George Karl Is a Miracle Worker

Many a time have I seen Chris Paul slice and dice a defense.  He dissects with a precision, creativity, and speed that few in this league can match.  He’s a wonderful finisher around the basket, an incredible passer, and isn’t fooled into picking up his dribble.

The Denver Nuggets have somehow, through means that are fully beyond my comprehension, taken all of that away.

I have never seen a team completely frustrate Chris Paul so consistently over the course of two games.  I was willing to give CP a pass for Game 1; the playoffs are a completely different ball game, and it can take time to adjust.  But in Game 2, I saw a virtual repeat of one of the most frustrating defenses in these playoffs.

But how are the Nuggs even able to pull this off?  Chauncey Billups is a terrific defender, but common sense would tell you that Paul could run circles around him.  Nene is one of the game’s stronger interior defenders, but the Hornets’ best post scorer loves to float out to the perimeter.  And, most importantly, when you’re not staying in front of Chris Paul 100% of the time, the supporting cast suddenly becomes supercharged with the ability to catch the ball in their ideal spots on the floor.  He’s just magical like that.

Somehow, Chauncey and Dahntay Jones have kept the league’s best point guard in check by bodying him up, staying in front of him, and funneling him into the help defenders.  Help defenders that include Carmelo Anthony (who used to be terrible at defense), Kenyon Martin (the guy who loves blocking but used to always leave his feet and/or throw blocks out of bounds instead of saving them), and the Birdman (…BIIRRRRRRRRRRRDMAN!).  These are the defensive masterminds that have somehow captured Chris Paul in a bottle, and thrown David West into the stocks.  Every angle of penetration is cut off by quickly rotating defenders.  Open shots off the kick-out are denied by even more rotations, forcing NOLA’s shooters to uncomfortably put the ball on the floor.  David West has a man in his face or on his back, and sometimes both.  Chauncey and Dahntay are doing whatever it takes to get into Chris Paul’s head or right up in his biznass.  You combine all of this with active, scramblers like J.R. Smith and Linas Kleiza as well a tremendous shot-blocking frontline, and there is some serious defensive aptitude here.  It’s a shame we never knew it.

What I’ve been impressed with most is the discipline.  This team, for two games against the Hornets, has played tremendous team defense.  We knew that Carmelo was a much improved defender, and we’ve seen Chauncey’s body of work when it comes to locking down point guards.  What we didn’t know was that this roster, from Melo to Anthony Carter, was ready to suckerpunch New Orleans with all the Popovichian fury that this roster could muster.  It’s a well-oiled machine that was oiled an extra time just for good measure, but the results are as organically beautiful as I ever could have imagined.  Each Nugget has done their homework and is executing to perfection.  To everyone who insists that defense can’t be a work of art, I implore you to watch Game 3 of this series.

I have no idea how the tides may turn with the series back in New Orleans, but I wouldn’t count on this Nuggets team to suddenly drift into nothingness.  I know they’ve had the occasional slip-up in terms of their progress this season, but I’ve seen all I need to see to be convinced of their legitimacy for the playoffs.  Maybe I’m easy to please, or perhaps I know something special when I see it making Chris Paul hear footsteps behind him and fight through ball pressure in his nightmares.

Seth Carstens