Obviously there’s a lot to be said about this game, but first and foremost: Gallo. Come on man!!! As I recently texted someone, if you’re a 6-10 athletic deer in the open court and the only thing stopping you from making a game-tying layup with a few seconds left in the fourth quarter is a 6-foot Steve Blake, how do you not drop a thunderous dunk over the guy?!? I know it’s easy to sit back from our couches and criticize professional athletes who do things on a daily basis we could only dream about, but a layup!?! I’m pretty sure most people could manage that. Bottom line is in the NBA you simply have to make your dunks, layups and whatever other “gimmes” are offered up by the opposing team. If you can’t, then you should probably kiss your title-contending hopes goodbye.
Because there was so much to cover this afternoon, a traditional recap wouldn’t be apt; therefore, breaking the game down into sections should allow for more insight and detail. Below are the main categories I felt constituted the game accompanied by analysis, statistics and whatever else fits the bill of summarizing Saturday’s action.
General thoughts: First, this game was excellent from start to finish. Though both teams had trouble putting points on the board in the first half, eventually nerves seemed to disappear, which lead to a more free-flowing, back-and-forth contest that went all the way down to the wire. Once again, the heated “superstar debate” immediately sprung to life across Nuggets Nation when the game concluded as many pointed to Denver’s lack of a “go-to” star being the primary reason for the loss; however, Kobe Bryant was anything but clutch throughout the fourth quarter, often times turning the ball over or taking an ill-advised shot instead of making the right basketball play. Yes, he constantly drew questionable — if not terrible — calls from the refs which in turn allowed him to get to the line and pile up fouls on the Nuggets players, but if people are pointing to Bryant as the reason the Lakers won they’d be sorely mistaken. The Lakers won today because the Nuggets consistently botched routine plays down the stretch. Whether it was missed free throws, layups, dunks or just not executing a specific game-plan, Denver did everything it possibly could to gift-wrap the victory for Los Angeles.
Lakers schemes: Where the Lakers deserve a lot of credit in terms of what it did to secure the win on Saturday, however, is in this category. All day long the Nuggets were forced into a typical half-court set thanks to the Lakers’ excellent commitment to getting back on defense and disallowing the Nuggets to run. When a shot was put up, usually two to three of the Lakers guards or forwards could be seen backpedaling towards the basket and by the time the Nuggets collected a rebound there was simply no room to execute a fast-break set as the lane was already clogged with defenders ready to take a charge or defend one-on-one. This threw off Denver’s No. 1 game plan — and virtual identity — causing the Nuggets to really experiment with awkward half-court “plays” for the first time all year. In the initial quarter when the Nuggets saw this counter attack for the first time, it was clear the team hadn’t practiced much half-court offense as players seemed almost dumbfounded and often times ran about aimlessly until someone forced up a bad shot. But as the game progressed, Denver slowly adjusted and was much more organized by the time the final quarter rolled around.
The other area of Mike Brown’s defense that deserves credit was its ability to prevent Denver from penetrating in the lane. Although the Lakers played man-to-man throughout the game, they were extremely quick in switching when necessary, knowing when to double-team someone and constantly made sure that either Bynum or Gasol was down low to contest a shot, should a member of the Nuggets manage to get to the rim. The level of the Lakers’ success in this category was most visible when it came to Ty Lawson. Not only was Saturday Lawson’s lowest scoring game of the season, but it was also the first time this year that he led the Nuggets in a negative plus-minus at minus 13. Even though he dished out eight assists, Lawson never quite made the impact many thought he would against a Lakers squad with some of the older point guards in the league.
Mozgov: The young Russian center had by far his best game of the season Saturday against the Lakers. When it was all said and done, Mozgov finished with eight points, 10 rebounds, two assists and four blocks in 26 minutes of action. This was perhaps the first time all season that Nuggets fans caught a glimpse of who Mozgov could potentially be a few years down the road. From the get-go, Mozgov was mixing it up down low, playing stingy defense on Andrew Bynum and rejecting two shots against the Lakers’ big men within the first few minutes of the game. He continued this effort throughout the contest and finally asserted himself on the glass the way a 7-foot-1 center truly should.
All that said, Mozgov still has an immense amount of work to do before he can consider himself “polished,” in fact, it’s hard to see Mozgov ever reaching a point where he can truly be relied upon offensively. Though he has a solid jump shot and can occasionally find himself in the right position to finish an ally oop, more often than not Mozgov appears lost on offense and is usually liability rather than an asset. If he wants to continue to improve, Mozgov must learn the art of positioning. Although 10 rebounds seem like a lot — especially when coming from the Nuggets — Mozgov could have had 15 or more if he had just boxed out properly or made his move to the rim a fraction of a second sooner. Watching him today was extremely enjoyable however because, for the first time, Nuggets fans were able to realize just how much room for improvement there still is within “The Moz.”
What’s certain is that Mozgov absolutely has to continue receiving a heavy dose of minutes during games like this, as its the only way he’s going to improve. Giving him five minutes to start the game, then inserting him briefly throughout the match in small increments isn’t solving anything. The growing pains will undoubtedly be front and center for the entire world to see — and they’ll be ugly nonetheless — but eventually he’ll work through them and in time could end up being the Nuggets version of Tyson Chandler if all things go as planned.
