This is the first of three video reviews highlighting some good and bad stuff that happened in Portland and Denver—stuff that highlights some general positive and negative trends. Since I’m a curmudgeon, let’s start with some lowlights from the Denver game.
Sunday’s game pitted the league’s second-most efficient offense against the league’s stingiest defense. They say a good defense always beats a good offense. They are stupid. Denver torched Boston, and it didn’t use anything fancy to do it. The basic screen/roll was enough to shred the C’s defense. Few point guards run it better than Chauncey Billups, but the C’s, especially early, didn’t defend the screen/roll with their usual precision and vigor.
Here’s one example (in slow-mo) from that dismal first quarter:
Two things appear to go wrong on this play, but the main mistake happens early.
Look how Pierce (guarding the screener, Carmelo Anthony) defends this play. He sees it coming and steps out to help on Chauncey Billups. But he doesn’t step out far enough—or aggressively enough—to deter Billups from turning the corner. Instead, he hedges out half-heartedly—and just enough to get in Rajon Rondo’s way.
Billups gets by Rondo and into the paint, and neither Perk or KG moves over to defend the rim. You can understand why; if they help on Chauncey, he’ll find the open man. But still: This is about as bad as you’ll ever see the C’s play the screen/roll.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t an isolated mistake.
Another basic screen/roll, another easy bucket for the Nuggs. This one—to my eyes—is again on the screener’s guy (Sheed). Look at Sheed’s footwork and positioning as Billups turns the corner around the Bird Man screen. Sheed decides to sag back instead of jumping out, and that’s not a bad thing on its own. But he assumes an open stance, with his feet almost parallel to each other on the floor and his chest facing the sideline instead of Billups.
This is classic olé defense; Sheed is giving Billups an invitation to drive right, and Billups takes it.
The really bad thing about yesterday’s game, though, was that Billups (as a few folks noted on Twitter) sometimes didn’t even need a screen to beat Rondo off the dribble.
Rondo just gets straight-up burned here, and Billups did this to him about a half-dozen times throughout the game. If you watch the early part of this clip carefully, you can tell that Rajon sees Nene approaching from his left to set a screen for Billups. Rondo takes a step to his left—anticipating the screen—and Billups, sensing a chance, dribbles the opposite way and blows by a wrong-footed Rajon.
That forces Perk to slide off of Nene and help on Billups, and Chauncey threads a beautiful bounce to Nene for the lay-in. The play functions just like a screen/roll even though Nene never set the screen.
Sadly, these plays are pretty much indicative of the game as a whole. Denver finished with the equivalent of 120 points per 100 possessions; Phoenix leads the league with an average of 113.6 points per 100 possessions.
Let’s hope this was a case of a tired club ready to come home playing its fourth roadie in six games. Pierce is obviously laboring as he recovers from several injuries, but Sheed’s help defense and Rondo’s occasional carelessness are problems.
But it wasn’t all bad over the weekend. Some highlights to come.