Tag:Denver Nuggets
Posted on: April 24, 2011 2:33 am
Edited on: April 24, 2011 3:22 am
 

OKC survives late scare from Nuggets to go up 3-0

Posted by Royce Young



The Thunder’s up three games to none over Denver. They walked into an incredibly hostile place and pulled out an unbelievably gritty win to put themselves in an excellent position to finish this series and move on to the second round.

But, whoa boy, it did not come easy.

(Remember, the Thunder won the game. They’re up 3-0. Remember that.)

Oklahoma City did a pretty admirable job of withstanding a barrage of Denver free throws in the third quarter which left the Nuggets with a 73-71 lead heading into the fourth. The Nuggets had every drop of momentum at that point, and looked to be charging their way to a big, series-lengthening win.

The Thunder didn’t execute by any means, but behind four straight stops and holding Denver without a bucket for almost five minutes, OKC stretched out to a comfortable lead late in the game. Russell Westbrook dropped a big shot. The Thunder dominated the glass. It was a textbook close for a team on the road.

And then Kendrick Perkins decided he wanted to throw a pretty stupid pass.

With 40 seconds left and the Thunder ahead by eight, Perk attempted to find Serge Ibaka with a full-court heave that fell innocently out of bounds. The Nuggets had life. After a couple missed free throws and a couple J.R. Smith 3-pointers, the Thunder found themselves only ahead by three, 97-94, with 10.5 seconds left and the Nuggets in possession.

Whoa. Boy. It all happened in such a whirl that it was almost like it didn't happen. How did a game go from 10 to three just like that? Could the Thunder really erase all that hard work in just a few seconds?

The ball would find Smith once again, and he tried to get James Harden to bite on a pump before going up for the shot. I'm sure, depending on which way your colors fall, you saw the play a different way. Smith clearly wanted the foul. The 20,000 people in the Pepsi Center were looking for it. But ref Derrick Stafford was having none of it. (You be the judge on it .)

Point is, the Thunder tried to completely crap away an incredible playoff win. They didn’t though. They’re still up 3-0 and in position to close this out Monday night. And the reasons they're winning are stops and rebounding. They've executed those two things superbly.

Offensively, both Westbrook and Kevin Durant never got entirely on track; going a combined 13-37 for 49 points. Much like Game 2, though, the Thunder found life in one of the oft overlooked role players. This time it was Serge Ibaka stepping up with 22 huge points, 16 even huger rebounds and four bigger than huge blocks. 

The Nuggets shot just 37 percent, but OKC was actually worse, shooting 36 percent. The game came down to free throws, where Denver blew 15 of them. What reared its ugly head again for the Nuggets, though, was the lack of a go-to scorer late in the game. They went five minutes without a basket late in the fourth and looked entirely lost. A fair bit of that can be credited to the Thunder's ability to guard, though.

Sans the last 40 seconds, OKC’s defense in the fourth quarter was pretty much unreal. The Nuggets had no idea where to go with the ball and couldn’t find even an inch of open floor for a clean look. The Thunder weren’t scoring much either, but it was a point here, a basket there and before you knew it, OKC had taken a two point lead to eight. And, so we thought, locked up the game.

Obviously, OKC didn’t get the memo this morning that NBA games do, in fact, last 48 minutes and not 47. I think the Thunder mentally checked out with 45 seconds left and started the party a bit early.

All that doesn’t matter, though. In the end, all it changes is how people like me have to recap the game. Because the Thunder’s up three games to none. They could’ve won 2-0 on a Kendrick Perkins’ fadeaway jumper and all that matters is that they had more points than Denver. In the NBA Playoffs, it’s about surviving these situations, and the Thunder stepped up in a scary moment, at a scary place, and against a completely desperate team.

The Nuggets knew Saturday night was pretty much do or die. They were the wounded dog trying to fight for it's life. That’s a tough environment to win in, especially for a young group that had never done such a thing. But OKC rose to the challenge and put the Nuggets away, and maybe the series, with defense.

Posted on: April 24, 2011 1:33 am
Edited on: April 24, 2011 1:37 am
 

Did James Harden foul J.R. Smith to end Game 3?

Posted by Royce Young

Oklahoma City ahead 97-94 with a couple seconds left. Ball finds J.R. Smith for 3, James Harden tightly defending him. You make the call -- did Harden foul Smith on the shot?



