Dallas came into Wednesday night with the second best defense in the NBA. It’s true. We didn’t believe it either but they are giving up just 90 points per 100 possessions. Which is damn good. (The Heat are tops, by the way).
Of course the reality was they had earned that against the Bobcats, Clippers and banged-up Grizzlies — three very weak offensive teams. It’s a small sample size party and the Mavericks were invited.
Wednesday night it was Denver. A real offense. A real test.
When the going gets tough, the tough go zone. Or at least Dallas did. They went to it for much of the game, particularly down the stretch.
It didn’t work well, but it was still good enough. Dallas watched a Carmelo Anthony game-winning rim out and hung on for a 112-111 win.
Dallas’ defense gave up 108.6 points per 100 possessions for the game. Not great. But they won.
Denver threw smaller looks at Dallas as they had to go without Nene — Gary Forbes got the start. And who is Gary Forbes, you ask? He’s the guy who dropped 12 in the first half. He’s an undrafted player out of UMass who bounced around Europe and the D-League, played for the Rockets at Summer League and impressed them so much they didn’t even give him a good camp invite. So Forbes took one from the Nuggets and made the team with his play in the preseason.
The smaller Denver lineup meant some crisp ball movement, which got them good looks. They also got quality chances in transition. Then, there are the nights when Chauncey Billups knocks down those pull up threes that cause Nuggets fans to yell “noooo” at there televisions. It really does happen.
Denver was getting the ball inside and hitting the chippies. But it was the ball movement that got them those looks. Dallas did what they wanted in the first half — shut down Denver’s primary option. Anthony was just 1-8 shooting. But Forbes was 6-11, Aaron Afflalo 5-8 for 12, Billups 4-7 for 13. You’re usually in for a rough night when the guys you dare to beat you do.
Then Anthony woke up (he was 7-12 shooting in the second half). Part of what makes Anthony fun to watch is the reason you don’ really want him on your team — he loves the contested long two. He hits them at a better rate than maybe anyone, and when they go in you are awed because they are hard shots and he looks good doing it. But it’s still not smart.
However it was working against the 2-3 zone Dallas employed especially late in the game. Denver stopped getting in the middle, they settled working the ball around the perimeter with no movement inside. The only time it did go inside is because Anthony took it there. And he scored.
Dallas made a key play, eating about a minute off the clock late thanks to two offensive rebounds. But still Denver hung around. And got closer. The Nuggets got to the point where they had a chance to win it.
That final play it was Shawn Marion on Anthony. ‘Melo got the ball a couple feet above the elbow, made a step then stepped back. Created the space, got the shot up, Marion was with him and got a hand up. The ball rimmed out.
The defense wasn’t that good. But it was good enough.