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Denver Nuggets Film Friday: Stop the bleeding

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NBA: Playoffs-Denver Nuggets at Phoenix Suns Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

If you’re not familiar with Film Fridays, each Friday, I’ll be looking at some recent Denver Nuggets’ games, lineups or something else from a film aspect to try and bring you a piece of content that you’re not getting somewhere else. Feel free to give any feedback positive or negative in the comments or find me on Twitter.

After two games, the Nuggets have been outscored by a combined 42 points, and, just over the last six quarters, they’ve been outscored by 43 after the thumping they took in the second half of Game 1. The Phoenix Suns are shooting 59.1 percent from the field since the start of the second half of Game 1. Over that same timespan, Denver is shooting 40 percent from the field and 33.9 percent from 3-point range. After shooting 47.2 percent and 40.6 percent respectively in Round 1, the switch has been flipped from on to off in Round 2.

Is it an offense thing? A defense thing? A combination of the two? During Game 2, the Nuggets just looked gassed from start to finish. Nikola Jokic, Aaron Gordon and Will Barton, who played for the first time since April 21st, were the only two Nuggets that looked like they had a good amount of burst. Meanwhile, the Suns top four players in minutes this season played more minutes than any Nugget outside of Jokic, who was third in minutes across the NBA this season.

Game 3 has the Nuggets back at home in Ball Arena in front of a crowd of over 10,000 people, and they can’t afford to go down 3-0 unless they’re really trying to make history. In the NBA, only three teams have ever gone down 3-0 to start a seven-game series and brought it back to a 3-3 tie, but none of those teams have ever won. What does Denver have to do in Game 3 and beyond to really get the ship back on the right track?

Check on the Guards

Through two games, the trio of Facundo Campazzo, Austin Rivers and Monte Morris has scored a combined 35 points. Of those 35, 11 of them came in the first half of Game 1 from Campazzo. The struggles of Morris, in particular, have been devastating after he scored a combined 50 points over Games 5 & 6 to end the Portland series, and he’s scored just five points on 2-of-17 shooting to start this series. Looking at the play above, at first glance, it’s not that bad. Morris has a clear look at the bucket from the elbow. However, what you see when you watch it back again is the opportunity he misses. Deandre Ayton isn’t quite back on defense yet. He’s going to be able to get near Morris, but he won’t be able to block the shot. Jae Crowder is going to be forced to rotate over and contest the shot which going to give Jokic an easy 1-on-1 matchup with Mikal Bridges. Jokic tips in the miss for two points, but, instead of Morris getting the miss, he could have gotten an assist by feeding Jokic on the drive. Whether Morris is trying to shoot through his funk, it’s rare to see him make this sort of read.

On this play, it’s just an example of Campazzo trying to do too much, which is something he’ll do usually about once or twice in a game. He’ll string together one, two or three good plays, but he’ll undo them with one like this. He’s cutting towards the paint, and he attempts to make a pass to Jokic, who’s being fronted by his defender. The only problem is there was never a passing lane available. There are three different defenders that could have made a play on this ball, and Cameron Johnson ended up making a play and getting the steal. Campazzo has made this style of pass this year, but it’s the type of high-risk opportunity that doesn’t always need to be taken.

Let Aaron Gordon Eat

Through two games, the argument can be made that Gordon has been the second-best player on the Nuggets. He only scored six points in the blowout loss in Game 2, but he looks like one of the few guys that “wants to be here.” Gordon spent 6 ½ years with the Orlando Magic where they made one trip to the playoffs where they stole one game off of the eventual champion Toronto Raptors before being blown out by 19 or more points in three of the next four games. Gordon’s been in a losing situation before, and he looks like he doesn’t want that to happen. On this play, he’s being guarded by Bridges on the block. Bridges has been outstanding through two games, but this is where Gordon has been so good thus far. His size at 6’8” and 240 pounds allows him to bully smaller defenders, and he just gradually moves Bridges backward before putting the ball in. Bridges wants a foul, and, while he may have gotten one in the regular season, you’re not getting that call in the playoffs.

First of all, the Nuggets offense needs a change. This constant everyone standing around and watching the one guy that has the ball doesn’t work. It’s much easier to guard someone that’s standing still compared to when someone is moving. Second, Gordon was tailor-made for a series like this. He’s an athlete that can move faster than you expect at his size, but, at the same time, he is learning how to bully guys smaller than him. Denver likes to play slow with Jokic running the point. So, how do you get Gordon involved since there are fewer transition opportunities? You get him switched onto Devin Booker. At 6’5,” Booker has decent height, but he just doesn’t have the strength to hold his ground. Gordon just bulldozes through him before outrebounding three Suns twice to get a tip-in. Hustle plays win games, and these are the plays Gordon is making so far in this series.

You Gotta Have Heart

In the movie The Replacements, Gene Hackman, playing Coach Jimmy McGinty, was asked by a reporter what the team would need to come back from a 17-0 deficit. “Heart.” Asked to elaborate, he tapped his chest with a stack of papers and said “Miles and miles of heart.” Was that a movie that came out 21 years ago that was completely fictional and not at all based on a true story? Yes. Does it also teach a lesson that can be applied to this series? Also yes. On this play, the Nuggets are down by 28 points with just over 6:00 remaining in the final quarter. It’s clear that they’re about to empty the bench and that giving up any points doesn’t really matter at this point because any hope of a comeback is over. The only problem is that this sends a message to the Suns. If they get up on you big enough, you’re going to roll over. JaMychal Green and Austin Rivers are both in a position to make a run at Bridges to make him pass or contest the shot. Neither of them makes a move, and Bridges drives the nail into the coffin with a wide-open 3-point make. We all know you’re exhausted and worn out, but you’re the best players in the world. You have to have that fight even when it looks like there’s nothing left to fight for.

You’re down by 17 with just over 3:00 remaining in Game 1 on the road. You’ve been getting rolled the entire half, and the game is basically over. So, how do you ice the cake to really drive home that you’re done for? Rivers watches as Booker rises up for a wide-open jumper from mid-range. Is Rivers going to get a block or a legitimate contest on the shot? Probably not, but, again, Rivers could run at Booker and maybe that forces him to rush the shot a little or he ends up being just off. Getting blown out is tough no matter what, but getting blown out and just letting it happen is stuff that really turns the series against you because your opponent can visually see their advantage.

For those of you that are still here, remember to leave your feedback in the comments or over on my Twitter, and have a fantastic film-filled Friday.