Film Room: Two botched Andre Miller plays cost the Nuggets a win in Boston

A little over two months ago I posted a video piece on Andre Miller’s clutch play that helped seal Denver’s victory against the Indiana Pacers on Dec. 7. With eight points and an assist in just 104 seconds, Miller poured it on in crunch time to lead the Nuggets to a big road win at a time when they were struggling.

Unfortunately, we are back in the Film Room today to visit what essentially was the opposite scenario. In their heartbreaking road loss to the Celtics on Feb. 10, the Nuggets were down just two points with 48 seconds remaining in the game’s third overtime when Miller retrieved the rebound off a missed Kevin Garnett jumper. And as every Nuggets fan not living under a rock is well aware, from there the train rapidly derailed from the tracks.

The Film Room video, followed by analysis of Miller’s play and George Karl’s coaching, is after the jump.


Miller tries to force a post-up, turns the ball over

As the play unfolds, three Celtics defenders are crunched together at the top the key, leaving Wilson Chandler completely alone on the weak side. Instead of dishing off to Chandler, who could have taken a wide open 3-pointer, driven to the basket largely unimpeded, or dished it off to Danilo Gallinari for a higher percentage 3-pointer or a drive attempt, Miller dribbles the ball straight into a very ready Jason Terry, and the teeth of Boston’s defense.

Miller luckily recovers the ball after having it swatted away by Terry, who is doing an excellent job of hounding him as he attempts to post up. At that point, he has several options. He could dribble back out the perimeter and reset the play himself, or call Ty Lawson over to the wing and pass it to him for the same purpose (with 15 seconds on the shot clock there was plenty of time). Or, from his position in the high post, he could either call for Ty to cut, or pass across to Chandler, who in turn could either take a wide open 3-pointer, pass it to Lawson, or pass it to Gallo, who is in the process of curling along the baseline to the weak side. Instead, he fails to learn the lesson of Terry having knocked the ball out of his hands once already. Alas, determined to post up and get a shot for himself, Miller once again plays straight into the hands of his defender and promptly loses the ball. This costs Denver a possession in which they could have tied the game or taken the lead.


Miller jacks up a tightly contested 3-pointer for the loss

The salient point to remember about the final Nuggets possession is that Andre Miller is a .211 3-point shooter. This literally is the worst, lowest percentage shot that the Nuggets could take. (Within reason, of course. While Faried shooting a 3-pointer would be even worse, that realistically would never happen anyhow.) Among all shots Denver might plausibly decide to take, Miller chose the one which was unquestionably the most likely to fail. This needs to be kept on the front burner as you read through the rest of this.

After Chandler does a great job of contesting Paul Pierce’s jumper and forcing the miss, Faried rebounds and passes the ball to Miller. I’m not sure if Kenneth didn’t see Lawson, chose on his own to pass to Dre, or was directed by the coaches to do so. But here’s a memo to the Manimal: AGL. When the option is there, Always Go Lawson.

Had Miller been looking for his teammates instead of straight ahead at the basket, he might have noticed that once again Boston’s defense was converging around the top of the key, and leaving other Nuggets players open. Dre had the option to open up the play by getting the ball to the weak side via Faried or Gallo. But not only did he fail to pass the ball, he wasn’t even close to looking for another option.

Had Miller come to the realization that he was about to make a terrible play and pulled up on his shot at the last second rather than firing away, he might have found a way out. By way of Gallinari, one of three teammates who were better positioned and less well defended were all hands up and waiting to take Denver’s final shot. But once again Miller was determined to take the shot himself.

Keep in mind folks, this is the smartest, most seasoned, most trustworthy and least selfish player on the Denver Nuggets roster. At least according to one person.

But once again (alas!) he opted not to pass the ball to a teammate with a better look, and instead played right into the defense of Jason Terry, who deserves high praise (painful as it may be for Nuggets fans to offer it) for his clutch defensive efforts. And it was… Game. Set. Match.


