The Nuggets played the first of what will undoubtedly be many ugly games in Portland tonight. It was a messy affair from the start, dominated by fouls, turnovers and questionable shot selection. Ultimately the game came down to a 2-minute stretch in which the tougher, more composed Blazers held it together and came out on top.
What’s disappointing is that this game exposed obvious flaws in this team’s design that are carried over from last season. Despite again assembling a deep legion of pretty-good players, questions remain about whether not this they took the strides necessary to bust through the first-round ceiling of last year’s squad.
Once again, there’s still plenty of problems with execution on the road. It’s not even surprising considering this is an offensive team with no reliable source of scoring outside of easy transition opportunities. Despite cleaner rotations and better actual effort on defense, the Nuggets couldn’t capitalize on timely stops by executing even the simplest offensive concept on the other end.
Denver’s offense was a disaster tonight. It consisted mostly of one-on-one isolations, ill-advised passing and quick jump shots, plenty of which ended up being long two point attempts. When the Nuggets actually worked a real offense and created opportunities inside for Nene, he went up soft and couldn’t finish. Danilo Gallinari disappeared. Andre Miller reminded us how poor shot selection and questionable half-court decision making limit the real impact of his ability to fill up a stat sheet.
No one gets a pass tonight except Ty Lawson, unquestionably the best player on this team and the only one who didn’t shy away from the moment. He was the best player on the court throughout the entire game on both ends of the floor. Outside of Lawson’s emergence as a game-changing talent, I can’t fool myself into taking away any additional positives for this game.
The Nuggets fought very hard in what ended up being a thrilling game to watch. However if we are made to believe this is a contending team built for the playoffs, the doubt raised by a timid, weak-willed performance in an ugly game somewhat spoils the fun.
Update (11:49 MST) by Jeremy
The Denver Nuggets looked like world beaters in their first two games of the season trouncing a completely discombobulated Dallas Mavericks team and then routing a directionless Utah Jazz squad. Entering their interdivision showdown with the Portland Trail Blazers I was intrigued to see how Denver would deal with their first true test of the 2011-12 season.
Suffice it to say things went a little less smoothly than they had in games one and two. As Charlie mentioned above this game was an indictment of the starless roster Denver has compiled.
In a close game against a solid foe, Denver was not able to produce points down the stretch. The two teams were tied at 98 after a Ty Lawson three pointer rolled in with 5:39 remaining. Denver proceeded to score two points over the next 5:31. A Lawson/Nene pick and roll resulted in a kick out to Fernandez from the corner. Miss. Another Lawson/Nene pick and roll ended in a blocked shot by Gerald Wallace. Andre Miller missed a free throw line jumper after a pick and roll with Nene. A deflection by Nene lead to two Arron Afflalo free throws on the fast break. Gallinari left a three short in transition on a shot that Nuggets coaches had to be cringing as he attempted it. Next Gallo had the ball on the block fiddled around with it, kicked it out to Miller who passed it right back to the Rooster on the wing ending with a contested step back three. Gallo then once again missed an open three, as wide open as you can be, in transition. Lawson was then stripped driving to the basket leading to a Raymond Felton three to put the game away with 1:42 remaining. After a timeout, Afflalo over dribbled before trying to dump the ball to Nene and the ball caromed out of bounds. Afflalo then missed a contested three. Lawson was called for charging and then Afflalo closed out the scoring with a transition layup which would have been attributed to defensive indifference if it was baseball.
Denver did not score in their half-court offense in the final 5:39. That is a red light. They tried running pick and rolls with Lawson and Nene, Miller and Nene, they tried giving the ball to Afflalo and Gallo. No one could score and very winnable game drifted away from them.
The only thing Denver did well was force turnovers. From out of nowhere they have become first class roundball burglars. In a first half where Denver was completely incapable of hitting an outside shot they were able to go into halftime tied with the Blazers thanks to ten first half steals, five of which came courtesy of Ty Lawson. Denver would pilfer the rock 16 times with Lawson accumulating eight total.
Not only did Denver do a great job of thievery, they did a relatively good job of hanging onto it themselves coughing the ball up only seven times. Apart from the discrepancy in turnovers the Trail Blazers dominated nearly every other key stat. They outshot Denver 51.9% to 40.2%, including 40.0% to 20.0% on threes. The greatest statistical disparity was on rebounding where Portland retrieved 50 caroms to Denver’s 30. The easy explanation is that Denver missed 52 shots and Portland only missed 38. The bulk of any team’s rebounds come from their opponents missed shots so it would have been impossible for Denver to match Portland’s rebound total. Taking into account Portland had 18 more turnovers than Denver and that Portland made half of their shots, it stands to reason Denver’s ability to force turnovers robbed them from anywhere from eight to ten defensive rebounds.
