Nuggets trying to take page out of Celtics' playbook against Lakers
George Karl thinks the Celtics' Finals win over Lakers offers blueprint for Nuggets
Like Celtics in 2008 Finals, Nuggets are trying to play Lakers physically on defense
Unlike in 2008 Finals, Pau Gasol, Kobe Bryant are playing well in Western finals
DENVER -- The DVDs on top of Nuggets coach George Karl's growing pile of game films aren't what you'd expect. Yes, somewhere among the hours of footage is video of the Lakers' first-round series with Utah, and he has spent plenty of time dissecting the disc of L.A.'s difficult seven-game series with Houston in the Western Conference semifinals.
But the film Karl studies the closest these days isn't even from this season. It's last year's NBA Finals.
"We studied Houston," said Karl, whose team trails the Lakers 2-1 in the conference finals entering Game 4 on Monday. "But I think the film that we studied more is Boston. We think we play more like Boston than Houston. We studied the Boston tapes from last year more than the Houston tapes."
As the Nuggets' coaches watched Boston stifle L.A.'s vaunted offensive attack on its way to a six-game series win, they couldn't help but wonder: Why can't we do the same things? While no one in Denver's brain trust believed the Nuggets were as defensively skilled as Boston, the elements to implement the Celtics' game plan were there.
Playing the role of Kevin Garnett would be Kenyon Martin understudied by Chris Andersen, two players whose superior athleticism allows them to position themselves between the perimeter player and the basket -- effectively giving the Nuggets a soft double team -- while being quick enough to get back to their own men should the ball swing to the other side of the floor.
Playing the role of James Posey would be Dahntay Jones, a rough-and-tumble swingman whose best attribute is his ability to bump Kobe Bryant on the outside and be physical with him on drives to the basket. Jones' understudies are J.R. Smith and Carmelo Anthony.
The Lakers say they see a lot of Boston's strategies in Denver's schemes.
"They are putting a lot of guys at the basketball," guard Derek Fisher said. "You get into a scoring-threat position and they are flooding a lot of guys to that area. KG always seemed to be between Kobe and the basket. Now Kenyon Martin or Chris Andersen is always in between Kobe and basket.
"At the same time, it's not as though when they do that and the ball is passed around, we're getting open shots," Fisher continued. "They are really good at contracting their defense, so when you pass it out they are still contesting the shot. Nothing is coming easy for us."
In certain areas, the Nuggets have not come close to matching Boston's success. Pau Gasol averaged 14.7 points and 10.2 rebounds in the 2008 Finals; against Denver, Gasol is averaging 16.7 points and 14.0 rebounds. Bryant averaged 25.7 points (on 40.5 percent shooting from the field) in six games against Boston; in three games against the Nuggets, he is averaging 37.7 points on 48.6 percent from the field and 50.0 percent from three-point range. But overall, the Lakers are shooting nearly the same percentage against the Nuggets (43.9 percent) as they did against the Celtics (44.1 percent), though they're averaging about 10 more points against a faster-paced Denver team.
The Nuggets are encouraged by the fact that even though the Lakers are making shots, those attempts are being contested. Several players pointed to Gasol's 20-point, 7-of-12 performance in L.A.'s Game 3 victory as an example.
"Gasol made a lot of tough shots that we can live with," point guard Chauncey Billups said. "He's shooting the shot a lot better than we anticipated. You just have to make [the Lakers] take tough twos."
The Nuggets are also mindful of the fact that if not for a handful of boneheaded technical fouls and two poor inbounds passes, they could be up 3-0 in this series instead of trailing 2-1. Which is why instead of talking about the need to retool the game plan, players spoke Sunday about how they could continue to build on Boston's blueprint from last year.
"Boston was so much more physical than they were," Billups said. "They didn't give up a lot of layups and they didn't give up a lot in transition. We're capable of doing those kinds of things. I can't say that our team is as good defensively as Boston was last year, but we do have a pretty good defensive basketball team."
Said Martin: "We just put our own twist on things. [Karl] tells us the way they beat them was being physical, but that's just the way we play. We got guys who like to throw their bodies around and don't mind the contact. We have got a point guard who runs into people. 'Melo throw his body around. Dahntay doesn't mind the contact, myself, Nenę. It's the identity we put ourselves through the playoffs so far."
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