the remaining incumbent guys who are probably changing their roles more than anyone – when you lose your primarily ball handler and a star with the second highest usage rate in the league, you can’t make the argument that having talent will figure itself out.
If I have a problem with anything it was the play call on the last possession of regulation. Ty Lawson gets the inbounds pass, dribbles towards the middle of the floor and attacks the single coverage with Brandon Roy. In that situation I’d rather have Ty exploit Andre Miller especially when Aldridge found himself in no man’s land after being unsure of whether or not to leave Gallinari to help on Ty’s penetration. Furthermore Andre Miller matched up with Afflalo on the wing and Nene was being guarded by Wes Matthews on the block. The Nuggets created a number of favorable mismatches off Lawson’s penetration and ended up bailing Portland out by settling on the worst one. Roy made a sound defensive play not to initiate the contact and forced the slight hesitation on Lawson’s last second layup attempt.
By that point in the game, the Nuggets were spent and simply trying to hold on to a game they valiantly had in their grasps despite several bench players trying to lose it for them. For the second game in a row the Nuggets leaned on their defense through all four quarters to put them in position to win. They defended well down the stretch against some impossible three point shots by Rudy Fernandez and Brandon Roy. After failing to control LaMarcus Aldridge most of the night, they adjusted and put the clamps on him during crunch time, reminiscent of past matchups with Portland where Aldridge has been made a spectator.
Danilo Gallinari came one point away from tying his career high in his second game as a Nugget. He showed off an array of moves including drives both ways to the basket and even a left hand finish at the rim. He hit a nice step back jumper and made one of five threes, but the majority of his damage was done off the dribble where Gallo destroyed anyone who got in his way. He went to the free throw line 17 times, without forcing many shots and only recording 14 field goal attempts. The best game of his career however was sullied by him missing the pivotal free throw that would have put Denver up by four and sealed the victory.
With Chandler starting, the Nuggets moved back to a somewhat familiar bench rotation highlighted by JR, Birdman, and Al Harrington with Ray Felton being the only new addition to bench that I remarked was pathetic during the stretch of games before the trade deadline. Birdman looks like he’s had legs chopped off from the knees down and is now playing on stilts while he learns how to walk again. The man could not keep his balance standing still and was pushed around the painted area as if he were on ice skates. Al Harrington played about as well as he can play, and by that I mean recording 4 points, 3 rebounds and making at least one defensive stop in a short amount of time on the floor.
I was gravely disappointed in the bench unit, led by JR Smith, who started the fourth quarter with a nine point lead and a chance to put the game on ice. JR, who fans have nonsensically been waiting for to become a star for six years now – showed what a low IQ, liability of a basketball player he can be. At one point he allowed two and-one layups with some truly mind-boggling defense that completely shifted momentum in favor of the Blazers, who would never relinquish it for the rest of the game and overtime.
I guarantee you fans will be quick to put this one on Karl, Raymond Felton, Gallo (who nearly had the game of his life), and maybe even Ty Lawson before they look to JR. Its utter nonsense, as JR continues to show he’s awful in clutch situations and just one of the lowest quality basketball players here who does not deserve any trust in a close and competitive game. JR played 19 minutes, which was too much, and rightfully didn’t sniff the court as Denver battled back to regain the lead he had thrown away – while nearly stealing a game you can argue they had no business winning.
Yes, there were some coaching miscues and puzzling communication breakdowns in a game that was so eminently winnable. Raymond Felton continues to struggle in a offense with very little structure as he has not been able to pick up the tendencies of the bench unit he’s playing with. Despite airballing two threes and some untimely turnovers Felton has played promising defense both of these games and looks to be miles ahead of Lawson in that department already, which is no doubt why Karl went with him on Andre Miller in order to use Afflalo on Brandon Roy.
If Denver plays like this on the road consistently, they’ll be fine. Denver has stolen games like this by having a great individual talent who can will himself to victory much like Brandon Roy did tonight. Nevermind the fact Roy was well defended and the Nuggets tired legs had been showing throughout the fourth. Denver is becoming a smarter, well-balanced, mentally focused team and to see an effort like this on the road is nearly as encouraging as a win. As JR Smith showed everybody, the Nuggets can’t fully let go of their poor habits and inexperience closing out games in an instant. Even the coaches are braving uncharted territory and they are going to struggle to get a grip on it for a little while yet.
Pace Factor: 104.3 – Fast, putting the Blazers on their heels and scrambling for threes in order to keep up. Too many stupid mistakes gave Portland an opening. Then, Brandon Roy happened.
Offensive Efficiency: 101.6 – Should be better against Portland, but they are a better defensive team than their 104.4 rating suggests. They play the best defense in the NW division.
Defensive Efficiency: 102.6 – Good enough to win on the road, but Portland came alive in the end and found an extra gear Denver wasn’t quite ready for.
Additional Game 60 Nuggets
- LaMarcus Aldridge has pushed his game to another level. I’ve talked before about how the Nuggets shouldn’t double and instead dare him to put the ball on the floor and work in the post. Aldridge has traded in a lot of his long two pointers for hard–hat work down low. He gave Nene fits and the Blazers used misdirection and a number of excellent plays to spring him loose for some easy opportunities. Denver however did lock down at the end and forced Roy to beat them.
- Wilson Chandler was again, the utility man. Denver’s best help defender, maybe their most consistent rebounder and a scoring option who is developing Afflalo-like consistency. There was a stretch in the third quarter where Chandler basically made up a ten point deficit by himself when Denver’s offense looked dead in the water.
- Nene only took 6 shots, had a nice double-double but was passive throughout the crucial stretch of the game. He made no effort to post up smaller players like Wesley Matthews and Rudy Fernandez. You might argue that Ty and Raymond aren’t looking to force feed him enough but there’s nothing stopping him from aggressively demanding the ball in spots where it would be too easy to get it to him. Nene could learn a thing or two from Aldridge’s transformation to a premiere post player.
- Arron Afflalo, for the third straight recap – is most capable in the clutch. He knows what the Nuggets do and can immediately slot in to sets that this team has not practiced or executed together yet. I feel comfortable giving any important shot to Afflalo as he has shown the ability to get a decent one up no matter the circumstance. AAA got the last desperation three at the buzzer but was passed up for shots at the end of regulation and overtime before that. He made all the biggest shots of the night down the stretch and in overtime, however.
- Felton is a very promising defender Nuggets fans need to learn patience and live with some of his ugly shooting and questionable decisions with the ball. He brings a calm to the game defensively and can control pace a lot better than Lawson at this point. He’s very capable running the point and has probably the hardest job out of anyone on the team figuring out how to take control. Felton is not a superstar point guard who is going to a team where others are going to be expected to slot into roles around him. He is going to take time to integrate and deserves a good deal of patience and understanding about the task ahead of him. This game is not salvageable without Felton’s defensive effort in the second half.