Gallinari: The aforementioned missed layup by the Italian Stallion is obviously going to be what everyone is talking about, but what concerns me more is his atrocious shooting percentage through the first four games of the season. This past summer when analyzing Gallinari’s numbers in Europe one thing that continuously caught my attention was his poor shooting percentages. I wrote that if he wanted to take that next step back in the States he would need to somehow find a way to be more efficient on the hardwood, and clearly, he has yet to figure this out.
Saturday, Gallinari went 3-12 from the field and 0-4 from beyond the arc to compile a measly .250 shooting percentage. One of his nine missed shots came with about 30 seconds left in the fourth quarter when the Nuggets were down by two. Al Harrington had just missed a 3-pointer and Nene somehow managed to collect the rebound, upon which he passed the ball back out to the top of the circle where Gallo eventually received it. Instead of then calling a timeout or pausing to organize a play, Gallo inexplicably hoisted up a well-contested 3-pointer from a few feet behind the arc that didn’t even draw rim. Though George Karl too could certainly be blamed for not pausing to call a timeout, what he can’t be blamed for is taking quite possibly the worst shot any Nuggets player has taken so far this season.
If I’m Karl, I’m doing everything I can to get Gallo (and Rudy Fernandez for that matter) to expand his game and become more than just a spot-up shooter. At 6-foot-10, with a beautiful stroke and solid amount of athleticism, there is absolutely no reason Gallo should be hanging around the 3-point line waiting to take jump shots. Where’s the dribble-drive? Where’s the post-up game? Where’s all that ferocious speed we see in the fast-break offense? Put simply: Gallinari has to start attacking the rim more frequently while shooting only when forced or given a wide open look at the basket.
Harrington: What does it say about the Nuggets when Al Harrington is the best player on the team in terms of creating his own offense? This is no slight against Big Al, because quite frankly, he’s been the best, most consistent player on the team so far and is certainly an above-average offensive talent. But Al Harrington isn’t exactly Kobe Bryant either. This epiphany, that the Nuggets maybe aren’t exactly as explosive as they appear, flat out punched me in the face while watching the game today. As I tweeted earlier, I’m loving me some Al Buckets right now. The dude has totally turned his career around this year and is ballin’ in every sense of the word. However, I don’t know how far the Nuggets can go with Big Al as its best offensive output. I think at some point in time, probably as the trade deadline nears, Masai Ujiri and Josh Kroenke have to start thinking about making a move for someone who can fill it up, because as currently constructed, this team is going to struggle in tight games like the one seen on Saturday.
Lineups/fourth quarter/George Karl: Though Karl didn’t exactly get under my skin the way he did against Portland, he still left me baffled with some of his coaching methods. Once again, versus one of the tallest, if not THE tallest front courts in the game, Karl rolled out Danilo Gallinari and Al Harrington to play power forward to close out the fourth quarter. I understand his reservations about inserting Mozgov into a tight closing-quarter matchup against the Lakers but Mozgov had been playing solid defense on Bynum all game long and was in the game during the middle of the fourth quarter when the Nuggets opened up almost its biggest lead of the game. Why mess with that energy? Why take someone out, especially your center, in the midst of his best game all season long? Though its tough to say what might have happened should Mozgov have remained in the game, I’d be willing to bet he, Nene, Harrington, Afflalo (who also inexplicably wasn’t in the game during crunch time) and Ty Lawson probably would have given the Nuggets the best chance to win.
Also, as mentioned above, Karl missed crucial opportunities to take timeouts during the final few minutes of the game. When added to the fact that Nene missed a wide open dunk, Lawson missed two free throws and of course Gallinari missed a wide open layup, it’s fair to say that the Nuggets put on a world-class choke job Saturday afternoon that even LeBron James would have been proud of.
Perspective: Before everyone heads over the the ESPN Trade Machine and starts posting random scenarios that would likely never work in real life, let’s keep a few things in mind. First, it’s still early. The guys need time to gel. Second, we’re 2-2 after playing three games on the road against some of the West’s elite teams. Finally, players deserve more time to grow before we write them off only four games into the season. Yes, Gallinari has looked awful so far, but who’s to say this won’t change by next week? Afflalo still needs to get into shape, Mozgov will continue to improve and maybe the Manimal finally gets some run and makes the most out of the opportunity by beasting on the glass the way we all know he can. All I’m saying is: relax. Give it some time. Don’t overreact. Two months from now if Gallo is still shooting below .400 percent from the field and Faried still isn’t playing despite our rebounding deficiencies, then it might be time to worry. But after only four games of a 66-game schedule, already calling for a guy’s head might be a bit over the top.
Update (7:57pm MST) by Charlie
Here are the advanced stats for Game 4:
Pace Factor: 96.6 – This swung in the Nuggets favor the second half as the Lakers took a lot of quick jumpers. They should have won this style of game
Offensive Efficiency: 92.1 – Just awful, indicative of a team that can’t get to the line or score in the half-court
Defensive Efficiency: 96.2 – This is decent, and somewhat of a bright spot compared to the first 3 games of the season
Roundball Mining Company is experimenting with a new format of getting recaps up. As part of a True Hoop network movement I wrote a test run of a Rapid Reaction for today’s game, grading the team’s performance and providing quick thoughts on how the game unfolded. These posts are intended to go up right after the game and provide a different perspective. The main thing we are trying to do with Rapid Reaction is get a post up immediately after the game where our readers can have some discussion points. Let us know your thoughts on the format and if you might prefer it going forward.