John Carroll, Scouts Inc.
The Utah Jazz has done everything right for the first week of this series. They gained a 3-1 advantage in this series because stars Deron Williams and Carlos Boozer have carried the team. Jerry Sloan has pushed all the right buttons with his team and the role players have done everything he has asked.
The Nuggets have been somewhat dysfunctional throughout this series; they are talented but somewhat misguided, and have allowed the Jazz to execute their offense to perfection. They have allowed seldom-used players (such as Kyrylo Fesenko) and bench players (like C.J. Miles) to be important factors.
Everything was going well for the Jazz until Wednesday night in Denver. After a horrible performance in Game 4, the Nuggets responded as a cohesive team, getting contributions from multiple players to win Game 5. Carmelo Anthony begged for help from his teammates and they delivered. The Nuggets had six players in double figures, and they moved the ball crisply, accounting for 20 assists. As a team, they shot 51 percent from the field and 53 percent from the 3-point line, and they were extremely aggressive attacking the basket. The Nuggets were rewarded for their aggressiveness by getting to the foul line 42 times compared to the Jazz, who made only 25 trips to the line.
The Jazz should be worried because they may have given the Nuggets life – they may have let a more talented team get their act together at home. Without two starters in the lineup, the Jazz need to play a near-perfect game to win Game 6. They need everyone -- not just Williams and Boozer -- to contribute. The Jazz need to run their offense to precision, play much better defense and not turn the ball over. Perimeter role players like Miles, Wes Matthews and Kyle Korver must make shots. These three guys combined to shoot 8-for-26 (31 percent) in Game 5.
Game 6 Adjustments
Williams came into Game 5 averaging 27.6 points and 12 assists per game in the playoffs. Denver decided to make an adjustment and start out with Chauncey Billups guarding him instead of Arron Afflalo. It did not make a difference, as Williams torched the Nuggets for 34 points and 10 assists. The Nuggets do not have anyone that can guard Williams, so I would not waste Billups’ energy on guarding him. I would let him guard Matthews so he doesn’t wear himself out or get into foul trouble.
The Nuggets’ offense stepped up in Game 5. They got contributions from multiple players and their bench outscored the Jazz’s reserves, 37-16. The Nuggets moved the ball, attacked the paint aggressively and played smart basketball throughout the game. Their aggressive attack of the paint opened up shots for J.R. Smith and Afflalo, who were a combined 6-for-7 from behind the line. In addition, their attacking drives got them into the bonus and to the free-throw line early. The Nuggets will need to display the same aggressive attack on the road in Game 6 and not resort back to their one-on-one and jump-shooting ways.
The Jazz’s offense could have been better in Game 5, but that is not what cost them the game. Sure, they could have shot it better (and they probably will at home). But the Jazz lost because of their defense. They gave up 116 points, 66 of those coming in the second half. They came out in the third quarter and allowed the Nuggets to score in their first nine possessions. They could not contain dribble penetration and it killed them. They gave up open shots to the perimeter players off kick-outs and they put the Nuggets on the foul line. Given the depletion of their roster, they cannot win Game 6 without playing a much better game. They need to be precise and crisp offensively, and they need to have a much better effort defensively in order to end this series.
Prediction: Jazz win Game 6