First and foremost, it needs to be brought to the forefront that the Nuggets bench has been all but non-existent in this series. When compared head-to-head with the Spurs’ reserves the Nuggets’ second tier is absolutely getting dominated, 131-33, in the scoring column. Granted, the Spurs play nearly six deep off their bench some nights, but you can not blame them for doing so because when you can-do, you will-do. Trust me, if the Nuggets could find some consistent help off the pine they would, but quite frankly, they can’t and they don’t.
To build on that idea, the Spurs’ big three of Manu Ginobili AKA The Flopper, Tim Duncan, and Tony Parker have combined for 216 points thus far in comparison to the Nuggets’ big three of Nene, Allen Iverson, and Carmelo tallying 272. At first glance, it would appear that there is no problem when you compare both team’s big guns, but when you consider that the Nuggets needed AI and Carmelo to combine for 61 points to win game one an ugly little situation comes to light.
In the last three consecutive losses, Carmelo Anthony and Allen Iverson have not been able to combine for more than 51 points, (which they did in game four), despite shooting an incredible 46 times from the field in game two when they combined for just 46 points on 17 of the aforementioned 46 attempts.
Now guess how many times the big three have all shot the ball from the field in their combined totals in the last three San Antonio victories? The answers are: 44 attempts in game two, 53 in game three, and 55 in game four. Point being, is there is not enough team basketball being played by the boys in blue and the Nuggets are too reliant offensively on Iverson and Anthony, which in turn, gives the Spurs a decisive advantage in the sense that two men independently can not defeat five working together as a cohesive unit.
Venturing from that idea, it is absolutely amazing to me that Tim Duncan has only been called for six personal fouls in a combined total of 154 minutes of playoff-intense basketball in this series. You may think I’m belly-aching for bringing this up, but when you consider how much manipulating, crying, complaining, and pouting the Big Fundamental does with the officiating staff, not only in the playoffs but in the previous 82 games of the 2006-07 season, there has got to be some kind of proof in all the available pudding. He is averaging 37 minutes per game so far this postseason, and an astounding 1.5 fouls per which has got to be some kind of playoff record. My only deduction is that somehow the whole Joey Crawford incident has had a reverse effect from the original worries that the NBA officials would be out to “get” the Spurs after Crawford was suspended indefinitely.
Finally, my last point of contention is also the most critical aspect of this series and was brought up by longtime reader, btalk. He wrote in today’s comments, “I'm only speaking as a former high school coach here, but great veteran players who make plays make you look real good, I've been there. Great veteran players who don't make plays, mixed with guys not quite ready for prime time make you look real stupid...I've been there too!”
To build off of btalk’s comments, I feel that the true story as to why Greg Popovich has looked so brilliant while George Karl has often times looked disheveled is due to the point guard situation both men have to work with. On the one hand, San Antonio has a NBA champion and All-Star caliber guard in Tony Parker who acts like an extension of Coach Pop on the floor. On the other, Coach Karl has Steve Blake who has been a bench player for the previous few years of his career and who has also not had any meaningful playoff experience. Tony runs his team with a cool sense of been-there-done-that, whereas Steve seems to be jumpy, uncomfortable, and without a real sense of the rhythm of the situation from one minute to the next. It’s unfortunate, but true, and if I remember anything from my playing days it’s that the point guard needs to be a coach on the floor, and not in need of constant coaching.
And when you add all of these not-so apparent contingencies together you indefinitely come out with the Nuggets on the short end of the stick. So, where does that leave us, (aside from the wrong end of the stick… I mean, series)?
While I don’t think that the Nuggets have three straight victories in them at this point, I do still think that there is some fight in this team and with the right adjustments they still might make this thing interesting. My first tweak concerns digging a little bit deeper into the bench and would be to flash a dose of Reggie Evans to, if nothing else, bang Tim Duncan around and force him to earn some of his points from the free-throw line. Secondly, I would give Yakhouba Diawara some burn in an attempt to slow down, or at worst case scenario, rough up Manu Ginobili for a couple of stretches in game five. I’m not prescribing anything dirty, but I want to at least see if Manu can break Diawara down off the dribble as easily as he has J.R. Smith and Eduardo Najera. And my last change in the Nuggets’ game plan would be to play some zone defense in an attempt to keep Tony Parker and the rest of the San Antonio penetration from getting so many easy looks at the rim. Park Marcus Camby in the middle and let him feast if the Spurs are so daring as to try the Defensive Player of the Year’s shot blocking abilities! And if the Nuggets were wise enough to try a 3-2... That should be an easy remedy for the open treys the Spurs have been hitting as a result of the poor help-and-recovery on the all defensive switching.
I could be right or I could be wrong in my thoughts, but I do know that without at least an attempt to change some things here and there Wednesday night will be the last Nuggets game of the season. And I for one am not quite ready for it all to be said and done. I’d rather bring this thing back to Pepsi Center for at least one more game.