Sunday, April 22, 2007

Rich and Creamy Upset

Well, well, well. Count me among those that didn't think the Nuggets had a real chance of beating the Spurs. For one night, I was wrong.

Denver got a monster game from Allen Iverson, great interior defense from Nene and Marcus Camby, and some big free throws from Melo, and came out with the upset win.

What does it mean going forward? I expect San Antonio to win Game Two and at least one of the next two in Denver, so we are looking at this thing being a best-of-three in about, oh, three months, or whenever they get around to finishing these series. And the smart money is still on the Spurs, especially since we learned today that Robert Horry is still alive. However, Denver presents a few problems for San Antonio:

1) With the emergence of Nene, Denver suddenly has the advantage inside. I never saw this coming. Even as I watched Nene shed pounds and throw up nice fantasy totals, I don't think I realized how his presence would shift the dynamic. The Spurs love to get by with Duncan surrounded by perimeter guys (I suspect their favorite lineup is Parker, Ginobili, Bowen, Finley, and Duncan), but with Camby and Nene both playing well and Melo able to post up, it demands that San Antonio counter with Oberto or Elson. Advantage: Denver. (Luckily for the Nuggets, Nene's ankle injury wasn't severe. Other than his propensity to still fling the ball out of bounds while trying to catch it, he looked like a monster out there.)

2) Steve Blake is swinging the speed advantage over as well. Parker is usually faster than everybody on the floor, but when confronted with Iverson, that usual advantage becomes a draw. And it is Denver breaking the stalemate with the next fastest guy, as Blake is able to push the ball, break pressure, and guard Parker. He may not be a great on-the-ball defender, but he's quick enough to do a solid job most of the time, which was good enough for one night at least. (By the way, a ton of credit goes to Iverson for refusing to be exploited defensively while being matched up against taller guys like Finley and Ginobili. That was probably the best defensive game I've ever seen him play.)

3) Iverson can't be hedged. As far as I can tell, this was overlooked by the TNT guys. Every team in the NBA these days hedges and then doubles the high screen and roll almost exclusively, but the Spurs have been doing it the longest and they typically do it the best. Duncan is a first-team all defensive player in large part because he's really good at hedging (The only big man I've seen do it better is Verajeo). However, with Allen Iverson, you can't hedge/double him. He is so fast and so determined that he will just keep dribbling until he goes around everybody. On at least four ocassions today, AI got a high screen, saw the big man hedge into a double team, and then bounced it outside like an All-Pro tailback, breaking the double and getting to the hoop for easy layups or dimes. It was pretty amazing to watch, especially in light of the fact that the aggressive hedge-into-double tactic seems to work against other big time scorers like LeBron, Kobe, and T-Mac. The usual thinking is to not just turn these guys into passers, but make them pass to the guy who then has to make the assist (like when LeBron threw it to Hughes who threw it to Damon Jones for that big three against Washington last year). With AI, you can throw all that out the window.

4) Duncan defense. I expect Duncan to go nuts next game and throw up something like 35 and 18. He's too good and he typically gets too many calls to prevent this from happening. That said, Denver might have the best defensive options to throw at him of any team in the NBA. This is obviously a bit shocking, considering that Denver has a rep for being a porous defensive team. But with Nene's (suddenly ripped) body, Camby's length and timing, and Najera's fouls, they have a real gauntlet to throw at TD.

Will all this add up to a Denver win in the series? Probably not, especially when you consider that "stealing" a road win isn't as helpful for a team like Denver, who was just about as good on the road as they were at home this year. But I will admit that things seem a lot more interesting than they did just a few hours ago.


Branden Higa said...

When are 'Melo and Ai get it together and roll out with the same corn row pattern?

And Adamo, what's up with your tagline. I know you are working on your "cheesy ESPN lead-in" skills, but did you really need to go with "Rich and Creamy Upset?" How very Chatsworth of you.

Adam Hoff said...

Yeah, Rich and Creamy was inexcusable.