2009-10 Game 9: Denver Nuggets 102 – Milwaukee Bucks 108

Box Score | Highlights

I have no doubt that fatigue played a role in the Denver Nuggets’ 108-102 loss against the Milwaukee Bucks. I wish I could say that fatigue was the only problem.

Defensively Denver is not playing with any cohesion. On many possessions one player makes a mistake or gets beat and the help is not there. I was once again a part of the Daily Dime chat and I mentioned how when the Nuggets drive to the lane they are swamped with defenders, but when the Bucks would drive the lane they frequently only had to deal with one player trying to help and doing a poor job of it.

Honestly, the Nuggets are floundering in nearly every facet of defense. They are not consistently working together on pick and rolls, they are missing rotations, and generally playing lazy. Last night against the Bulls we mentioned how Nene failed to step out on a pick and roll and gave Kirk Hinrich a wide open short jumper. Well, he did it again in the fourth quarter allowing Luke Ridnour to easily drain a short jumper.

There was an instance where Ty Lawson left Brandon Jennings (who was absolutely amazing and is the early favorite for rookie of the year) to double the wing and when the pass came back to Jennings Lawson made no effort to get back to him and Chauncey did not budge from the other wing to rotate over and help. The result? A wide open shot for Jennings. Chauncey apparently blamed Lawson and since he is the veteran, then we all blame Lawson, but it is asking a lot to have Lawson recover from a double and be able to handle a player as quick as Jennings. In that situation Billups has to rotate over and help. We do not know if Lawson was supposed to stay home. Regardless it was an breakdown and no one helped cover for the mistake.

Early in the game Ersan Ilyasova, who was one of the players I mentioned as a cheap potential replacement for Linas Kleiza, was open behind the arc and Kenyon just stood there a few feet away and allowed him to shoot. Either the advance scout did not inform the team that Ilyasova was a better shooter than his percentage indicated or Kenyon did not feel the need to move. Ilyasova hit the three and went on to make two more where there was no Nugget anywhere near him and his offense was a big boost for the Bucks.

Just like on defense the Nuggets are not playing together on offense. I realize Carmelo is comfortable being isolated on the wing, but he can get easier shots by giving the ball up and relying on the talents of his teammates, movement and passing to get him the ball in a position where the defense is dislodged instead of well positioned and ready to pounce on him.

The poor decision making extends beyond the court as George Karl continues to force feed Anthony Carter minutes at the expense of the Nugget who puts forth the most effort on the team, Arron Afflalo. Carter only played six minutes, but Afflalo was only on the floor for 15. I honestly believe the game might have had a different outcome if Carter’s minutes had been given to Afflalo.

The best example of how hard Afflalo plays was when Nene turned the ball over in the lane and all five Nugget players were underneath the free throw line. Nene never made a move to retrieve the ball, nor did any other Nugget despite the fact the ball was in the lane. As the Bucks took off on a fast break Afflalo was the only player in blue who even tried to make a play and he sprinted all out up the floor in an attempt to stop the Bucks from getting a hoop. There was a similar play where again Afflalo was the only Nugget to try to stop the break and he surprised Jennings with his presence and almost forced a turnover.

I keep hoping the other Nuggets will be inspired by Afflalo’s intense play, but he continues to stick out like a sore thumb as a player who is clearly working harder than his teammates.

Denver was fortunate to escape this six game road trip with a split. They were stomped in Miami and Atlanta, outplayed in Milwaukee and were a tenth of a second away from losing in Chicago. Next up is the Pau Gasol-less Lakers back at home.

