2009 NBA Playoffs Round 2 Game 3: Denver Nuggets 106 – Dallas Mavericks 105

Box Score | Highlights

If you are looking for a reason why the Denver Nuggets struggled to duplicate their relatively easy wins from the first two games of the series against the Dallas Mavericks I will give you three.  First Dallas played with more fire and intensity because they were at home.  They are a very good home team. 

Secondly Dallas finally started running and scoring in transition.  In game three the Mavericks were credited with 21 fast break points while the Nuggets only compiled nine.  Dallas had only scored 13 fast break points in the first two games while Denver rung up 54.  Transition defense has been a weakness for the Nuggets all season and neither New Orleans nor Dallas have tried to take advantage of that aspect of the game.

Thirdly, the game was officiated in a way that was beneficial to the Mavericks.  That is not a complaint.  I thought the referees were consistent from start to finish, or at least from start through the first 11:57 of the fourth quarter.  Dallas needs the referees to penalize Denver from playing physical defense and they did.  In my opinion they called the game too tightly.  The third quarter seemed like it lasted an hour.  Dallas shot 21 free throws in the third quarter alone (all in the final 9:20) and the Nuggets shot 12.  Thirty-three free throws in a single quarter is just brutal to watch.

However, it is difficult to be upset with the referees (and not because of the way the game ended).  After watching the third quarter again the way the game was being officiated, it is hard to argue with the calls.  Many of them were on plays where the Nuggets were reaching.  Chauncey picked up two fouls trying to make a steal.  At one point Melo had switched onto Dirk, he fought for position in the post and forced Nowitzki out to the three point line to receive the pass.  Then he banged with Dirk continuing to fight for every inch he could.  Then after working that hard, he bails Dirk out by slapping his arms when he pivoted to shoot.  The Nuggets committed fouls due to either lazy defense or getting caught out of position.

Foul trouble became an issue in the third quarter as Chauncey, Chris Andersen and Nene all were called for their fourth foul by the midpoint of the third quarter.  Andersen committed two bad frustration fouls which gave him five fouls with over three minutes left in the third.  He would foul out after playing less than 11 minutes. 

As a result the Nuggets were forced to play with a smaller lineup and with the Mavericks forcing their way into the paint more frequently it forced the Nuggets to foul even more to prevent easy shots at the rim.

As the game progressed it was apparent to me that Dallas was playing with just a tad bit more intensity and intelligence at both ends of the floor.  As I have written before it is impossible to manufacture desperation and Dallas was playing with desperation.  Add in the poor shooting by the Nuggets in the first half, the lackadaisical defense resulting in the free throw parade in the third quarter, the foul trouble born out of sloppy defense and the Nuggets not being able to put together that decisive run we have become accustom to and it was a very frustrating game to watch.  The Nuggets did not play their best and everything I was watching convinced me the Nuggets would not pull this game out.  They lost a close game three in New Orleans and they were about to lose a close game three in Dallas. 

With 34 seconds left Anthony Carter made the horrible decision, as he frequently does, to run at Dirk from behind Dirk in an attempt to steal the ball.  Carter left Jason Terry all alone in the corner and in a play you could see happening before everything actually happened Dirk passed over to Terry who hit the open three to put Dallas up 105-101.  Game over, or at least so I thought.

From that point on the Mavericks made four big mistakes.  First of all needing to run some clock they allowed Carmelo to score on a dunk in only 2.6 seconds.  I realize you do not want to foul, but at least make Melo change directions.  If they manage to force just two more seconds off the clock, I think Denver has to foul on ensuing possession instead of playing to get one more stop with time on the clock.  

The second mistake was made by Dirk.  Not only did Dirk take some terrible shots down the stretch, but he probably lost the game for Dallas by shooting far too early on their second to last possession.  There was a differential of roughly four seconds between the shot clock and game clock.  Dirk shot with six seconds left on the shot clock.  By the time Denver corralled the rebound and called timeout there were 6.5 seconds left.  If Dirk shoots that shot with just one or two seconds on the shot clock, Denver is looking at only a second or two to tie or win the game instead of 6.5. 

The final two mistakes were the inability to foul convincingly, which I have already written about, and the unimaginative inbounds play the Mavericks ran at the end of the game.  I thought the final inbounds play by the Mavericks was pretty weak.  The Mavs only needed two points to win and running a play for Dirk or Terry to catch running away from the basket, forcing them to turn and shoot from long range was silly.  I think Dallas could have had Josh Howard cutting to the rim.  They should have known Denver would be focusing on Dirk and Terry which would have allowed Howard, who set a screen for Dirk, but when Howard curled around the backside he ran towards the opposite sideline instead of at the rim plus Brandon Bass was just sitting on the offside block anyway.

