Nuggets coming together on the defensive end. - Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports
With the Nuggets out on the road for four games - it's their defense that could bring them home some much needed away victories.
On Tuesday, Feb. 5th the Nuggets defeated the Milwaukee Bucks 112-104. In the final 4:30 of that game, the Nuggets outscored the Bucks 14-4. Denver also forced the Milwaukee into 5 turnovers during that span, which translated into 8 points for Andre Iguodala, Ty Lawson, Corey Brewer, Kenneth Faried and Danilo Gallinari. And to top it off, the Bucks shot just 1-7 to end the game - including 0-3 from three-point land.
Let's review six key possessions from the final 4:30 from that Bucks game and see what went right for the Nuggets and what Denver forced Milwaukee into.
The skinny: Ersan is a diverse player. Of his 434 shots this season, 36.6% of them have come from 10-feet or closer (159). He's a good post player and was going against Faried, who isn't known as a good fundamental defender, yet.
The result: You can see that Faried maintains good position in the post, takes the contact and stays in front of Ersan (who is looking to go to his strong hand, right side), and Faried recovers well as Ersan looks to spin back baseline. Ilyasova loses the ball as Faried did a good job of making him work harder and use more post moves than perhaps he first anticipated. Even if Ersan maintained possession of the ball, Faried was in great position to force or perhaps even block the shot.
This play prevented the Bucks from getting a two possession lead at 100-98, Milwaukee.
2.) Iguodala steals Mike Dunleavy pass:
The skinny: The Nuggets closing lineup against the Bucks of Lawson, Brewer, Iggy, Gallo, and Faried has an incredible ability to switch on basically everybody. The Nuggets also like to trap guys in the corner and especially if it's a player that might not be comfortable putting the ball on the floor and creating his own shot against a busy defense.
The result: It looks like an easy steal above right? Look closer. Brandon Jennings brings the ball up, Ilyasova comes out to set a screen, and Gallo immediately switches onto Jennings as the screen comes well above the three-point line. We're not done!
Lawson is now responsible for Ilyasova, but Brewer recognizes the potential mismatch, as does Lawson, so another switch is made as Brew takes Ilyasova (headed to the post) and Ty takes Dunleavy (out on the perimeter). While those six guys are mixing and matching, Iguodala and Faried stay locked with Monta Ellis and Sam "I really scored 35 points" Dalembert.
Jennings moves towards his strong hand, but has no-where to go as Iguodala and Gallo have any left-handed route denied. Jennings instead moves across the floor towards the foul line and gives up the ball to Ilyasova. Ersan has nowhere to go with the ball out near the corner and he puts Dunleavy in even worse position, as he hands the ball off.
Brewer immediately pounces on Dunleavy with Ty feinting a trap. Dunleavy feels the pressure and misfires on a lame-duck bounce pass to Ellis. Iguodala, who was on Ellis like glue, uses his long-reach to come up with an easy steal (for him).
Brewer picks up the loose ball and is off to the races, where he cannot be caught. Denver ties the game, 100-100.
3.) Iguodala and Faried play the defensive side of the pick-and-roll:
The skinny: Monta Ellis shoots 33% from 16-feet out to the three-point line (69-207) and he is shooting just 24% from three-point range this season (41-170). The problem for the Bucks, he's not afraid to take shots he's not consistent at making. The advantage for the Nuggets? If you can cut off his lane, he will jack up shots.
The result: This missed shot occurs because Brewer cut off the play before it ever began. Dunleavy came baseline, out to the three-point line for a catch-and-shoot opportunity, with the game tied. Brewer read the down-screen by Luc a Moute perfectly and cut in front of the screen and through the paint to deny Dunleavy a catch-and-shoot. Had Brewer followed Dunleavy the whole way he would have been screened and he would have arrived late chasing Dunleavy - leading to Mike just getting an open look. This forced the Bucks to go to Plan-B which led to Monta in a pick-and-roll with Dalembert on the other side of the court.
Once again, the Bcuks screen occurs out above the three-point line, so Faried is able to easily predict where Ellis is going off said screen and he cuts off his driving lanes perfectly. Ellis - as predicted above - takes a difficult step-back shot and misses ... just like the percentages indicated he would. This possession was almost as good as a turnover for the Nuggets.
Defensive rebound to Brewer, game still tied 100-100.
4.) Ellis tries to go isolation on Iguodala, no luck:
The skinny: Don't try to take Iguodala one-on-one. Like ever.
The result: The Nuggets once again prevent the Bucks from their primary options on this play. Faried and Lawson trap Jennings off the pick-and-roll and nearly force a turnover. Jennings gets the ball to Dunleavy (who would probably like to punch Brewer in the face as C-Brew is sticking to him like glue) who has nowhere to go. Dunleavy dishes to Ellis with only 11 seconds left on the shot clock.
Having misfired previously, Ellis decides to try his luck going right at Iguodala. Iguodala begs Ellis to take a three-pointer (he BEGS him) and sets his body up to defend the drive down the right side of the lane. You can see Iggy's weight shift as he anticipates where Ellis is going and then just mauls him as Ellis gives up on a strong drive and tries to force a spin-move. Iguodala gets the steal with his active hands.
Iggy outlets to Lawson who is streaking down court with Brewer and it's over before it begins for Jennings on defense. Lawson nails the layup and it's 106-103, Denver.
5.) Brewer jumps passing lane and picks off Jennings:
The skinny: Lawson's good one-on-one defense against an aggressive Jennings pays off.
The result: Jennings has nowhere to go off this inbounds pass. His drive is not available as Lawson stays right in front of him, cutting off his lanes. Jennings gets desperate and tries to find Dunleavy out on the three-point line. Brewer is all arms on this play as he goes for the steal, misses it, but recovers so damn fast that he comes up with the deflection on the pass.
Faried secures the loose ball, throws a beautiful outlet to Iggy, and 'Dre$ finishes above the rim, 108-103 Nuggets.
6.) Gallinari challenges shot then makes challenging shot:
The skinny: The Bucks are desperate for a quick shot on this possession, Gallo knows it and defends a shooter well.
The result: The Bucks once again use a lazy pick-and-roll attempt to get the Nuggets to switch Gallo and Lawson on to Jennings and Moute. Gallo waits on the Jennings drive, sees the pull-up attempt coming and leaps out to defend it and prevents a shot from evening going up. Jennings double-clutch passes and throws the ball right into the teeth of the defense where Lawson deflects the pass, pokes it out to Gallo, Gallo dishes ahead to Brewer, and Brewer finds Gallo for the circus shot. And Chris Marlowe loses his mind.
Nuggets go up 110-104 with just :47 seconds left to play.
Game over man, game over.
Denver's defense won them this game. No doubt about it. The ability to switch can only be successful if the defenders are communicating with each other and helping each other react and recover to what is going on around them. The Nuggets will be tested out on the road by a variety of offensive styles.
The Cavaliers will lean on Kyrie Irving on Feb. 9th for inspired play, the Celtics (Feb. 10th) have been using great team offense to win six in a row since Rajon Rondo's injury, the Raptors (Feb. 12th) have been playing with a chip on their shoulders and feature some great young athletes (Kyle Lowry, DeMar Derozan, Rudy Gay), and the Nets (Feb. 13th) like to play through their big man Brook Lopez.
I can't wait to see how the Denver defense plays on this big four-game roadie.
Nate_Timmons on Twitter - follow me if you want. If not, that's cool too.