You can find good and bad in almost any situation. Tonight’s Nuggets close blowout was no different. The bad news is the Nuggets completely lost their defensive integrity, not individually, but as a team. The good news is I have LeBron James and Chauncey Billups on the most important of my three fantasy teams.
I believe the Cavaliers are a top five team and there is no shame in losing to a top five team on the road, but the way they lost was disappointing if not outright concerning. They were not as lost as the 2007-08 Denver Nuggets on defense, but they did prove that even if you are positioning yourself correctly, you still have to move your feet to play good defense. Also, despite the presence of Chauncey Billups at point guard the Nuggets played stationary one on one basketball, especially in the second half.
The Nuggets did not hedge off of screens and as a result they allowed open jumpers and unfettered drives into the lane. They were almost always a step or two slow on their rotations and they just flat out lacked intensity on defense. I realize that the Nuggets are not going to turn our 82 straight strong defensive games and if this had happened in New Jersey on the second half of a back to back in late January we could write it off as a bad night. For it to happen in the eighth game of the season in front of a national television audience, well, that is disappointing.
You have to give the Cavaliers credit though. They hit a lot of shots. It makes no difference if you are tightly defended or not, it takes some hot shooting to make 57% of your shots.
As bad as the Nuggets defense was their offense was equally bad in the second half. As those of you who have been reading this blog for a while know when the Nuggets offense grinds to a halt I love to chart possessions. I reviewed the second half of the game tonight and counted the number of passes made in the half court offense (not counting the inbounds pass, because that is a pass they are required to make and is not an indicative of unselfish patient play). The Nuggets had exactly one possession in the entire second half where they passed the ball more than three times. Out of their 19 half court possessions in the fourth quarter they passed the ball more than twice on only two possessions. On 11 of those 19 possessions there were either no passes or only one pass. As a result after posting an offensive efficiency rating of 133.4 in the first half, they put up a putrid 94.7 offensive efficiency rating as they scored a mere 38 points after halftime.
Despite the relatively weak defensive performance and the impatience on offense the Nuggets were still in the game down the stretch. The sad thing is the way they were playing there was absolutely no hope that they could put together one last run to make it competitive.
The Nuggets are putting themselves in a tough spot having lost a very winnable game they now have to play the second night of a back to back against the Celtics in Boston.
Other Observations from Game 8:
- Whoever was running the camera for TNT was making me nuts. Instead of the traditional shot showing everything that is going on from the half court line to the baseline where the camera never zooms in so close that you cannot at least see from the top of three point line to the baseline, the camera man (or camera woman) was zooming in on the ball so tightly that on may instances you could not see most of the players on the floor. I repeat, it was a frequent occurrence that you could only see for of the ten players on the court at any one time. The second game of the TNT double header was shot conventionally. Note to TNT, please stop whoever was in charge of the camera work for the Denver/Cleveland game from doing that ever again.
- I predicted a couple of games ago that J.R, would break out of his slump in Cleveland. He definitely got back to playing well offensively. He attacked the rim on a couple of occasions, dropped off passes to teammates for easy buckets and made two of his four threes. I guess you could say I was right, but I had a game where he would make five or six threes in mind. Still, it was good to see him get his sea legs back under him. On the defensive side, he was not so good. He struggled to stay in front of Boobie Gibson and actually left Wally Szczerbiak all alone at one point to give up an uncontested jumper.
- Chauncey Billups clearly fills a need for the Nuggets. He knows how to play defense, he does not turn the ball over and he can shoot. Well, after three straight games where Chauncey struggled with his shot he drilled four threes, all in the first half, and led the Nuggets in scoring and assists. However, he missed wide open rollers on a handful of occasions after getting doubled on a pick and roll and that hurts the offense. Instead of taking advantage of the opening, he would allow himself to get pushed well back well behind the three point line and the Nuggets would have to reset. Chauncey needs to get creative and find a way to hit the roller.
- The Cavs did make the adjustment of aggressively jumping Billups on the high pick and roll to make sure he did not get any open looks after drilling four three pointers in the first half. Whatever adjustment the Nuggets made at halftime did not really work.
- I liked seeing Melo attack the rim, especially in the second half, but he seemed to over penetrate and I think he got caught up in the matchup with LeBron as he tried to stick it to James whenever he could. Unfortunately, if he did manage to get past LeBron he was met with plenty of help in the lane. He needed to either pull up short of the rim or pass off to an open teammate, because as the laws of mathematics tell us, if there are five offensive players and five defensive players on the floor and more than one defensive player is guarding one offensive player, someone has to freaking be open!
- Nene was pretty much a non factor. Part of the reason why is he rarely saw the ball. When the Nuggets play their one pass and shoot offense that one pass almost never goes into the post.
- Kenyon was tossed after getting a technical and then a Flagrant II foul for slamming into a screen set by Anderson Varejao late in the game. Knowing Varejao is such a flopper, I have a hard time believing Kenyon hit him that hard since he did not even fall down.
- George Karl really leaned on his stars tonight as Melo, Chauncey, Nene and Kenyon Martin all played between 35 and 38 minutes. J.R. led the bench players with 28 minutes. Seeing as how this was the first night of a back to back I was surprised that Karl did not play the bench a little more. You have to wonder if he considered the Cavs game as being the one they had to win in order to go back to Denver with two wins on this brief three game road trip.
Razzle Dazzle Game Stats
As I pointed out the Nuggets offensive efficiency rating in the first half was an incredible 133.4, but after a poor second half they ended the game with a rating of 114.6.
The Nuggets defensive efficiency rating for the first half was an atrocious 126.8. I figured that there was no way it could do anything but improve in the second half. I was wrong. Their rating in the second half actually climbed to 129.6.
The pace factor for tonight’s game was actually slower than for the Bobcats game at 86.4 shrinking the Nuggets pace factor for the season to 95.9.
Take a trip to Fear the Sword to get some insight from the Cavs side of things.