The Denver Nuggets faced old friend Carmelo Anthony tonight in New York and Carmelo proved to be too much as Denver’s bid to be the first team to deliver the Knicks with their first home loss of the 2012-13 season ended in another disappointment.
It has been a while since I wrote up an old school game recap so tonight is as good a time as any, although I am not planning on staying up until 4:00 AM to bang out 3,000 words as I used to when I was a younger man.
The Nuggets started off the game in strong fashion attacking the rim and running the elderly Knicks early and often resulting in an early 15-8 lead. At that point the Knicks started pounding the Nuggets with the high pick and roll and Denver’s inability to deal with this most basic of plays proved to be the number one reason they lost their lead.
There are many different ways to combat the high pick and roll, the Nuggets chose to incorporate a mishmash of incompatible tactics as they had the guard fight over top of the screen while the big sagged back in the lane. By doing this, you ensure the guard is trailing the ball handler while the big has to choose between the ball handler and the roll man. In that scenario the big man is stuck in no man’s land unable to commit to the ball handler, who is several feet away when he drives off the screen, or to the roll man because if he does that, the ball handler can drive to the rim. As a result Koufos and McGee were more often than not guarding no one, nor were they effectively defending the rim.
To make things worse, if a shot is missed, the middle of your defense is completely susceptible to offensive rebounds.
If the guard is supposed to fight over the top, the big has to hedge to slow the dribbler down. If the big is not going to show in an attempt to protect the lane, the guard should go underneath the screen. Of course this opens up the potential for the offensive guard to take an uncontested jumper.
The sad thing is we have seen over the years that by far the most effective way to cover the pick and roll is to have the big hedge hard on the ball handler while the guard recovers and as a result the ball handler must retreat or pick up his dribble. For some reason George Karl prefers soft pick and roll defenses as well as lazy switching.
Despite the Knicks’ offensive onslaught over the final 18 minutes of the first half, Denver was able to stay close thanks to the exceptional play of Ty Lawson and smart movement by Corey Brewer. Lawson continued to push the pace all half earning several easy buckets and he also made two threes for good measure. Brewer did a very good job of finding the gaps in the lane which was proven effective thanks to some nice interior passing that earned him close looks that he converted on.
As the second half began I was looking forward to seeing what changes the Nuggets made to combat the high pick and roll. The threat of the high pick and roll caused the Nuggets defenders to leave their man to help guard the rim and as a result one of the keys to the second half was the Knicks seven three pointers.
In the fourth quarter with Faried playing center, the Nuggets began to switch the high pick and roll, which only resulted in Jason Kidd repeatedly driving past Faried to the rim. I guess we should be happy that there was at least a change made, even if it was just as ineffective as the first half fight over and sag (I sure hope that catches on as it looks as bad as it sounds) style was.
The Nuggets displayed a glimmer of hope that they could pull this game out posting an 18-5 run over the closing minutes of the third quarter and early in the fourth. However, the Knicks deserve almost as much credit as Denver though as they became far too isolation heavy on offense completely foregoing the high pick and roll. New York was able to right the ship early in the fourth quarter as Denver suddenly went cold with Gallo, who supplied 14 of Denver’s 26 third quarter points on the bench.
Down the stretch Carmelo did what he does. The Knicks turned the game completely over to him in the final two minutes and he scored just enough to put the game out of reach.
Ultimately, the difference in the game was three point shooting and turnovers. The Knicks converted 40% of their threes compared to Denver’s 29.4% while the Nuggets coughed the ball up 16 times to New York’s nine.
Game 21 Notes
- It was interesting to see Igoudala covering Ray Felton. It was a decent matchup for the Nuggets that was undermined by the fight over and sag (it just rolls off the tongue, you should say it right now, no matter where you are, look at the person next to you and say it). On a couple of occasions Igoudala did something very weird, but it was effective. Twice Felton beat Iggy dribbling to his left. The natural inclination is to swivel your hips and drop step to try to recover to the side you are beaten on. Iggy simply backpedaled while managing to stay in front of Felton. After a couple of steps Felton dribbled back to his right giving up the advantage that he had gained by going left. It was almost as if Iggy knew Felton would eventually drive back to his right and never gave in to the fact that he was beat. The second time Igoudala utilized that odd maneuver he actually ended up with a steal. If one day you see players simply utilizing this technique, you will know who created it.
- As in Atlanta we saw Ty Lawson fumble the ball away in the closing seconds. I do not know why I had to mention that. It is just odd to see him play so well in the first half and then fumble the ball away again. The Knicks did a good job of defending him in the second half, but Lawson also allows himself to be taken out of games. New York had no answer for him in transition, but because of the way they collapsed on him in the half court, he seemed to allow that pressure to take him completely out of his game. After scoring 19 first half points on 11 shots, Lawson only took four second half shots netting four more points. There is always discussion on RMC about Lawson being aggressive. Too often he allows his mindset to be determined by the defense. That has to change.
