It's very hard to figure out who is to blame during NBA games. But it's hard not to put a loss like this one on head coach Brian Shaw. Shaw's Nuggets lost to the Minnesota Timberwolves 113-105, and looked disinterested for much of the contest. There was a bright light during the second quarter, but the Nuggets were unable to sustain the right kind of effort the rest of the way. It was curious that Shaw found success with a certain lineup in the second quarter, and he never returned to it.
Let's go through some thoughts, quarter by quarter ...
First Quarter Thoughts: Wolves won quarter 37-25.
The Nuggets didn't come with a whole lot of energy or crispness to start this game - something that has plagued Shaw's team all season. Denver built an early lead, but their play was on a downward slant after being up 12-6. From there it was all Timberwolves.
The Wolves utilized a 12-0 run to push their lead 18-12, in fact they outscored Denver 31-13 from the 12-6 lead the Nuggets had early. Really poor defense by the Nuggets to start. Arron Afflalo losing Andrew Wiggins, and leaving him open for a corner three. Nobody picks up Robbie Hummel, he stood at top of break, got the ball, took his time, and buried a three.
Wiggins finished the quarter 6-7 shooting for 15 points. Ouch.
Second Quarter: Nuggets won quarter 34-19, took 59-56 lead into locker room.
Darrell Arthur brought energy to start the quarter, really helped to change the game. He picked his opponent's pocket for a breakaway dunk, and came right back a possession later and scored at the rim out of a pick-and-roll with Jameer Nelson on a late transition opportunity after another turnover.
Alonzo Gee, Arthur, and Nelson all brought energy on the defensive end, and that led to good things on the offensive end. The Nuggets erased the double-digit Wolves lead and got things to 44-40 with 7:12 left in the quarter. Great teamwork, and some clutch passing from Jameer Nelson. He found J.J. Hickson with a beautiful bounce pass in the pick-and-roll for an easy layup. That pass was a thing of beauty in traffic.
Brian Shaw used a hockey-esque substitution to bring four of the five starters back into the game with the Wolves up 48-42 (I'm counting Gee's free throws with the second unit, as he headed to the line just before a timeout). The starters + Gee responded by continuing to hound the Wolves up the floor, and to really force them into jumpers with Jusuf Nurkic back in the game.
As soon as Nurkic came into the game, all of the T-wolves possessions became jump shots. Huge benefit for this team to force jumpers.— T.J. McBride (@teejmcbride1) January 18, 2015
A good move by Shaw to take Nurkic out with 2:09 left in the quarter, save his big man from picking up his third foul. This should set Nurkic up for a nice block of second half minutes. Nice finish to the quarter by Denver, and they held a little momentum heading into the locker room.
Third Quarter: Wolves won quarter 29-24 and retook lead 85-83.
Again, it was like we were back in the first quarter with the effort level from the starters. Just not a ton of life, and the execution got sloppy. Too much walking the ball up-and-down the floor, but that started to change with an Arron Afflalo to Wilson Chandler transition layup - one pass and Wilson rode the layup home. That bucket by Wilson was the team's first points of the second half.
Shaw tried to save Nurkic in the second quarter, but Juka picked up two fouls to start the third, and had to sit at the 9:16 mark. Better energy did come, and with high energy and a little quicker pace, the Nuggets looked pretty good. The Wolves tested the Nuggets with some pick-and-rolls and forced switches to get match-ups they desired. and that allowed them to hang with Denver. One match the Wolves looked for with Lawson on the floor, was getting the switch, forcing Ty to cover Thad Young in the post, and Young then went to work.
And then the final few minutes of the quarter happened ... The Nuggets gave up easy buckets, and just went lifeless. In a matter of seconds, the game flipped again with the Wolves taking advantage of a disinterested Denver team.
Fourth Quarter: Wolves won the quarter 28-22 and won the game 113-105.
I don't know why, but Brian Shaw's second half lineups remind of the Wacky waving inflatable arm flailing tube man commercial from Family Guy. I think to myself: Brian Shaw's Wacky waving flailing crunch time lineup bonanza!
Like the phrase, Shaw's lineups just seem like mismatched guesswork. We got Nelson running solo point (finally), but we have the Arthur, Faried, Hickson trio, that gets pretty confused on the defensive end. Combine that with Afflalo, and only Nelson is a guy capable of getting to the rim off the dribble to force action on the offensive end.
And with the game on the line with 5:08 left (98-95 Wolves), Shaw went to Lawson, Nelson, AAA, Chandler, and Kenneth Faried. Best of luck with that lineup tonight, they haven't logged too many minutes, and there is no defense there ... or much rebounding (on either end). Shaw stuck with odd lineups and left Nurkic on the bench, in another losing effort.
Views you can use:
-What's up with Shaw's rotations? Sure, we have Randy Foye back and Nelson joining the team, but Shaw just seems clueless in his in-game management. Arthur was playing with great effort in the second, and didn't see the floor again until late in the second half. The two point guard lineup was on display again, with mixed results. Why does Shaw need to use two point guard lineups with Arron Afflalo, Foye, and Gary Harris on the team? Why was Nurkic, again, benched from the early third quarter on? A very poor job by Shaw tonight, and he might have cost his team a game.
-Nuggets free throws were on point: 19-22 on the night, with Hickson a perfect 6-6.
-Did the Wolves take advantage of Nurkic's foul trouble and Shaw benching him for, basically, the entire second half?
Here are the Wolves shot charts with no-Nurkic in the game:
From 3:42 in the first quarter to 5:35 in the second, Wolves:
The Wolves go 4-7 in the paint, 57.1% shooting.
From 2:09 in the second quarter to the half:
A couple more buckets for the Wolves inside: 2-2, 100%.
And then from the 9:16 mark to the end of the game for the Wolves:
That's 12-16 or 75% makes for the Wolves layup line without Nurkic (a true center) in the game.
So, what did the overall inside numbers look like?
That's 21-32 on the interior, or 65.6% (above league average). That's 18-25 with no Nurkic in the game, and that's 72%. With Nurkic in the game, the Wolves were 3-7 or 42.8%. Nurkic only played 15 minutes, so we don't totally know what the numbers would have looked like, but it's odd that Shaw didn't go back to Juka, for the second game in a row.
It shouldn't be a surprise that Hickson, Arthur, and Faried don't offer a lot of rim protection. That's not their game. They are capable of blocking interior shots, or defending them well, but the power forwards do a better job with a big body next to them.