Posted on: April 23, 2011 4:22 pm
Edited on: April 23, 2011 4:57 pm
 

Series Reset: Backs to the mountain for Nuggets

Posted by Royce Young



The Narrative:
Not only have the Thunder taken an all important 2-0 lead, but they did it while sort of crushing the Nuggets' spirits as well. Oklahoma City completely dominated Game 2, leading by as much as 26 while never letting the lead get under 10 in the second half. Postgame, Denver did not appear to have much confidence as it prepared to go back home.

The Hook: This is it for the Nuggets. Not only has no team ever come back from a 3-0 deficit, but this team looks ready to lay down if things go bad tonight. I don't think they will because George Karl doesn't tend to let that happen and the way they rallied together after the Melo trade really speaks to their resiliancy.

But this is their first crack in front of their home fans. That type of thing makes a big, big difference. Not only is there a good jolt of energy from the arena, but the Nuggets have the added advantage of playing a mile above sea level. Kendrick Perkins admitted after Game 2 that you definitely feel the difference for at least a quarter. The Nuggets need to use that and jump out to a good start on the Thunder, energize their arena and build some confidence.

The Adjustment: At this point, just forget about adjusting on Kevin Durant. The Nuggets tried doubling in Game 2, but that just opened the floor for OKC's role players who lit Denver up.

The main adjustment I see the Nuggets making is figuring out a way to unstuff the paint. The Thunder did a terrific job completely plugging holes in Game 2, forcing Denver to take all contested jumpshots. The Nuggets really thrive on inside-out play between Nene and the guards as well as penetration and kickouts from Ty Lawson.

OKC's defensive strategy is to turn you into a jumpshooting team. The Nuggets can survive in that regard if they're hitting -- like they did in Game 1 -- but if they aren't, it turns into ugly offensive basketball like in Game 2. Denver has to figure out a way to get players like Wilson Chandler and Danilo Gallinari going (just 3-14 combined in Game 2) as well as Nene, J.R. Smith and the "little guys," as Karl calls Lawson and Ray Felton.

The X-Factor: I went with J.R. Smith for Game 2. He was a major disappointment, playing just a few minutes and none in the second half. He's the constant X-factor for Denver though. If he gets going, he can carry them offensively at any point in the game.

But one player I see the Nuggets really relying on tonight is Danilo Galliinari. He just hasn't made a big offensive impact yet in the series and is the kind of player the Nuggets need to get going. He can score in bunches and carry them offensively in stretches.

Here's the guy the Nuggets are counting on though: Arron Afflalo. He missed the first two games and is someone that the team the Denver fans seem to really be trusting to make a difference. And he certainly can. He's a good shooter and a long defender to try on Durant. Question is how healthy he is.

The Sticking Point: My initial pick for this series was the Thunder in five games and everything is on track for that. And this is the game I see OKC having trouble winning. The arena will be fired up and emotional and the Thunder could have trouble finding a win on the road. This Thunder group needs to figure out how to win away from home at some point, but I just get the sense the Nuggets are going to find a little confidence tonight.

This is OKC's series to lose still and one win for the Nuggets could inject them with a bit of life and potentially push them to steal another game. A loss for Denver and this thing is entirely over. This game could swing the series a bit. Either the Nuggets will get back in it, or it's pretty much all over.
Posted on: April 21, 2011 3:56 pm
Edited on: April 21, 2011 4:21 pm
 

Are the Nuggets fading and is Smith ready to go?

Posted by Royce Young



Maybe hearing the "94 percent of teams down 0-2 end up losing" stat last night shook the Nuggets a bit. Who knows. But they definitely have taken a pretty big blow to their confidence. A team that had bonded together and rode some serious us-against-everyone swagger post-Melo seems to be losing some steam.

Last night's whipping dealt to them by the Thunder certainly doesn't help, but postgame, there was a clear change in the way the team spoke and acted, starting at the top with George Karl. In his postgame comments, Karl was very quiet and let out a statement I found interesting.

"For me, it's Saturday night. We've got to worry about Saturday night. Win that game. Thinking about other stuff is goofy. Two days is good enough time to regroup and re-energize and get our confidence back in to a better place."

It's really just that last phrase that stuck out. Karl seemed to admit the team's confidence has been rattled. It's a little hard to blame them tough. In the past 20 days, his team has dropped four games to the Thunder by an average margin of 10.7 points. Plus one of them coming in their building.

