By John Carroll
The Denver Nuggets extended their season by at least one game with their hard fought 104-101 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Nuggets played with high energy and enthusiasm. The Nuggets attacked the rim and pushed the tempo of the game. The Thunder could not keep Ty Lawson out of the paint all game long and he finished with 27 points. Denver had a collective team effort with six players scoring in double figures. The Thunder are a young and talented team but their youth and lack of experience showed in Game 4. The Thunder took too many questionable shots and lost their focus on the defensive end.
George Karl ran a ton of pick and rolls for Ty Lawson. They set the picks higher than normal and it allowed Lawson to pick up speed on his drives coming off the picks. Lawson had straight line drives to the rim all night long due to poor pick and roll coverage and a general lack of defensive intensity on the part of the Thunder. Denver did a great job spacing the floor, and Danilo Gallinari and JR Smith made the Thunder pay when they loaded to the paint to try to protect drives to the rim. Gallinari and Smith combined to shoot (6-9) from behind the 3 point arc. Gallinari scored all of his 18 points in the second half.
Game 5 Adjustments
Scott Brooks cannot be happy with his team’s offensive execution and shot selection. Russell Westbrook was the biggest culprit in his team’s offensive woes. Westbrook, who is a terrific offensive player, did not play with the poise necessary to close out Denver in Game 4. Westbrook scored 30 points but took 30 shots to do so. He settled for too many jump shots and did not attack the basket. Westbrook is one of the most athletic guards in the NBA. He needs to get to the rim and he cannot settle for jumpers in Game 5. Westbrook must improve his decision making to become one of the elite point guards in the NBA. He cannot be so hard headed as he was in Game 4. The Thunder need to get the ball into Kevin Durant’s hands early and often in Game 5. Durant finished with 31 points on just 18 shots in Game 4 and was left watching Westbrook dominate the ball down the stretch. Russell Westbrook needs to get all of his teammates involved early in the game especially the efficient Kevin Durant.
The Thunder must take back control of the paint. Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins must utilize their size and toughness and dominate the glass. Defensively they must keep both Lawson and Felton out of the paint. In the first three games the Thunder combined for 15 more offensive rebounds than the Nuggets. The Nuggets neutralized that in Game 4. The Thunder frontline needs to step up in Game 5 and play much more physical. They cannot allow the Nuggets smaller guards to get to the rim. They must hard foul and knock them down if they come down the lane.
The Thunder perimeter defenders must do a much better job of guarding their men 1-1 and stop their dribble penetration. In addition they must do a much better job on pick and rolls with Lawson and Felton. The Thunder big men must be much more active and give much more support on all ball screens. They must work harder to get the ball out of Lawson and Felton’s hands.
The Thunder must do a better job of protecting the 3 point line. They must control dribble penetration from the Nugget perimeters and chase both Danilo Gallinari and JR Smith off the 3 point line. They must close out to these two players and make them put the ball on the deck. Look for a big game from Kevin Durant in Game 5. Scott Brooks may look to get Durant going early, giving him as many touches as possible in the first quarter. If Durant can get hot early it will force the Nuggets to adjust defensively. Denver will be forced to load up to stop Durant penetration and as a result Westbrook’s driving lanes will open up. If Game 5 is close down the stretch Durant needs to have the ball in his hands to win the game for the Thunder.
The Denver Nuggets must come out with an aggressive mindset in Game 5. They must push the pace, get out in the open court and attack the rim. Ty Lawson and Raymond Felton must continue to get into the paint on the break, turn the corner on pick and rolls, and drive it hard in half court situations. The Nuggets only shot 38% from the field in Game 4 but their aggressive offensive mentality helped them get to the free throw line 44 times. They must maintain this same aggressive attitude in Game 5 on Oklahoma City’s court. If they can get into the paint and get to the free throw line they can then make open up their perimeter 3 point game when the defense collapses to help. If they stroke the ball from the 3 point line they will put a lot of pressure on the Thunder.
The Nuggets must continue to limit the production of the Thunder’s complimentary players. Serge Ibaka was the only Thunder player to score in double figures besides Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Denver is not going to stop Durant and Westbrook from scoring but they can focus on Ibaka and Harden and not allow them to hurt them. Denver must also keep Westbrook out of the paint and make him shoot as many contested jump shots as possible.
Prediction: The Thunder win game 5