Even so, a 20 rebound discrepancy is inexcusable. To dig further, the average NBA team will collect roughly one out of every four of their missed shots. As we already mentioned Denver missed 52 shots from the field. It would then stand to reason we could expect them to have roughly 13 offensive rebounds. Shockingly Denver only had three. That computes to a miniscule offensive rebound rate of 6.5%. That is the worst single game offensive rebound rate since I started tracking Denver’s advanced stats in 2009. It is only the third time over those two plus seasons that their offensive rebound rate was below ten. It was not their defensive rebounding that doomed them, but their offensive rebounding.
Denver is undoubtedly a deep team and their depth will serve them well as the season goes on. However, coming off a game in Denver the night before where no starter played more than 25 minutes Denver was clearly fatigued. A vast majority of their 16 errant three point attempts were short and as we documented above, they could not score down the stretch. Things do not get any easier for Denver as they enter their first stretch of three games in three days.
Game 2 Advanced Stats
Pace Factor: 106.3 – The fact they forced this pace on a slow team and still lost is a bad sign
Offensive Efficiency: 95.9 – This isn’t awful considering poor outside shooting, but Denver’s ability to score on a set defense in pretty suspect to me
Defensive Efficiency: 104.4 – When we see an actual bad defensive game, this number will get a lot worse
Additional Game 2 Nuggets:
- After watching three games of the Nuggets play defense, I’m fairly certain they don’t have what it takes to be an elite defensive team. They lack a true defensive presence in the post and are reliant on poor help from Nene and Chris Andersen. On the perimeter, the rotations are inconsistent and Arron Afflalo is the only standout player. Barring a change in attitude or a breakout performance by someone this looks like a top flight offense and an average defense at best.
- The Blazers out-rebounded the Nuggets by 20. Only two Nuggets managed to get more than 5 rebounds. Portland only played 8 players in their rotation and ALL of them grabbed at least five rebounds. Denver lacks toughness and a fundamental ability to box out which most other playoff teams have.
- Al Harrington tried on defense and Arron Afflalo did as well. I haven’t praised Harrington for his improved play thinking it was a fluke. Harrington is giving more effort than Nene and Birdman on defense and deserves credit. Mozgov’s rawness and inexperience are also showing the Nuggets aren’t in a position to rely on him either. I’m not sure why Karl trusted him on Aldridge early this game but it was a total disaster.
- The Nuggets were not clutch. I can only remember them getting one good shot in crunch time that wasn’t a Ty Lawson score. It was when Lawson fed Nene on a pick and roll right at the base of the rim. Instead of finishing hard and getting fouled he went up soft and had the ball stripped.
- Andre Miller, with the ball in his hands in a half-court set, still can’t create a good look for the offense when it’s badly needed. Lawson is the better player, and he should have touched the ball every single possession down the stretch. Miller needs to take a back seat to the better point guard on this team and I have doubts he is ready to do that.
- Gallo routinely finds himself in favorable match-up situations and makes the least of them. He took 5 shots inside of 20-feet and made 3 of them. He shot 10 jumpers at least 20 feet away from the basket and made only one of them. Like I said, Gallo was a no-show and he hasn’t done anything impressive in the first three games of the season.
- I’d like to start a movement to stop referring to Chris Andersen by his former moniker. Andersen has not blocked a shot this season. He managed only 7 minutes tonight, and George Karl did an admirable job pulling him out of the game after some awful defensive possessions and a careless turnover. If you watch Chris Andersen set screens, box out, chase loose balls and fight for offensive rebounds you are going to notice something missing – effort. Andersen isn’t giving good effort on either end of the floor and he hasn’t helped the Nuggets in victory or defeat thus far.
- The Nuggets stopped fouling and turning the ball over in the second half. Unfortunately, the offense was so bad it’s hard to notice they had only 7 turnovers and gathered 16 total steals. It will be hard for the Nuggets to maintain such a high activity level on defense without getting anything out of it. Chalk up the poor shooting to fatigue if you like, but they hardly created good looks in the second half. This is a product of being tested against a good half-court defense and the Nuggets failed the test badly.
Update (12:31 MST) by Kalen
Thursday night was a complete 180-degree turn compared to what Nuggets fans saw in the first two games of the season. After blowing both Utah and Dallas out of the water by forcing turnovers and finishing on the fast-break, the Nuggets struggled to get in any sort of offensive or defensive groove all night against the Blazers. Give Portland credit though, as its defense was outstanding, forcing the Nuggets to shoot 40 percent from the field and 20 percent from beyond the arc. Additionally, the Blazers absolutely dominated the paint by out-blocking the Nuggets 9-2 and out-rebounding them 50-30. Considering those numbers it’s actually a shock the Nuggets lost by only nine points, especially given the game was played in one of the more difficult arenas in the NBA to compete in. Though the first loss of the season is always tough to swallow, Nuggets fans shouldn’t be too discouraged as the Blazers are a solid team likely to finish in the upper echelon out West.