Add to that J.R. Smith today via Ben Hochman of the Denver Post :

The Nuggets had a team meeting on Thursday and Smith said the team didn't have "a pulse" as they regrouped at Pepsi Center.

"Just frustration, just really didn't have any life in there," Smith said. "No one was really into it."

Smith though was either so downtrodden about the psyche of the team or the fact he didn't play in the second half last night (or both) that he made a bold statement that he wouldn't be coming back to the Nuggets next year.

"There's a strong possibility as of right now," Smith told the Denver Post. "It's not going the way I planned it to go. It's a tough situation. I want to be here, I love the fans and everything about the city. It's just maybe not my fit."

Now I realize you can't necessarily take things J.R. Smith says to heart, because he's J.R. Smith but his comments today really kind of followed up the feeling I got last night. Momentum and confidence are about two of the most important things there are when it comes to postseason basketball. A belief in yourself, your team, your gameplan and your ability to win in any circumstance is vital. It's the lifeblood to winning in the playoffs.

And a lot of that seemed to change when Kendrick Perkins was gifted two points in Game 1. Karl admitted he should've called a timeout because his team was rattled by the no call. Since that moment, the Nuggets haven't looked like themselves. There's probably being more made about this than is actually real, but the Nuggets have some of their players beat up and two of their best scorers dropped duds in Game 2 (Wilson Chandler and Danilo Gallinari were a combined 3-14 for 11 points).

Perkins talked last night about taking it to an opponent when it's down. He was referring to the 26-point lead, but I think it applies just as much to OKC's 2-0 one.

"That's the time you're supposed to just start smelling blood and keep going. I think when you're up by that many points that's the time you're supposed to step on their throats and not give them a chance and go up 'bout 40 or 50. I ain't been there before and I know what team's are capable of doing. It just takes one 10-0 run or one 15-0 run and they're right back in the game."

Give the Nuggets a game and you're going to find a team that's re-discovered its confidence. You're going to find a team ready to fight again and one that has a pulse. The Nuggets that rattled off all those wins post-Melo was one that had swagger, confidence and belief in each other oozing out of their ears.

The Thunder has the enemy down right now. As Perk said, time to stomp on their face, or something. Give Denver a game and you're about to give them a series too.
Posted on: April 20, 2011 4:32 pm
Edited on: April 20, 2011 5:28 pm
 

Playoffs Thunder-Nuggets: What worked vs. Durant?

Kevin Durant dropped 41 points in Game 1. Is there anything Denver can do to slow down Durantula? 
Posted by Matt Moore




So Kevin Durant had a pretty good Game 1. 41 points on 13-22 shooting, 9 rebounds, and 2 assists . You know, not bad. It was one of those games where you just have no idea how to guard Durant. Nailing heavily-contested pull-up threes, getting free off a pick and rising up, knocking down shot after shot after shot. It was a stunning performance, and proof that Durant probably should have had higher consideration for the MVP this season. It was assumed that Denver would have no way of guarding him, but few expected it to be that bad. 

Still, Denver has to come up with something in Game 2. Usually, in these types of situations, a team will opt to let the superstar beat them and focus on shutting down everyone else. Except, in Game 1, Durant and Westbrook combined for close to 70 percent of the Thunder's total offensive output, and they still won. So if they're going to try and at least make Durant's success marginally less efficient, they have to come up with a plan. After rewatching some things using Synergy Sports, there are some patterns.

The Nuggets tried everything against Durant. Here's a list of players who defended Durant at one point or another, and this doesn't even count switches off the pick-and-roll: Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler, Al Harrington, Kenyon Martin, and Raymond Felton. Nothing worked, but some things worked less than others. The objective isn't to stop Durant. It's simply to put him in a position to have to make the toughest shot possible, consistently. Here they are in reverse order of effectiveness.

Kenyon Martin: This was a single possession for a reason. Martin is a big, and has no chance of sticking with Durant. He showed hard, Durant went around. Game over. 

Raymond Felton: The idea's not bad, right? Try and guard Durant on the perimeter with a guard who can apply ball pressure. Durant easily posted him and scored over him. Felton simply doesn't have the size to combat Durant's frame. That one's a non-starter. 

