Off makes, off misses. The Denver Nuggets stayed on the go Tuesday. And when they didn’t, they hit threes. Sigh.
It’s one thing when a team is caught off guard and unprepared. Sometimes reserve players have huge games or rookies that haven’t been around the league yet show off a part of their game that the league hasn’t caught onto yet. Those situations are understandable. It’s another thing when a team does a few things repeatedly and keeps having success with it, even when an opponent knows what’s coming.
That was the frustrating scenario the Milwaukee Bucks lived through on Tuesday night. The Denver Nuggets were hitting the outlet off made baskets. They were hitting it off misses. They were going coast to coast. They couldn’t be stopped in the first half, even though the Bucks knew it was coming.
Layups and threes. It was so simple for the Denver Nuggets Tuesday and it wasn’t an accident. Denver averages 33.5 shots at the rim per game, the highest number in the league and it isn’t even close. Miami ranks second with just under 28.5 attempts at the rim per game.
“The percentages league wide show that’s where you win: At the rim and behind the line,” Scott Skiles said before taking on the Nuggets Tuesday night. “People are always looking for the guys that have sort of the in-between game. But the percentage show, not that they’re meaningless shots, but that it’s the shots at the rim and behind the line. They pass the ball very well and you have to get back. They penetrate very well.”
So he and the rest of the Bucks were well aware of what the Nuggets wanted to do. Run, make layups and kick out for threes. At least it was in the game plan so the Bucks could prepare to stop it. Preparation doesn’t make perfect I guess.
The Nuggets took 75 shots on Tuesday. 58 of those shots were at the rim or behind the arc. Of those 58, they made 27, accounting for 66 of their 105 points. That’s not factoring in free throws courtesy of the Nuggets assault on the rim either. Denver made 29-37 free throws. That’s 95 points on free throws, layups and threes.
The Bucks made 28 of their combined 62 attempts at the rim and behind the arc. The 28 baskets accounted for 63 points. Milwaukee made 12-14 free throws. 85 points.
The Bucks lost by 10, appropriately enough.
Milwaukee even took 16 more shots than the Nuggets. The problem was the 29 shots the Bucks took between 3 and 23 feet from the basket. The Nuggets rarely bother with those shots. They attempted just 17 on the night. Denver knows what a good shot is and they chase those shots with conviction all game long.
“When you’re watching the Nuggets play, when an open guy is open, he gets the ball,” Skiles said after the game. “They have several guys with vision and they see people and they get the ball. So they really put the pressure on your defense to cover them individually, and then you gotta be aware and scramble out to people and contest shots. We’re not close to really understanding yet how hard we have to play and how hard we have to compete and attention to detail and a whole bunch of things like that.”
Scrambling out and matching up in transition was a huge issue for the Bucks on Tuesday. That sort of attention to detail has been a problem all season long.
“One thing we talked about this morning in shoot around was get back,” Stephen Jackson said after the game. “The coaches did say that a couple times. But for some reason they was just getting rebounds and getting out. We wasn’t able to get back. When you getting contested shots and they gettin’ layups, it’s goign to be hard to win like that. We just didn’t pay attention to detail in our scouting report.”
Skiles was pressed further in the post game. A reporter said his team “wasn’t that good to play this cool.” But Skiles brought up a valid point that gets glossed over very often.
“I wouldn’t go that far,” he said. “You’re dealing with human beings, you know? You don’t always know what it is. We have to talk to the guys, we have to try and figure out why it is that we’re doing those kinds of things. You’re right, they just ran right by us. We had several clips at halftime, you guys all saw it, where we just stood and kind of let them run right by us. And that was point number one in the game plan and obviously we failed.”
The Bucks aren’t robots, the Nuggets aren’t robots. And you can see in the above clips how frustrated the Bucks were getting. They knew it was coming, but they couldn’t figure out how to work together to stop the fast breaks. That’s what the Nuggets do. Human beings are prone to imperfection and the Bucks’ transition defense was rife with imperfection against a Nuggets team that feasted on it every chance it got.
They were simply better at doing it than the Bucks were at stopping it.
Most teams the Bucks have played this season been better at most facets of the game than the Bucks. Yes, the team is made of up individuals, but this is a results driven game. If the Bucks can’t start stopping what they know is coming, if they can’t start paying attention to detail, frankly, if they can’t start winning, this season is going to get away from them as fast as the Nuggets did.