Other Game 9 Nuggets

  • J.R./Earl Smith rebounded from last night’s poor shooting in Chicago and played an important role in Denver’s fourth quarter comeback.  Only his shot looks rusty as he is playing decent defense, getting to the rim and passing pretty well.
  • Late in the game after not getting a call on a missed layup Kenyon made a frustration foul in front of one of the officials and then compounded it by getting T’d up.  It lead directly to three points for the Bucks and they were three huge points that made it practically impossible for Denver to get back in the game.
  • I am waiting for some on the floor leadership from Chauncey when things are not going well for Denver other than shooting bad threes.
  • Carmelo made an absolutely terrible play near the end of the first half.  After getting beaten baseline by Carlos Delfino, which happened repeatedly by the way, Melo reached in from behind and made a great steal with 14 seconds left in the half.  Instead of just possessing the ball and heading up the floor for the final shot of the half, he tried busting up the court between three Bucks defenders.  The result was a turnover and instead of the Nuggets getting the last shot of the half, Milwaukee did, and Jennings hit a long two pointer.  Two points the Bucks should never have had.
  • Melo also made two incredible blocks and a big deflection to go along with his aforementioned steal.  While they were spectacular plays, they all came after he was beaten badly by his man off the dribble.  Plus his two blocks were with exaggerated swings of his arm, which while looking fancy, usually result in fouls.
  • It was interesting that the group that was responsible for making a run at the Bucks in the fourth quarter was Lawson/Billups/Smith/Melo and Nene.  In only his second game back Smith played the final 16:19 of the game.  Karl either does not trust Afflalo yet or he really likes Smith.
  • I have not written about this yet, but the Nuggets propensity for switching on screens is really bugging me.  I just had to fit that in.

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2009-10 Game 8: Denver Nuggets 90 – Chicago Bulls 89

Box Score | Highlights

Before we get to the controversial ending in Chicago tonight, I need to address the game itself.

I cannot go as far as to say the Nuggets did not deserve to win, they earned their lead that barely held up in the end, but I was seriously disappointed in their play in the fourth quarter.

Primarily I feel like a dolt for getting caught up in the Carmelo hype after his great first two games. Tonight, in a very important game based on their two game losing streak, he made awful decisions on offense, played lackadaisical on defense and in my opinion nearly cost Denver the game.

To his credit even in the games at New Jersey, Miami and Atlanta Carmelo did seem to be trying to get to the rim more. Tonight in the second half he had three straight drives result in misses and all three times Melo thought he was fouled. After that he seemed to rely more on his jumper. When it was not falling he did try to get to the rim, but again, the Bulls were ready to collapse on him and the results were not good.

To his credit though, as we have seen time and again, Melo hit the shot he had to. With the score tied and 33 seconds left J.R. Smith entered the ball to Melo on the left wing. Melo took two dribbles towards the baseline, picked up his dribble and with Luol Deng still hanging on him pump faked and drained a fifteen footer.

His shot selection was not the only problem. As I discussed in the Daily Dime Chat I do not know who to blame more, Carmelo for forcing bad shots or his teammates for doing their best impression of the Washington Monument. Was Melo not passing because his teammates were not cutting, or were they not cutting because he was going to shoot?

I suspect blame is to be laid at the feet of all involved.

The offensive problems were not all Melo though. On at least three, and maybe four, occasions Denver was able to collect an offensive rebound and immediately hoisted a shot. Chauncey did it once, J.R. did it once, Nene did it once (although he did drive to the rim before taking his shot) and I think Afflalo was guilty as well.

Nene was very effective when he could get a shot off, but he turned the ball over five times. J.R., or Earl, sorry J.R., I mean Earl, is off to his typical slow start shooting 1-9 in his first action of the season. Even his arms-at-his-sides-with-his-hands-held-out-in-disbelief protest was not quite as angular as usual. Although he did compile five assists and played solid defense. Chris Andersen was outworked by Joakim Noah.

As bad as most of the fourth quarter was, the final seconds were even worse.

The Nuggets tried to do the smart thing twice in the final 11 seconds and nearly were beaten because of it. Up two and with a foul to give Chauncey tried to grab Derrick Rose, but the foul was not called until Rose was in the act of shooting. Rose made both free throws to tie the game and then Chauncey was fouled with 0.6 seconds remaining.

After he made the first free throw to put Denver up one, I commented that he should miss the second one on purpose. He did and it nearly cost Denver the game. Noah pulled the board cleanly as every member of the Bulls team and coaching staff yelled for a timeout. It was determined that three tenths of a second would come off the clock which gave Chicago another three tenths to get a shot off. Had the rebound been tipped or mishandled, and Earl Smith III nearly got a finger on it, the game would have been over.

After the timeout Brad Miller caught the inbounds pass and quickly flipped the ball at the rim. The shot went in and it was initially ruled a basket on the court. However, NBA rules mandate the play be reviewed. After about five minutes led official Mark Wunderlich declared that the ball had not completely left Miller’s hand before the buzzer.

