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2008 NBA Playoffs Game 2: Denver Nuggets 107 - Los Angeles Lakers 122

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Box Score

Is there anything positive to take out of game two?  I think there is. Denver was within six points of the Lakers with under seven minutes left.  At that point, they at least still had a chance.  I thought the Nuggets were better defensively in the second contest.  They clearly held Gasol and Odom in check and Luke Walton had a nice game, but he did not kill them.  The addition of Kleiza to the starting lineup clearly made a difference on both ends of the floor.

 

If you wanted to argue that had Kobe had merely an average game the Nuggets would have had a great shot to win, I would listen.  I may not agree, but I would listen.

 

I am going to address the defensive end of the game today and then tomorrow focus on the offensive side of things for the Nuggets (which was really pretty poor).

 

There has been a great deal of discussion regarding what type of defense the Nuggets should try to play.  Many people almost completely dismiss the idea of playing zone at all, even if it just to change things up here and there.  I charted all of the Lakers half court possessions to see how much the Nuggets played zone as well as how effective it was.

 

The number of possessions and points will not add up to the total number of possessions and points from the game because I removed possessions where the Lakers either scored in transition or in their early offense.  That fact may reduce the accuracy of what I compiled, but I wanted to take a look at how the Nuggets did in half court situations when they were able to set up and implement their plan.  Of course, that is assuming they had a plan and all five players remembered what that plan was. 

 

Over the course of the game the Nuggets played man to man 71 times in half court situations and the Lakers scored 83 points on those possessions equaling a defensive efficiency of 116.9.  Not good.  There were 21 possessions where the Nuggets played a 2-3 zone during which the Lakers scored 19 points.  That translates to a defensive efficiency rating of 90.5.  That is pretty good.

 

There was also one possession where I was pretty sure the Nuggets were playing a 1-3-1 zone until I realized there was no other possession in the game where they played a 1-3-1.  I then went back and watched the possession again, and again, and again and again.  After that I really had no idea what defense they were in.  The Lakers scored two points on that possession giving the hybrid zone/man/chaos defense a defensive efficiency rating of 200.  I hope they do not play that defensive scheme again.

 

Granted this was far too small of a sample size to draw any concrete conclusions, but it is pretty obvious the Lakers have little problem scoring on the Nuggets man to man defense.  I may go back and check the man and zone splits for game one, but it all depends on how perilous spending that kind of time with my head buried in my laptop would be to my marriage.  I am already in dutch for watching Cloverfield on Tuesday night at midnight without Mrs. Pickaxe.

 

It is clear that the Nuggets man to man defense has some deficiencies.  When the Nuggets play man to man I understand having Kenyon Martin guard Kobe.  He has the strength, size and quickness to potentially make life hard on 24.  However, in the fourth quarter the Nuggets actually had Eduardo Najera checking Kobe for a few possessions.  Eduardo Najera guard Kobe?  Is that what really what the Nuggets want?  Eduardo on Kobe? 

 

I have really grown to love Eduardo, but he has no chance on Kobe.  That is almost cruel.

 

The Nuggets quickly realized that was a poor idea and Linas Kleiza took over after a couple of minutes.  Unfortunately that did not help.  Kobe had a grand total of zero points in the fourth quarter before the Nuggets switched from zone back to man to man and decided to have Najera and soon after Kleiza attempt to check the Mamba.  During the next four and an half minutes Kobe pumped in 19 and sent the Nuggets to the showers.

 

When Kobe gets hot like he did there is really nothing anyone can do other than have Bruce Bowen come in and give him the same treatment the Sisters gave Andy Dufresne.  Another thing that has to concern the Nuggets is there were five Lakers other than Kobe who scored at least eight points.  They are so balanced with players ready to make shots when they are called on.  You almost get the feeling that the Lakers do not have off nights on offense.  The only reason why a guy like Fisher or Odom does not score 20 points is simply because the team did not need him to.

 

The other observation I will make regarding Denver’s game two defense is I think they overacted to what happened in game one and played Pau Gasol a little too conservatively.  Camby was right about one thing in his discussion of game one.  Pau did not just take Marcus down into the post and manhandle him.  Almost all of his points came from situations where Camby had to help off of him.  Ten of Gasol’s 14 baskets were assisted in game one.  If Marcus can be allowed to deal with Pau one on one Denver will be much better off.  Gasol is one of the few centers in the league that Camby can handle by himself on the block.  In game two Denver kept blitzing Pau when he had the ball in the post unnecessarily opening up gaps for the other Lakers to take advantage of.

 

I was not impressed or even really encouraged by Denver’s defense in game two, but they did show enough growth where I can see the potential for them to actually keep a game close for 48 minutes at some point in this series.  The main problem is I just do not see what other adjustments the Nuggets can make that would really make a difference.  I will say this.  I would like to see what would happen if George Karl puts Melo on Kobe and basically tells him that Kobe is his responsibility.  On offense, just be a decoy and a facilitator.  Put forth your energy on defense, make smart passes on the other end of the floor and let’s see what happens. 

 

The problem is I believe Melo does not see the benefit of giving it his all to make things hard on Kobe and having a 15 point, eight rebound, eight assist game.  I am sure Melo would agree with Bono To quote Bono from Bullet the Blue Sky on the Rattle and Hum live action movie, “Where’s the glory in that?” 

 

If only Melo, and the other Nuggets for that matter, would realize that is where the true glory lies. 

 

Other (Defensive) Observations From Game 2:

 - The Nuggets also did a little too much switching on screens, and even just cutters, when they were playing man to man.  There were situations where Melo would get stuck guarding Gasol or AI was on Luke Walton.  There are absolutely instances where a switch is the best thing to do, but the Nuggets seem to switch because of their desire to exert the least amount of effort possible.

 

 - I expressed concern before the series that the Lakers take care of the ball well enough that the Nuggets would not get the turnovers they need to jumpstart the fast break.  So far that has been accurate.  Denver forced 15.6 turnovers per game including garnering over nine steals a game.  Against LA Denver has forced 11.5 turnovers a game while averaging seven steals a game.  Kobe has talked about playing a fast pace without playing the Nuggets style.  That seems kind of odd, but looking at the way they have protected the ball, you get a sense of what he is talking about.


 -  Marcus Camby was playing very well and had 15 rebounds when the Nuggets went ahead for the first time in the second half with six minutes left in the third quarter.  Marcus played another 12 minutes, but only totaled two more rebounds.  When Marcus left the game for good with just under three minutes left in the game the Lakers were up by 18.  I am not saying the Lakers rally was Camby's fault, but he certainly did not do much to alleviate it.


Make sure you head over to Forum Blue and Gold and the LA Times Lakers Blog for more superb coverage.