What in the world was Brian Shaw thinking tonight? Coach had his troops fired up in Los Angeles, against the Clippers, but winning some battles didn't win the war for the Nuggets. Remember when General Custer led his troops into obvious danger? Well, that was pretty much what Shaw did tonight to his players.
Wilson Chandler came out tonight with scoring on the mind. He went 5-10 in the first quarter and scored 13 points. His hot start helped the Nuggets build a 31-20 first quarter lead. But, as the lead would eventually evaporate, the Nuggets had major issues closing out another close game.
The first questionable crunch time decision? Shaw going to the frontcourt combination of J.J. Hickson and Kenneth Faried. Why was that a bad decision? I'll let CBSSports.com's Matt Moore explain it:
Quick reminder: Hickson-Faried is -5.3 per 100 possessions this season with a 117 defensive rating going into this game.— Hardwood Paroxysm (@HPbasketball) January 27, 2015
What was even more head scratching? That Shaw did not go back to Jusuf Nurkic. You know, the guy who helped the Nuggets play two good quarters ... In fact, Nurkic was 3-4 for 6 points in the third quarter, and also put up 5 rebounds and a +11 in a 30-19 effort. And for Nurkic's efforts in the third? Well, he got to play a whopping 1:19 of the fourth quarter and none of that minute and change was in crunch-time, when the Nuggets could have used him.
Check out the Clippers shot chart from the 4th QTR:
That's eight shots outside the paint and eight inside it. The Clippers converted on 6-8 of their shots in the paint in the fourth. But what did the crunch time shot chart look like? Let's take a look at the final five minutes of the game when the Clips outscored Denver 17-10:
Two shots outside the paint, four in it, and 3-3 right around the rim. It made little to no sense not to bring Nurkic back into the game to provide some interior presence. Nurkic is a decent shot blocker, but just having him in the game makes the opponent have to consider him. And with Hickson in that role, the book has been out on him for years. Teams attack the rim with Hickson at center, relentlessly. The Nuggets claim they are a defensive based team, but the head coach doesn't seem to value what will put his team in the best position to have defensive success.
Last night Shaw said he didn't go back to Nurkic, in part, because Randy Wittman didn't put Marcin Gortat back into the game. There are two problems with that: first, why is Shaw allowing Wittman to dictate the game to him? Force your will on your opponent, right?
Second, the Clippers had DeAndre Jordan on the floor for 4:18 in the final five minutes of the game. So, one night it's said that Nurkic isn't back in the game, in part, because the other team didn't have their center in the game. And then tonight, Doc Rivers uses Jordan to close the game, and Shaw sticks with Hickson again.
You can listen to Shaw explain why he didn't go with Nurkic last night (click here), and it must apply tonight too, right? Shaw elected to, again, go with quicker guys. From the Wizards game: "You take a big guy out, you take away, maybe, more shot blocking ability," said Shaw. "But what you hope for with smaller, more agile guys, is that they don't get in the paint in the first place." Shaw can't really believe that right? Players have to be licking their chops with no true center in the game. Players are going to drive, regardless of who is in the game, but Nurkic might make them think about shots more. And heck, Nurkic flat-out earned the right to close out tonight's game. Tonight's game, not all games. Rookies must earn their time, and Nurkic has done that a lot this season.
Along with the great center debate, the Nuggets didn't do enough down the stretch to put themselves in a position to win this game. Denver got outscored 33-21 in the fourth quarter, including 17-10 in the final five minutes. And the Nuggets squandered good games from Ty Lawson, team-high 19 points, Wilson Chandler and Arron Afflalo - 18 points each, and Nurkic, 6 points, 10 rebounds, 3 blocks.
Here is a look at Denver's shot chart over the final five miutes:
Missing five shots near the rim was costly for Denver. The Nuggets continue to draw up pretty plays, but they are so far and few between. There seems to be too much freestyling on offense, and the team is in need of structure on the offensive end. Shaw's offense can look very good, at times, and we've seen nice plays from the team. Check out this one, captured by our very own Adam Mares:
Nuggets run Hawk Double with that F/C exchange. Same play they used to beat the Clippers a month ago. https://t.co/M3w38WAg5g— Adam Mares (@Adam_Mares) January 27, 2015
Give us more of that! Use the offensive weapons. Play to the strength of these players' skills.
Another frustrating game.
Views you can use:
-Danilo Gallinari got robbed of three free throws late in the game with the Clippers up 99-96. The Nuggets ran a set play to get Gallo the ball right back after inbounding it, he caught the ball and was dropping into shooting motion, when he was fouled on the way up. It was close, but easy to see as it was a designed play to get Gallo that three. Bad call. Shaw was fired up about it post-game in his presser.
-Jamal Crawford came off the bench with a team high 23 points. The Nuggets did a good job of keeping Chris Paul and Blake Griffin in check, scoring wise, the two went for just 15 and 14, respectively.
-The Nuggets got 26 team assists tonight, Lawson with 11 and Jameer Nelson with 2, usually over 25 indicates a good game and it was true tonight. Need those numbers to stay in the 20s, preferable over 25, at least.
-Wilson Chandler grabbed 10 boards tonight, put up 18 points, and was a -1 in 34 minutes. He saw the good, the bad, and the ugly out there.
-Gallo was 3-7 shooting for 8 points. Five of those shots were threes, with two makes. It was great to see Gallo driving last night. Tonight, he had the shot going a little bit, early, and went that route. He got 18 minutes and has looked pretty good since returning from meniscus surgery. And he was awesome on the bench against the Wizards. Down the stretch he was up with his arms around teammates. Hope the minutes continue to come, and health stays. Gallo can be a very key player, a leader, if he can get a little luck from the Basketball Gods in the health department.
-Jamal Crawford in the 4th quarter: