In their final preseason outing the Nuggets traveled to Chicago and lost, falling 94-89 to the Bulls.The game was characterized by two contrasting halves with Denver outscoring Chicago by 12 points (48-36) in the first, but being outscored by the Bulls by 17 (58-41) in the second half.
In this post I will look at two positive areas I saw in the first half and have a look at what went wrong for Denver in the second half of the game.
Ty Lawsons 1st quarter
One of the players who has been reported during the preseason as struggling to adjust to Brian Shaw's new offense is Ty Lawson. One of the fastest players in the NBA with the ball, Lawson has not yet adapted his game fully to the 'inside out' half court offense Shaw is implementing. One of the brightest spots of the Bulls game however may have been the play of Lawson in the 1st quarter. He scored 11 points and all of his points were scored as a result of attacking in the half court.
Lawsons first basket opened the scoring for Denver. After looping through the paint Lawson was able to receive the ball at the 3 point line isolated against Derrick Rose. With the right side of the court open Lawson is able to beat Rose off the dribble and finish with a layup off the backboard.
In the 2nd play Lawson receives a screen from Hickson at the three point line break and drives strong to the middle and finishes in traffic.
In the next play Lawson brings up the ball with his left hand receives a quick screen from Arthur at the 3 point line which allows him to drive to the baseline and hit a fadeaway jumper from the edge of the paint.
Again on this play Lawson is able to drive down the left side with his left hand, using a cross over and back to get past Rose at the 3 point line before he draws a shooting foul on Rose with a shot fake near the baseline (he would hit 1 of 2 at the line).
Lawsons final bucket of the quarter comes after he receives the ball matched against Mike Dunleavy after a Nuggets steal. He shot fakes Dunleavy at the 3 point line drives past him and finishes with a step back fadeaway jumper to avoid the challenge of the taller Dunleavy.
Fighting through screens
One of the major changes in the Nuggets defense from Brain Shaw is the move away from switching on defense. In contrast with last season Shaw wants players to stay with their man and fight through screens.
We're going to try to fight over screens, give support, buy our teammates time to get back to their men without switching, at least early on in the season.
This will be a learning process for the team but evidence of the new philosophy has been seen in the preseason.
Ty Lawson has had problems fighting through screens in the past and actually received an injury from a hard screen earlier in the preseason, but on this first play he shows committed play to avoid Bulls players and then continue past a hard bump from Boozer before showing good 1 on 1 skills to knock the ball into Roses leg which results in a turnover.
In the second play both Nate Robinson and Evan Fournier fight through Gibson screens during the play to stay with their men, and are rewarded when Dunleavy is forced into a long fadeaway 2 on the baseline as the shot clock runs down.
Quincy Miller shows a little fight back on this play. After avoiding a screen from Erik Murphy he is able to tie up his man (Tony Snell) under the hoop as he trys to cut back out. On the other side Dunleavy is able to receive the ball from Teague after looping up to the elbow from the corner, but Fournier chasing anticipates well the pass to Gibson and steals the ball before Gibson fouls him (with an accidental shot to the eye).
The final play does not involve a screen as such, but shows some tough 1 on 1 defense by Nate. Toughness is another element Shaw is trying to bring to the Nuggets and Robinson does well on this play to stay with Rose and force him to the baseline where he throws up a poor shot, before Gibson pushes McGee in the back and is called for the foul.
So what went wrong in the second half?
Denvers offense was greatly affected by Lawson sitting out the 2nd half with muscle tightness. As the chart above shows the Bulls were also much more aggresive offensively in the second half going to the inside. They were able to get into the paint for 30 points and also received 33 FTs in the 2nd half (compared to 6 in the 1st) mostly from being fouled going to the hoop.
Carlos Boozer was able to get 20 2nd half points from this strategy. Neither Mozgov, Mcgee, or Hickson were able to stop him. The big men were all called for multiple fouls inside with Mozgov and McGee both getting 4 fouls each (all in the 2nd half) while Hickson added 2 fouls in the 2nd half to his 3 from the 1st. Many of these were against Boozer but they were also picked up fouls helping inside on D after the Bulls penetrated.
In the first two plays Boozer shows his skills as a roll man (dating back to his Utah days with Deron Williams). In both an off ball then an on ball screen and roll play Boozer is able to receive the ball virtually parallel with his defender heading towards the basket. Neither Arthur or Hickson can recover from this and Boozer scores strongly over Mozgov (1/2 a step too late on help) in the first play and draws a foul on Hickson in the second.
The third play was run by the Bulls out of a time out and involves Rose going high on a screen from Deng before Boozer rushes to the deep post and receives the ball and scores on Hickson.
In the final play Boozer sets a screen to the top for Jimmy Bulter. He fakes to use it and Jordan Hamilton goes over the screen, leaving Butler to drive down to the inside. McGee comes to help but is a step too far out allowing Butler to get around him and McGee fouls him hard trying to get the block over the top.