If Dallas makes better decisions or better plays in any of those four situations, apart from the final play with only a second left, that is a tough situation to bounce back from, perhaps the game ends up differently.

If you are looking for one thing that turned the game in the Nuggets’ favor look no further than a defensive adjustment George Karl made midway through the fourth quarter.  With Dirk scoring almost at will off of all the defensive switches the Nuggets were employing Karl changed things up during a timeout with 6:22 remaining in the fourth.  From that point on Denver started defending screens straight up with the big man hedging to slow down the ball handler and then recovering back to his man.  From that point on I believe Denver only switched one more screen the rest of the game.  However, Dallas probably did not realize the Nuggets had changed tactics for a couple of minutes because they posted Jason Kidd up on Chauncey for four or five straight possessions. 

Dallas ran their last set with Kidd posting up Billups at the 3:17 mark when Chauncey finally kept Kidd out of the lane and forced a bad turnaround jumper.  From that point on Dallas ran their regular down screens and pick and pop sets against the Nuggets more stout non-switching pick defense.  The result was out of Dallas’ final six shots not one of them came from in the lane.  Four of those six shots were badly forced jumpers by Dirk over Kenyon (of course one of them was the final shot of the game where Dirk had no choice, but to shoot a contested jumper).

When the Nuggets switch and Dirk is covered by a guard or Melo, he will back the smaller defender down and get an easy two.  If he has a big man on him, he almost always settles for the jumper.  By making sure Kenyon stayed on Dirk it ensured Nowitzki will take much more difficult shots.

Denver did hold the Mavericks to 40.0% shooting so from that standpoint it is difficult to say Denver did a poor defensive job, but I will.  The Nuggets hardnosed defense we saw against the Hornets has been softened because of all the switching.  Denver was forced to foul because the Mavs had the ball in the lane all night long.  The Nuggets defensive efficiency in games two and three against Dallas has been their two worst of the postseason. 

The Nuggets now have a chance at sweeping the Mavericks tonight in Dallas.  How amazing has this run been?

Additional Round 2 Game 3 Nuggets

 

  • I love how Chauncey defended the final play by Dallas.  Kidd was throwing the ball in and Dallas attempted to run Terry and Dirk towards the ball to receive a pass, turn and shoot.  Chauncey did not bother covering Kidd and when Terry flashed to the ball, Chauncey ran at him forcing him to run back out towards half court.  Kenyon forced Dirk to run almost all the way to Kidd to get open and at the three second mark of the five second count both Dirk, Terry, Chauncey, Kenyon and Carter were all bunched up in front of Kidd and Jason had nowhere to pass.  He made the inbounds pass to Dirk with just a couple of tenths of a second left on the five second count. 
  • One thing I have not heard mentioned about the play where Melo hit the game winning three pointer, although I have not read any game stories as of yet so someone may have brought it up, is even if the officials make the foul call the Nuggets still have the ball with over three seconds left to score.  Wright reached in at the 3.6 second mark so Denver still would have had plenty of time to set Melo or Chauncey up with a chance to win the game.
  • I do think Denver had to go for the win at the end of regulation.  With the foul trouble they were in, an extra five minutes might have been a dicey proposition.
  • Dallas deserves credit for the way they played. Their defense was spirited and offensively they were much more aggressive at going to the rim and attacking in transition. It will be interesting if they can recreate that effort after all the frustration from a very difficult loss.
  • With Denver down three and under a minute left Kenyon Martin forced a miss by Dirk on a wild turnaround jumper and the Nuggets quickly brought the ball into the front court.  Chauncey had been red hot in the second half and Melo had been getting to the line at will.  Surely needing a bucket to have any chance to win they would go to one of those two.  Instead Chauncey gave the ball to a player who at that point was 1-9 on the day.  Chauncey realized Brandon Bass cold not cover Nene.  Nene caught the ball on the right block, surveyed the court and noticed Bass was playing him high to keep him from turning getting into the middle of the lane.  Nene spun baseline around Bass and after avoiding a meager swipe at the ball by Dirk laid it in to bring the Nuggets to within one.  I do not know if Chauncey knew Nene was 1-9 and had been missing easy shots all day long, but the fact he gave the big man the rock in that situation shows the kind of trust these guys have in each other.
  • I have to take George Karl to task over one decision.  We all know Linas Kleiza is only worth having on the court if he is scoring.  Well, due to foul trouble Kleiza was on the floor for 13:54 despite the fact he could not shoot after slamming his thumb in a car door.  Why keep Kleiza on the court knowing he cannot provide anything on offense and suffer through his poor defense.  Renaldo Balkman absolutely must play in that situation. 
  • Rick Carlisle has received a lot of credit for having the guts to keep Josh Howard in the game with four fouls in the third quarter.  Apart from a couple of nice drives Howard did not really do anything.  He switched onto Dahntay Jones for much of that time so he was not helping on defense, he was just on the court to be on the court.  Plus he was called for a technical after in his frustration he swatted the ball out of play after it passed through the net.  Do you think Dallas would have liked to have that point back?
  • J.R. Smith had a poor shooting game, but he was excellent on defense and he ended up leading the Nuggets in plus/minus with a plus eight.  J.R. played very good defense and there were two occasions in the first half when he was switched onto Dirk where he prevented Nowitzki from getting to the rim and forced misses. 
  • Chris Andersen  was also largely an observer although he has little room to complain.  His fourth and fifth fouls were just very poor decisions.  For the Nuggets to win, on the road in the playoffs no less, with Birdman on the bench for almost 38 minutes and J.R. not scoring is a great sign.
  • Carter’s steal percentage has to be about the lowest in the league.  Near the end of the game when he tried to get a steal from Dirk and left Jason Terry alone in the corner I think every Nuggets fan saw the three pointer going in the hoop as soon as Carter ran at Dirk.  He may be a good on the ball defender and at chasing his man through screens, but he leaves his teammates out to dry by going for steals as much as Allen Iverson did. 