Originally titled: “Final thoughts”

More appropriately titled: “This is inexcusable”

One additional point that needs to be made is that there was not a center on the floor in those final possessions. With the exception of Andre Iguodala, who gets a big chunk of his at-rim shots in transition, the two Nuggets players with the highest field goal percentage five feel or less from the rim are JaVale McGee and Kosta Koufos. The fact that neither of them were in the game for a potential easy lob or dunk was a major coaching failure. I would call it an oversight if it weren’t for the fact that we know from experience that this was quite deliberate on Karl’s part. George grooves hard on no-center finishes.

As for Andre Miller… Well, what can you say?

There has never been a successful demonstration of psychic abilities under controlled, replicable conditions, and I certainly do not claim to have any such powers myself. So I will not claim that Miller “sabotaged” this game deliberately, or try to read motive into his body language, or otherwise attempt to second guess about why he chose to do what he did on these last two plays of such a huge game. I have no idea. I hope, at the very least, he was deluded enough to think that he had his team’s best interest in mind.

What I have absolutely no qualms about saying, however, is that both plays were not only obscenely selfish but utterly stupid. He clearly had no intention on either play of finding any of his teammates a better shot than he might get for himself. He was purely looking to shoot, hell bent on posting up in the first play, and blatantly not even going through the motions of looking to pass before launching the clank heard around the world in the second.

To add insult to injury, George Karl actually praised Miller for that miserable 3-point attempt:

The last shot on Andre, I think Andre wanted to win the game. I know you can question that shot, but in a sense I kind of liked it. I like to have a guy on my team that has the guts to take that shot.

Many Nuggets fans have long bashed their heads against the wall over Karl’s maddeningly illogical player favoritism, but this takes it to a whole new level. It is downright insulting to our collective fan base intelligence. As caring, knowledgeable, observant basketball aficionados, it’s worse than a sucker slap in the face from Melo followed by a Reggie Evans nutgrab.

Well. That may be a slight exaggeration.

But I will say it again because it bears repeating:

The salient point to remember about the final Nuggets possession is that Andre Miller is a .211 3-point shooter. This literally is the worst, lowest percentage shot that the Nuggets could take.

If Karl genuinely “kind of likes” that shot, then all we can hope for right now is that Masai Ujiri is sitting in the Nuggets front office discussing with Josh Kroenke whether Karl’s obsessive affection for Miller has become so unhealthy that he can no longer be considered competent enough to coach this team.

Everything that Karl constantly praises about Miller: His smarts. His wisdom. His veteran savvy. His selflessness. If Miller is prepared to throw all of that out the window at the cost of his team’s success in order to play hero ball at the most crucial juncture of a huge road trip going into All-Star break, then Karl must be prepared to take the same kind of punitive action against him that he would (and has) against the likes of JaVale McGee and Jordan Hamilton for making similar mistakes. Benching him for one or more games. Limiting his minutes. Decreasing his role and increasing Lawson’s.

But if Karl instead not only gives him a free pass but actually glorifies the crap Miller pulled in Boston – and it indeed was crap – then his credibility as a coach who manages his team judiciously, with high standards that are applied equally to all players across the roster, must be called into question. And whether keeping him on board as the head coach of the Nuggets is the best thing for their present and future must be called into doubt.

I have never really been big on the “Fire George Karl” bandwagon, and I certainly do not believe that he is the only reason for the struggles the Nuggets have faced this season. And it may seem crass to raise such a stink over the first loss on the heels of a nine game winning streak. Running a major professional sports franchise is a complex operation, and responsibility is borne – though not in equal parts – by all its members, including the players.

But here, to me, are the pertinent questions: What kind of a message does it send to the players – let alone the fans – for Karl to condone – and worse, promote – Miller’s markedly selfish end-of-game play in Boston? How sustainable can such a situation be when it comes to preserving harmony and morale in the locker room? We have already begun to see the first cracks appear, and not insignificantly, it was Andre Miller who exposed them in his recent expression of dissatisfaction with his role coming off the bench and limited playing time.