I can certainly understand why Bulls fans are upset. In my opinion if there is enough evidence to overturn the call, it should have been apparent quickly. However, as J.A. Adande pointed out, who cares how long it takes as long as they get the call right.

Regardless of whether or not you agree with the decision, you have to give the NBA credit for doing everything they can to get these calls correct. Starting with the rebound off Billups’ missed free throw to the review of Miller’s final shot the NBA has stipulated exactly what can and cannot happen.

From the Official NBA rulebook (page 57):

“NO LESS than :00.3 must expire on the game clock when a player secures possession of an unsuccessful free throw attempt and immediately requests a timeout. If LESS than :00.3 expires in such a circumstance, the time on the game clock shall be reduced by at least :00.3.”

“The game clock must show :00.3 or more in order for a player to secure possession of the ball on a rebound or throw-in to attempt a field goal. Instant replay shall be utilized if the basket is successful on this type of play and the clock runs to 0:00.”

“Regardless of when the horn or red light operates to signify the end of period, the officials (as aided by instant replay, if required) will ultimately make the final decision whether to allow or disallow a successful field goal. THE CREW CHIEF MUST TAKE CHARGE OF THE SITUATION.”

Between the rules which dictate how long actions, such as securing a rebound and calling a timeout take, the use of instant replay and the implementation of the lights along the backboard and along the scorer’s table the league has tried to idiot proof the process as much as possible. Even so I find it intriguing that the crew chief can overrule the audible evidence of the horn and the visual evidence of the lights that come on and declare a basket no good.

I think Adande had the best line of the night when in response to my comment that there was no way Milller got the shot off in time he wrote “I’m not sure Brad Miller could even blink in that time.”

It may have been ugly and controversial, but the Nuggets won and as long as they can clean up their many mental and physical mistakes that have plagued them the past three games they are still in a great position after the first tenth of the season.

Additional Game 8 Nuggets

  • Melo’s problems did not exist only on the offensive end. On two occasions in the third quarter Melo did not rotate on defense. He was at the top of the lane and the ball was swung to the top of the circle. On both occasions he should have run to the ball. The other acceptable option would have been taking the player on the wing, who received another swing pass from the man Melo should have been covering. Had he run at the wing player, all would have been well. Instead he stood in between the two players. On the first occasion he then floated to the three point line on the shot and gave up an offensive rebound because of it. On the second Nene had to run out of the lane to cover the wing, even though Melo was three times closer, and that left Noah open at the rim for a dunk. I guess it is good that Denver could win on the road against a good team with Melo playing so poorly, but I would much rather have Melo play great and Denver win by 15.
  • With Earl Smith III returning to action tonight I was intrigued to see how George Karl would handle the rotations, i.e. how much he would play Anthony Carter. Karl put Carter in the game along with Lawson and then Billups in the first half. He proved that he could not stay in front of John Salmons and despite dishing out a couple of nice passes, was generally driving me crazy. Carter did not get in the game in the second half and it will be interesting to see if Karl sticks with giving Carter a handful of minutes a game while keeping more talented players on the pine.
  • Despite a couple of really bad shots in the first quarter Kenyon had a very nice game. Denver is undefeated when Martin plays more than 12 minutes. He appeared to reinjure his shin at one point, but it did not seem to bother him as the game wore on.
  • The Nuggets played very good defense for the most part, but there were a few too many mental mistakes that allowed Chicago to stay in the game. Along with the two instances where Melo failed to rotate mentioned above, there was a possession where with the shot clock running down Chauncey looked away from Rose and allowed him to cut to the lane, receive a pass and score. On more than one occasion Birdman chose not to block Noah out at all. With 3:48 left in the game and Denver up five Derrick Rose came off a high screen and Nene just laid back in the lane allowing Rose to drain an open jumper to make it a one possession game. As with their losses in Miami and Atlanta, they are making numerous small mistakes that add up over time. Fortunately the Bulls did not shoot as well as the heat or Hawks, but the Nuggets are definitely not playing their best ball right now.

Advanced Game Stats

Pace Factor: 89.9 – very slow
Defensive Efficiency: 99.0 – very solid
Offensive Efficiency: 100.1 – very average

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Update: Here is a pretty conclusive view of Miller’s shot (hat tip to Blog a Bull).