“Vlatko, they can’t guard you!” is not something I expected to hear in a real basketball game, but that’s the beauty of Summer League. The relative expectations foster idealistic evaluation, and otherwise irrelevant basketball players are transformed into legends—even if it is sometimes rooted in irony as much as it is genuine appreciation for talent.
Not surprisingly, this particular bit of vocalized adoration was comedic in nature. Cancar did not have quite the same impact as he did in game one and Denver’s half court offense sputtered in the first half. Their opponents, the Boston Celtics, could indeed stop Vlatko, but the Nuggets had no trouble stopping them as their defensive identity reared its head in an 82-69 stomping on day two of Las Vegas Summer League.
The Nuggets went with a slightly different starting lineup from day one. Thomas Welsh (shoulder) and Tyler Lydon (unclear) did not play, clearing the way for Kennedy Meeks and Kenrich Williams to slide into the starting five. Their back court consisted of Monte Morris and Malik Beasley, while Vlatko Cancar filled out the starting unit at power forward.
With Meeks in the game, the Nuggets half court offense seemed sedentary in the first half. When Meeks was fed the ball in the post, the Nuggets stood and watched. As the perimeter players probed the defense for weaknesses, the dribble hand offs and off ball cuts never came.
The majority of the offensive production came from the usual suspects, Monte Morris and Malik Beasley, but it wasn’t the result of good offensive basketball. Their athletic ability and NBA experienced prevailed in a particularly sloppy half but it wasn’t what coach Jordi Fernandez was looking for. During a timeout near the end of the half, Fernandez’s colorful vocabulary was on full display as he implored his team to wake up and start moving. I really wish I could write it down verbatim, but alas, you’ll just have to use your imaginations.
While the offense sputtered, the defensive identity that was described by the players during Summer League practices reared its head. Kenrich Williams was the ultimate disrupter and put in a phenomenal effort on the boards. He took just one shot and finished with just four rebounds, but his impact on this game ran much deeper than the box score.
The story in the second half was DeVaughn Akoon-Purcell. The 25-year old forward out of Eastern Oklahoma State College finished with 19 points in as many minutes and provided a much needed spark for the Nuggets. Purcell finished 2-4 from deep and was able to put his head down and draw fouls, finishing with five made free throws on as many attempts.
The off ball activity that Fernandez was looking for returned in the second half. As the Nuggets began moving, the ball started hopping and the shots started falling. Morris, who impressed for the second straight game with 14 points and six assists was able to settle into his preferred role as a quick decision maker and capable facilitator. Denver found their groove on offense and never let their foot off the gas defensively as they secured their second victory in as many nights. They’ll have the day off tomorrow.