And have the Nuggets performed so well this year after their poor start because of Karl’s coaching, or in spite of it? Many of their recent wins (Indiana and Milwaukee come to mind) point to talent overcoming a lack of proper preparation, and luck overcoming the excessive use of small ball no-center lineups to close out games.

All Nuggets fans should hoipe for is that the front office to assemble the best possible roster, and that the coaching staff – with the head coach leading the way – maximize its potential. And when it comes to the latter, when veterans are rewarded for making dumb, selfish mistakes that young players are punished for (despite those mistakes being merely a part of their developmental process), how much confidence can we have that Karl is really getting the best out of this team?

And when such coaching blunders cost the team precious wins that could well make the difference in having home court advantage in the playoffs, how much confidence can the players have in the leadership of their leader?

My confidence, regarding both questions, is waning.

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Joel is a long time Denver Nuggets (and Broncos) fan from Colorado who's been living in Japan since the mid-90s, and blogging about the Nuggets since 2008. You can contact and follow him on Twitter: @denbutsu.
  • Mark B

    Is this surprising to anyone? I think that its really easy as an NBA fan to confuse a players productivity with the actually benefits they bring as a teammate. Sure when Carmelo was here there was the element of his near 30 points a game that gave us a solid chance to win no matter what. But when the big games rolled around or the playoffs came, Carmelo simply didn’t have the intangibles to make everyone around him better. The Nuggets have the same problem with Andre Miller. What seems like great assets in his passing ability and lobs, his very high basketball IQ, and his ability to post up and score points like a big is clouding the fact that Andre only plays for himself. He wants his highlight play lobs and his opponents to be baffled at his ability to score big without any athleticism. He wants to get his. He doesn’t care where he does it. And it is just so unfortunate that George Karl thinks that Andre actually cares or knows how to lead a team. At the end of the day Miller is a cancer and come playoff time the Nuggets season is going to die a painful death unless this Tumor is removed.

  • heykyleinsf

    what would GK say if that were JR Smith instead of Andre Miller?

    • leeds

      GK would say JR is the most selfish player ever…

    • Fed up Nug

      If it was JR who had hoisted up that abortion instead of Karl’s life partner. He wouldn’t have said anything, he would have died from a heart attack right there on the court.

  • CoryW

    how about this trade we get three point threats at backup posititons and can now spread the floor while ditching the log jam and the center position. our bench would be better too as a result. I don’t how much defense we would have but i like it thoughts?

    • GK4Prez

      You didn’t post the link to your trade, you just posted a link to the trade machine.

      What I really don’t get is how the Nuggets beat writers never question or press him on issues from game to game. It is like he has them under his control. Lopez, Hochman, and Dempsey all need to grow a pair. I am not suggesting the Nuggets fire him, but hold his old out dated keester accountable for the double standards that he regularly displays and for some of the decisions that he makes. Put him on the hot seat and force him to think/do things outside of his box.

      Here is a prime example, Hochman had a write up on the loss to the Raptors and part of a quote that GK made in the article, is this:

      “If we had rebounded two or three shots earlier, they wouldn’t have had that opportunity. One thing I don’t think my team understands is the rebound is a huge factor in the last five minutes of a close game.”

      Nowhere in the article was there a follow up question to this statement by Hochman questioning the lineup on the floor during this crucial stage of a game. But, Nuggets fans realize how important they are, and we also realize that GK’s dumb ass is playing an under-sized 6’6″ PF at center in those last 5 minutes of a game. Put a lineup on the floor that has the best opportunity to finish a defensive set and you just might get one of those much needed rebounds/stops to help seal a win. Even when GK attempts to be logical and realistic he tends to come of as a hypocrite.