- First and foremost, small ball destroyed us in this game. As I mentioned on Twitter, I could care less about the bad shooting night because that’s to be expected from time to time, especially when playing in such a hostile environment like the Rose Garden. What’s inexcusable however is playing Al Harrington and Danilo Gallinari at the power forward spot the entire fourth quarter in a tight game!!! How does this happen!?! I mean, here we are gloating about all the size and rebounding prowess we finally have and yet, George Karl doesn’t even utilize it when we need it most! This type of stuff absolutely drives me bonkers, because while Portland is trotting out Marcus Camby, LaMarcus Aldridge and Gerald Wallace — some of the better rebounders in the NBA — to play virtually the entire fourth quarter, Karl is countering with Nene, Al Harrington and Danilo Gallinari — none of whom have EVER averaged more than eight rebounds per game in their career and ALL of whom are playing out of position!!! Hell, what’s the point of starting Mozgov if he’s not even going to play in the fourth quarter or when the going gets tough? How is it that Kenneth Faried — a guy who is probably the best rebounder on the team already — doesn’t even see a minute of action in a game where his best skill is of dire need? And why can’t Koufos even get a look when we’re going up against much taller competition? For me, this game came down to coaching and tonight Nate McMillan clearly had the upper hand against George Karl.
- Even though the Nuggets still forced a bevy of turnovers, their ill-advised, off-the-mark shooting prevented them from taking full advantage of the Blazer’s misfortunes. Denver snatched 16 steals and caused the Blazers to turn the ball over a ghastly 25 times, but simply could not convert on the offensive side of the ball. Another factor contributing to Denver’s inefficiencies however was its overall defense and inability to stop the Blazers from scoring. Sure, they’d land a steal quite frequently throughout the game, but not only would they then fail to convert offensively, but on the very next posestion they’d get lost on a defensive rotation leaving the Blazers wide open for a 3-pointer. This was evident in the fact that the Blazers were only two points shy of putting up 30 points in three different quarters. Tonight, unlike the first two games, Denver simply wasn’t firing on every cylinder, but instead hitting on just a few.
- Andre Miller and Ty Lawson both out-rebounded Danilo Gallinari. In 35 minutes of action, mostly at the power forward spot, Gallo managed to haul in only two rebounds and shot 4-15 from the field all while compiling the worst plus/minus of any player on the court. Though it’s easy to blame Gallo for such an awful outing, I have hard time doing so when he was asked to consistently guard LaMarcus Aldridge and Gerald Wallace, who are both power forwards. Yes, Gallinari is 6-10, I understand that, but he’s not a power forward! This is the exact same thing as playing Chuck Hayes at shooting guard just because he’s 6-foot-6, forcing him to go up against (and get burned by) much quicker players like Andre Iguodala and Kobe Bryant!!! For short stretches it can be effective, but to ask Gallinari to play power forward down the stretch against one of the tallest, most athletic front-courts in the NBA is just ridiculous.
- George Karl realizes that he could potentially send out a lineup of Julyan Stone (6-foot-7), Al Harrington (6-foot-9), Danilo Gallinari (6-foot-10), Nene (6-foot-11) and Timofey Mozgov (7-foot-1), right?
- Teams like Portland who also have excessive depth could give the Nuggets a lot of trouble this year down the road. Against the Knicks, Lakers or Mavericks, the Nuggets might fare well due to the depth advantage; however, when the Nuggets go up against teams that can match its youth and bench, and then top it with a superior amount of talent, it’s hard to see the Nuggets coming out on top. Let’s just say the Blazers might be on the list of teams the Nuggets do not want to see in the postseason.
- While the Blazers, like the Nuggets, are also bereft of a “superstar” Jamal Crawford was good enough for tonight. Why this guy wasn’t in higher demand this past summer I have no idea. Being one of only four players to score 50 points for three different teams, Crawford is an absolutely stud offensively and is the exact type of guy the Nuggets desperately need to close out games. Bottom line: Should Crawford have found himself on the other side of the ball tonight, playing with the Nuggets, I have a feeling this game probably would have ended in a different manner.
- Lastly, can someone say, “Samuel Dalembert”? During the free-agent frenzy that took place recently I declared it would be a good idea to consider signing the 6-foot-11 center to a one or two-year contract even if it meant overpaying by a few million dollars. In a night like tonight, when Karl refused to play either of the Nuggets’ young 7-footers, Dalembert could have come in handy.