Mindboggling Game Stats

Pace Factor:  90.7 – Exactly the same as game two.

Defensive Efficiency:  115.8 – Exactly the same as game two as the pace factor was the same and Dallas scored 105 points in both games. 

Offensive Efficiency:  116.9 – Once again the offense was solid even with J.R. Smith struggling and Melo shooting a poor percentage.

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Video Scouting Report – Defending Chris Paul and the Pick and Roll

There is no doubt that the Denver Nuggets are going to have to defend the pick and roll at least competently in order to have a chance in this series.  The Denver bigs are all capable of playing good to great pick and roll defense.  Nene, Kenyon Martin and Chris Andersen all move their feet well for their size and should be very useful in slowing Chris Paul down. 

The Nuggets seemed to get better and better at defending Chris Paul as the season wore on.  In the final meeting between the two teams Denver forced Paul into six turnovers thanks to an aggressive trapping scheme.  However, it is important to note that the Hornets were playing without Peja Stojakovic and Tyson Chandler.  Trapping Paul will not be as easy with Chandler diving down the lane and Peja spotted up on the weak side. 

Denver will need to employ more than one scheme as Paul will be able to solve anything they throw at him eventually.  Look for the Nuggets to trap, to surround Paul with a soft umbrella of help designed to keep him out of the lane and even to switch.  In an interview on Friday with 1510 AM George Karl said the coaching staff had considered starting Melo or Kenyon on Paul.  By starting with a mismatch they can then switch and then have everyone matched up correctly.  Of course, in that situation my response would be to skip the pick and roll and exploit the mismatch.  I imagine someone like Chris Paul would figure that out as well.  However, in watching film from the previous matchups whenever the Nuggets switched Paul would almost exclusively pass off to the screener.  I wonder if he will be so passive in the playoffs.

Once again I have put together some clips of the Nuggets pick and roll defense looking at both successes and failures.  It should come as no surprise that the Hornets were able to take advantage of the slightest breakdown or belated rotation by earning a quality shot.  As I point out in the video instead of Julian Wright taking open jumpers, in the playoffs it will be Peja.

Chris Paul showed last season that he is capable of raising his game to incredible levels in the playoffs and Denver will have to deal with a determined, supremely talented and aggressive player. The one thing that really frightens me is Paul’s ability to draw fouls. Look for him to drive into the body of the Nuggets’ bigs in an attempt to draw fouls. If he can get two out of the threesome of Nene, Kenyon and Birdman into foul trouble it will be a big advantage for New Orleans.

Paul is going to play like a man possessed and Denver better be ready to match his desire and intensity.

Denver Nuggets Pick and Roll Defense Against the New Jersey Nets

I mentioned in my game recap of the Denver Nuggets 121-96 victory over the New Jersey Nets that Denver played very strong pick and roll defense.  I purposely left the details out because I was planning on putting together some video evidence so here you go.  Take note of how the Nuggets defended as a group and every movement was done deliberately with a purpose behind it.

The frustrating thing is watching them defend the pick and roll correctly it really is not that difficult. No one is doing anything superhuman or spectacular. To be fair, defending the pick and roll against Keyon Dooling is slightly easier than when Devin Harris has the ball, but the same principles apply no matter who is dribbling the ball.