      • leeds

        GK had timeouts to burn to play Defense Offense. certainly could have brought in a big for Miller to help rebound in the last minute of the game

      • jd80229

        When any of the local guys dare to challenge Coach Karl, he accuses them of “irresponsible journalism” like he did to Hochman last year, Denver isn’t NY where the writers are paid to be as provocative as possible because of the amount of media competition. As long as this is a one paper town, it is what it is.

        • GK4Prez

          I remembered that JD, that is why I typed it the way that I did. Hochman instantly backed down, and hasn’t questioned GK on anything since. Don’t get me wrong, I think Hochman is good people, but as the beat writer, is he really doing his job if he never poses a tough question to the coach of the team he is writing about. Don’t answer that because we both know the answer (gk and Kroenke are tight). It would just be nice to see someone question the authority for once.

  • NuggDr

    Why don’t the Nuggets trade Andre Miller for Ray Allen?

    • Mark

      For the same reason they don’t trade him for LeBron James.

    • Fed up Nug

      “George, when he first came to Milwaukee, he was every bit a players’ coach. He listened, he responded to things we needed, things we wanted and everyone wanted to play hard for him,” Allen said of Karl, who was fired last month.

      “If we were tired, he made us work harder. If we needed a day off, he made us practice. It always seemed like when something went wrong he’d bash us in the papers . . . I started despising him . . . I got tired of that after a while, and my hatred started growing.”

  • Giovanni

    Andre Miller=Antony Carter…

    The best option is trade Miller for a young pg…

    Trade Mozgov and Chandler for a shooter like Korver or JJ Redick

    Trust in Ty and Gallo…

  • CoryW

    Sorry about that. My trade was miller, Chandler, and mozgov for j.j. reddick and Jameer nelson. more three point threats but not a ton of defense in return, thoughts?

    • mcz84

      that would be a nice deal for the nuggets, doubt magic would do it though

  • Rocco

    Miller is definitely a weak link in the current rotation. Ironically its not his offense which draws my main criticism (although the Boston game examples you point to were egregious) its his defense. Against Toronto, his lack of ability/hustle to close out on three point shooters was a major reason the Raptors shot 7-of-10 from 3pt land in the final quarter. For f**k sake Andre at least wave to them while they prepare to shoot. Unfortunately these are not isolated incidents. He’s too foot slow to play the kind of defense that fits best with this team.

  • monimo

    First, I was very upset about Millers play at the end of the game. But now I’m changing my opinion. There were 8-9 seconds left, I think he saw Faried going at the basket, so he tried a 3 pointer (let’s say 20-25% chance to make it), but with Faried having at least 40% chance to rebound in case of a miss (and with enough time to finish the play). So, Millers play (even if it didn’t look like it) was a nearly 50% chance play. Not to bad and probably the better % option than giving the basket ball to Gallo or Ty with enough time for Boston to set his defensive and rebounding position.

    • IW

      save your fingers monimo, never in the history of the NBA has a BACKUP point guard for a top 5 NBA team been so ridiculed. It has reached almost comical proportions.

      All over a regular season game. Yikes.

      • GK4Prez

        Speaking for myself, I was pissed off at Miller during and after the Boston game. But, it wasn’t just for that game, it was all of the events that led up to it. Like crying over playing time, saying the team isn’t good enough to win (even though he knew the situation he was going to be in before he inked his new contract, he was free to sign anywhere), walking off the floor before a game is finished, which is very disrespectful to the opponent and he did it more than once, etc…

    • Bryan

      That is absolutely ridiculous.

  • airvaid

    How come no one ever questions Ty or Gallo for not demanding the ball more?

    Not defending Andre and his horrible play selection. But really all through the OT, Miller kept taking the ball and attacking. For better or worse. While Ty and Gallo just kept treating it like a hot potato.

    These guys are getting paid in 8 figures every year, how about taking the responsibility with the game on the line.