Al Harrington: Similar to Kenyon Martin, but not as much of an issue. Still, Harrington was frozen when Durant blew by him, once off a pick, once in isolation. Harrington, again, seems  like a good plan. A bigger forward to body KD, with some length and a little bit of quickness to hang on the step back. But this just goes to show you Durant's underrated speed. One pump and Durant blew by him. Harrington's a bad defender, which is obviously an issue, but even physically, he doesn't hang. 

Danilo Gallinari: So close. Gallinari very nearly had Durant a few times. His spacing in ISO was solid, he played him well into help defense, and Gallo's big enough to handle Durant in the post. The issue comes in off-ball movement. Gallinari gets caught looking to find the ball, and in that tiny time frame, Durant would create just enough room to catch-and-shoot. Twice Durant came off the screen so fast Gallo was still catching up to the strong side by the time Durant had peeled into the lane. Gallo might be able to guard Durant in three to four years. But, right now, he doesn't have the awareness to stick with him.

Wilson Chandler: This is the guy. Chandler gave up points to Durant. You know why? Because he's Kevin Durant. But of Durant's nine misses, four can be attributed to Chandler's defensive effort. Three are thanks to Durant just missing, and two were good help defense. On Chandler's first possession guarding Durant on a shot opportunity, he jumped the passing lane and nearly created a steal. The Thunder recovered the ball on a scramble, but Durant was forced to shoot a last-second heave with Nene closing. Miss. Chandler has the explosion to catch Durant enough on the step back, as he did in the second quarter, forcing a bad, backboard-only miss. And twice, Chandler recovered off the pick-and-roll and blocked Durant's jumper, which is nearly impossible. Chandler keeps his positioning, plays hard to Durant's shooting hand, stays with him off-ball, and in a big, big adjustment, overplays him to drive him to help defense. It makes it hard for the back screen to close right, the front screen remains open for the supporting defense to help. If you're not going to trap, this is what has to happen consistently. Durant shot 15 free throws. Chandler only granted four of those, despite being the primary defender. 

This isn't a roadmap to slowing Durant. There isn't one, unless you are able to physically put him under water. But the Nuggets do have things they can do to try and make it as hard as possible for KD. Bringing more aggressive traps is a really dangerous maneuver considering the guards Oklahoma City has, and they have the finishers for the easy dish in Perkins and Ibaka. But that, combined with primarily sticking with Wilson Chandler may be Denver's best bet. At some point, though, you're dealing with what happened to Chandler multiple times. Great spacing, good contest, tight defense, and Kevin Durant just hits the shot.


Because he's incredible. 

And that's what incredible does. 
Posted on: April 20, 2011 1:06 pm
Edited on: April 20, 2011 1:42 pm
 

Series Reset: Changing course on Durant

Posted by Royce Young



The Narrative: Does anybody really feel like they have a good handle on the direction of Game 2 tonight? I definitely don't. After the drama of Game 1, it's hard to have any idea which way this thing is going to turn.

Of course, there are two major storylines coming in: 1) How do the Nuggets guard Kevin Durant and 2) can they bounce back from a devastating Game 1 loss?

With the first one, Kenyon Martin already talked yesterday about the Nuggets needing to adjust on Durant. I'm expecting to see him being doubled more often. Denver tried that once, back in December, after Durant dropped 21 in a quarter on them. He entered the fourth with 40 points, and I guess you could say the double worked, because he only finished with 44. Except the Thunder won comfortably because Durant did well passing out of that double-team.

For the second, that's up to George Karl. With his laid back demeanor and seemingly carefree attitude, he's a terrific coach for this Nuggets team. I think that'll come in handy tonight when he tries to get his guys to forget about Tip-In Gate.

The Hook: I agree with George Karl. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook aren't going to average 70 points a game together for this series. They're really good, but not that good.

But here's news to Karl: James Harden isn't going to average just five a game, either.

That was the Thunder sixth man's output from Game 1, where he went 0-4 from 3 and 1-5 from the field. Since the trade that sent Jeff Green to Boston, Harden averaged more than 16 points per game and almost 20 the last couple weeks of the season. He's a legit third scorer for the Thunder and a player Scott Brooks can turn to when in need of extra offense. But shutting down Durant is priority one for Denver. Westbrook is second. And then Harden. The Nuggets caught a break with him being off in Game 1. Don't count on that happening again.

The Adjustment:
I already mentioned it, and while the Nuggets adjustment on Durant is the biggest key, there's another question they need to answer: How do they score in the last five minutes?