- It was disappointing to see Denver only acquire five offensive boards, but when you consider they shot 55.6% for the game, it makes more sense. Still, Denver’s 16.1 offensive rebound rate was their lowest of the season surpassing their 22.1 rate in the second game at Golden State, which was also a loss.
- McGee had possibly his worst game of the season. McGee returned to his past of poor decision making, such as his 18 foot jumper followed by an over the back foul attempting to corral the inevitable rebound.
- Igoudala is a very good man to man defender, but he is certainly far from perfect. One example was the last play of the third quarter. Iggy had just made a pair of free throws to put Denver up four with 7.6 seconds left. Brewer had been guarding J.R., Miller was on Pablo Prigioni, and Igoudala was covering Melo. Melo had committed his fourth foul on the preceding play and was replaced by Ronnie Brewer. On the inbounds play Iggy did not realize he was now supposed to be covering Brewer as he shadowed J.R. who was inbounding the ball. Smith passed it to Brewer who passed it back to J.R. Iggy realized Miller was on J.R., but instead of finding Brewer, he simply drifted up the middle of the floor. Iggy never found Brewer only half-heartedly looking over his shoulder at one point. J.R. launched a three pointer with roughly 2.5 seconds left. Igoudala took a couple of steps into the lane as Brewer rushed past him and was able to tip the rebound in just before the buzzer sounded. It was the kind of play I expected Iggy to prevent his teammates from making when he arrived. It was a mindless and lazy defensive mistake that made a difference in the game.
- There have been some rumblings of Carmelo for MVP, but I saw the exact player who toiled in Denver. He is a very good offensive player, who fails to make his teammates better and does not take advantage of his fine passing skills. We even got to see the classic “Melo Tenacious D” out at half court with too much physical contact that eventually results in a foul as Melo turns away in disgust.
- Sticking with the topics of former Nuggets, I am glad J.R. Smith has found a niche in New York. He plays hard and you can see he is not worried about getting pulled if he misses a couple of shots. He did not shoot well tonight, but he did not take any horrendous shots. He is playing hard on defense and you can tell he likes playing for Woodson. I have always been a J.R. fan and hope he can thrive in MSG.
- It must drive George Karl nuts to see the Knicks employing his small ball strategy so well especially employing his former franchise player. The Nuggets struggled to take advantage of the Knicks small lineup. On several occasions Jason Kidd was matched up with a much large player, but only one time did the Nuggets get the ball into the post and the result was a Faried dunk. On one occasion Gallo had the ball on the left wing and took a contest three instead of dumping the ball to Faried on the block. There were even instances where Kidd was covering Koufos and Kosta never went to post up. There are many occasions where teams try to exploit a matchup like that only to get taken out of their offense and doing more harm than good, but when you have a point guard covering a center. You should probably try to post the center up.
- I have been completely silent on the George Karl debate that is continually ongoing on RMC, but I will say I expect much more from George Karl as coach of the Nuggets. I would love to hear an explanation regarding what he expected to accomplish by his choice of their style of defense against the high pick and roll. I suspect the answer would be partially to protect against their three point shooting, however, Denver’s inability to defend the paint was the trigger that opened up the three point line for the Knicks. At one point we saw a beautifully designed play out of a timeout by Mike Woodson that encompassed two crossing high screen and rolls with Tyson Chandler diving to the rim. The result was a very easy alley oop. It only underscored part of what a head coach’s job is. When you have a chance to run a set play, you should run it. George Karl has been a coach for decades. He should have hundreds of set plays in his head, however, when he has a chance to call one, he never does. Look at what the Nuggets do out of timeouts, even at the end of games. They run their regular offense, and as a result, end up getting very average shots, sometimes even horrible shots. At the end of close games after timeouts it looks like the only instructions the players receive is for Lawson to take the ball and do something with it, regardless of how often that type of play fails. I also get incredibly frustrated with Denver’s half-court offense. It deserves a more in depth post, but suffice it to say, there is only ever one thing going on at a time and is incredibly easy to defend. For a coach who claims to cherish player movement and passing, his offense possesses almost none of those characteristics. The bottom line is Karl has had tremendous success at the NBA level, but there is no evidence on this team of his effectiveness. This team is compromised with a lack of focus and no attention to detail. I realize this is overall a young team, but the core of this team has been in the league at least four seasons except for Kenneth Faried. The mistakes they make belie their experience. Karl must show me something over the final few months of the season if this team is going to avoid being an incredible disappointment.
- Well, over 2,200 words and 2:15 in the morning and of course, only cursory proofreading. I cannot believe I used to do this all the time.
Game 21 Stats
Pace Factor: 97.0 – It was a fast paced game that was fun to watch. Denver did a lot of their damage on the break compiling 25 fast break points over the aged lineup of the Knicks.
Defensive Efficiency: 114.0 – Unacceptable, fifth worst mark of the season.
Offensive Efficiency: 110.7 – Adequate, they did not lose this game because of their offense.
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