Each day, we are going to preview the night's NBA Playoffs action by looking at the adjustments that can be made by the losing team and showing what they can do to get the win.
Offense: Better Shot Selection Late
While the Carmelo Anthony trade has been great for the Denver Nuggets and their offense has really flourished since, there is one problem. It has left them without a closer, and that really hurt them in Game 1. In fact, the Nuggets had just one field goal in the final 3:06, and only four points (a Danilo Gallinari jumper and two Gallinari free throws after the game was already decided). So what happened? All that quick ball movement that Denver built their offense on disappeared:
Here, you have Raymond Felton dribbling the basketball up, dominating the ball, and then coming off of a ballscreen set for him. There is one thing on Felton's mind as he gets into the lane and forces up a runner over the defender's outstretched arm. No passes, no set, just a pick-and-roll up top.
On this play, you have another isolation with Felton attacking the rim once again. Again, this doesn't come off of ball movement or player movement, just a straight isolation that allows the defense to come with the help and force Felton into a tough miss attempt.
Here, Gallinari gets the basketball on the wing, tries to attack baseline using a screen, but ends up just dribbling the ball out-of-bounds. Again, no passing or quick side-to-side ball movement. Just a skip pass, a hold, and then a drive.
The first three possessions, the Nuggets had a one-point lead. Now trailing by one, the Nuggets should have gotten back into their default offense that including quick ball movement, but that didn't happen. The Nuggets again tried to run the pick-and-roll, but that didn't work, and the ball wound up in the hands of Kenyon Martin 20 feet away from the basket. Instead of swinging the basketball, Martin takes the long jumper that misses.
While the problem with the previous four plays was the lack of passing and ball movement, the problem I have with this final attempt was the decision to go for the quick three. In Game 1 of the Boston-New York series, we saw what going for a quick two could do. Yes, there is less time in this situation, but if you get a quick two, you can extend the game by fouling, and then who knows what happens. This three is an all-or-nothing play, and the Nuggets came away with nothing.
The problem that I have with the Nuggets and their execution late is that this isn't how the Nuggets got here. They achieved all of their offensive success with quick ball movement, good sets and movement away from the basketball. Five passes (if you count the handoff as a pass) in five possessions isn't a good sign for the Nuggets. The reason why this is important for the Nuggets in Game 2 is because I believe that they will find themselves in another tight game, and if they can score, they will be able to come away with the win. (If you notice, the Thunder aren't pulling away here, they have their own crunch time problems).
Defense: Pick-And-Roll Defense
According to Synergy Sports Technology, during the regular season, the Denver Nuggets were No. 8 in the NBA in terms of points per possession allowed on pick-and-roll situations. Offensively, the Thunder were No. 8 in the NBA scoring 0.88 PPP on pick and roll sets. In Game 1, the Thunder ran 25 pick-and-roll sets, scoring 36 points, good for a PPP of 1.44.
The biggest problem that I saw with the Nuggets in Game 1 is that they were giving too much space to the ball handler coming off of the screen, allowing him to pull up and knock down the midrange jumper.
Here, as Durant comes off of the screen, the man covering the screener (Kenyon Martin) is on his heels a bit, playing the middle. This gives Durant just enough space to pull up with the midrange jumper and knock it down.
The same thing happens here with Russell Westbrook. Westbrook, who already knocked down a few jumpers, comes off of the screen and Nene doesn't even pretend to want to challenge on the hedge. Westbrook calmly knocks down the three.
This was even happening when it wasn't Durant or Westbrook coming off of the screens. Here, James Harden comes off of the screen, and the hedge from the Nuggets gives him space. Harden is able to take this space and use it to drive to the front of the rim and get the basket.
So what can the Nuggets do differently? They need to put pressure on the ball handler coming off of the screen. When they hedge, hedge hard. One of the reasons they should be able to do this is because of who is setting the screens. Guys like Perkins, Ibaka and Collison are the Thunder's best screeners, but they are not even close to being threats offensively. This should give the Nuggets' big men the freedom to hedge and little harder and challenge the ball handler's jumpers a little more.