Denver really had no idea where to go with the ball in late in Game 1. They tried Danilo Gallinari. Then J.R. Smith. Then Raymond Felton. There was just no good sense of where to put the ball. George Karl didn't sound concerned about it postgame, but I can promise you it's something he's been thinking about the last two days.

The X-Factor:
Where, oh where, was J.R. Smith in Game 1? He's likely the key to the series and he was virtually non-existent. He can make Nuggets fans pull their hair out sometimes, but he didn't do that once. He tried too hard to fit in to the flow of the game, and when Denver needed points late, he didn't seem to be willing to pull the trigger.

Denver has scorers, but the one that can truly isolate and score on his own is Smith. He's capable of lighting up OKC for 15 in a quarter if he gets going. And I can almost promise you, if Smith scores 20 tonight, the Nuggets win.

The Sticking Point: Both teams shot the ball extremely well in Game 1. Durant and Westbrook combined to go 18-25 on jumpshots. Can these teams keep it up? Both teams are gifted offensively and have scorers all over the floor, but maintaining a 50 percent clip, in the playoffs no less, is difficult. Will it continue? I say no. Which means this game will likely be more about defense and rebounding. Who has the edge there? Probably the Thunder.

Posted on: April 19, 2011 10:19 am
 

Arron Afflalo out for the Nuggets Wednesday

Posted by Royce Young

The Nuggets will still be missing one of their key parts Wednesday night in Game 2 versus the Thunder as guard Arron Afflalo will miss another game because of a pulled hamstring.

"Zero (percent chance)," he told The Denver Post. "It hasn't even been 10 days yet (of rest). I've made a mistake three times (by coming back). It's not even being cautious, it's just not healed. I've tried to come back in the regular season. I'm trying to get past that marker."

Afflalo not only is a good offensive weapon for Denver, but he's another body and long defender to throw at Kevin Durant. Durant of course lit the Nuggets up for 41 in Game 1.

Game 3 is still a question mark and for Afflalo to say zero percent makes me think he's in serious doubt for this series entirely. Hamstring injuries aren't something to mess with and they are extremely easy to set yourself back on. Afflalo, like he said, has already had that happen.

George Karl will likely stick with his starting five of Wilson Chandler at shooting guard, but he hinted a bit at starting both Raymond Felton and Ty Lawson together in the backcourt. Karl likes to play those two down the stretch in games anyway, so maybe with the way things went in Game 1, he'll think about making that change.
Posted on: April 18, 2011 4:22 pm
Edited on: April 18, 2011 4:28 pm
 

League: Perkins' tip shouldn't have counted

Posted by Royce Young



The league issued a statement telling us something we all already knew: Kendrick Perkins' basket with 1:05 remaining should not have counted. The statement reads:

"Kendrick Perkins was improperly credited with a basket that should have been ruled offensive basket interference with 1:05 remaining in last night’s game.  Although a player is permitted to touch the net while the ball is in the cylinder above the rim, Perkins also touched the ball while it was still in the cylinder which is a violation and constitutes goaltending.”

I love when these type of things happen. Yes, it's better that the league acknowledges the gaffe, but it doesn't mean Denver gets its two points back. The tip came at an extremely critical time in the game with the Nuggets leading by one. The basket put the Thunder on top, eventually helping OKC to go on to win a hard fought Game 1 107-103.

George Karl said of the tip, "It very obviously should not have counted."

Matt Moore gave a terrific explanation of the rule and a breakdown of the play last night after it happened. He wrote, "Half the ball is in the cylinder. So it's in the cylinder. But the NBA rulebook does not  define "in the cylinder." It's a judgment call, likely left open to protect the officials, like a lot of rule interpretations. But without that, you can make the argument it was in, and out, of the cylinder."

It's very easy to point out how it was a blown call, but basket inference calls have always been one of the very most difficult ones to judge for officials. Not only does it happen in a couple tenths of a second, but the refs almost never have a good angle on it. Perkins' tip though did look a bit more awkward than most because his hand got tangled in the net as he went for it.

From my perspective in the arena, I actually thought Russell Westbrook's shot had dropped through. Most of the other writers around me thought the same thing. So you can imagine the position the officials were in during that situation. They got it wrong. They know and the league knows it. We all figured out what happened on the tip after watching the replay three or four times. The officials didn't have that luxury. Maybe that's the real question though: Why didn't the officials have that luxury?
 
 
 
 
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