    Gallo especially. He’s great with the ball in the clutch. But he has to be fed the ball and forced to make a play.

    Even against the Lakers, he made the shot. But it came off a rebound from an Andre Miller miss.

    And Ty if you want to be the leader of this team, you have to be aggresive and demand the ball in that situation rather than being passive and waiting for it to come to you.

    It’s no coincidence that when Karl drew inbounds play, Andre was the one inbounding it and the plays were drawn for Gallo or Ty. But if both of them don’t take responsibility then who will?

    • IW

      well said airvaid.

      Ty doesn’t demand the ball. Ty also can’t hit a free throw to save his life. Kinda difficult to be that go-to guy at the end of a game if you can’t hit one.

      Miller does attack. He isn’t afraid whatsoever. I screamed at the TV as did everyone when Miller took that 3. But you know what? I also recall Miller leaving the game with 8:40 something left and Boston going on an immediate run. Until…yup, Miller was placed back into the game. I also remember some beautiful feeds to Faried and a nice fall away baseline jumper in there as well. Obviously he is a calming influence on the game which will never get measured.

      In the end Miller did lose that game. But for people to say he only plays for himself? that Miller = Anthony Carter? Really?

      Anyone think there is a coach in the NBA who wouldn’t want to have the luxury of an Andre Miller in a backup role?

    • GK4Prez

      There was no chance for Ty to get the ball in that situation, Miller took the shot with 8 seconds left and only two players were ahead of him on the play (Chandler and Faried), and they weren’t really ahead of him, scroll up and look at the still shot on the photo. Anytime a player takes a pull up 3 with nobody under the bucket to get the miss is a bad shot, but to do it for the final shot of the game is beyond stupid. He is the veteran on this team and he is supposed to lead by example, which he hasn’t been doing.

  • googergieger

    Really? Okay so Gallo and Ty should basically do the Fresh Prince of Bel Air rip the arms out of Will’s hands and force up a turrible shot?

    Up to Karl to tell his team who gets the ball at the end or to draw a play up for someone. Especially when all Karl does is talk about how anyone can finish the game and hit the big shot on this team. Much more seeing as the only person who seems to not get in trouble for going one on five is Miller, not hard to see why he is literally the only person that does.

    • airvaid

      Look at those pictures, do you see anyone with their hands up, asking of the ball? Pretty telling IMO.

      • googergieger


  • googergieger

    George Karl hasn’t done one thing in this game that is any sort of commendable. At this point it’d be easier to list what he did right. Nothing. There you go. Swear to Bob Iggy and Gallo are the only two things that make him look competent.

  • theo

    What a truly bizarre post and thread. Clearly, nobody here has ever played basketball or probably any sport. Yeah, it’s easy to critique things while watching video over and over again after the fact modeled on, well, I’m just thinking, porno addiction or a pro assistant coaching career (basically the same thing)?

    Get a life.

    • GK4Prez

      The post police on career choices is telling others to get a life, imagine that.


    karl fire

    GALLINARI and LAWSON .. with Van Gundy !!!!

  • Steven

    Nice article Joel……..Miller will be the death of this team.

  • Zack

    I can’t believe that a week ago Andre Miller said that he wants more playing time. GK loves him and plays him too much as it is (he’s playing almost 26 MPG this season).

    Where would he go where he could get more playing time than that? Hopefully there’s a trade in the works for him. Get Stone some playing time.

  • Charlie

    What I can’t get over about this sequence is how dumb it is.

    After two overtimes, it’s clear everyone’s tired out. Why throw the game away by not even making Boston defend on the last two plays?

    Too much dribbling and absolutely zero awareness of the clock and score at that time. It epitomizes the Nuggets in close games.

    You can’t praise that shot if you’re George Karl. You play Boston tough as nails for three and half hours and bail them out on THAT?

    Miller’s teammates and coaches should have been fuming