By John Powell
The Denver Nuggets found out how to stop John Wall and hurt the Wizards home success in the process.
Denver came out with pressure on John Wall, double-teaming him from his first possession. He was forced to take bad shots and squeeze passes. No shots fell from his hands in four tries during the first quarter, but he started finding other people.
“His head was spinning there in the first quarter,” Washington Head Coach Flip Saunders told the media after the game. “I said before the game, you’re going to see a young point guard against a veteran in Chauncey (Billups).”
Wall managed to pick up three assists in the first quarter, six for the half, but the assists came mostly on fast breaks, not the well-conceived plays he is used to running. It was Chauncey Billups and Nene guarding him.
“They double-teamed me, I did a great job,” said Wall who still finished with 13 total assists. “They ran their offense and they double-teamed me, so I was just getting the ball out of my hands.”
After seeing the pressure, it was shooting guard, Nick Young, who worked the paint, almost refusing to take outside shots with the pressure. When he shot from outside of the arc, he was 0-of-5. When he shot inside, he was 10-of-15, for 20 points in addition to six from the line.
Usually a three-point shooter, it is surprising Young only took five attempts and that the team only made two shots from 3-point land.
“Just picking up on fast breaks,” Young said of his scoring on the night. “We got a lot of opportunities to run the ball and John [Wall] hit me in fast breaks and I didn’t want to settle for threes, so I pump-faked, tried to get to the lane, tried to get fouls.”
With Kirk Hinrich out, it was the newly-rented Mustafa Shakur who filled in when Wall came out. In five minutes, he could not make a shot, but quickly tallied two assists.
“I feel like they did, they actually did the same thing,” said Shakur when asked if the Nuggets double-teamed him similarly to their double-team on Wall.
Washington was generally unable to penetrate by passing, only able by driving, but while attention was drawn to the outside, Andray Blatche, responded. Blatche crashed the boards and all of his shots coming from the paint. Washington as a team scored 56 of their 109 from the paint.
“When they double him I just try to flash.” Blatche said, “I just try to get open shots.”
The other big man, JaVale McGee, added five rebounds, four points and a blocked shot.
Even falling backwards under pressure, 240-pound forward Trevor Booker finally saw a shot fall from mid-range with 0.7 seconds left on the clock before halftime. It might have been his play of the season and the outside shot of the game.
In the second half, the Nuggets dropped most of their pressure. It was partly due to the fact that John Wall was already limited and Nick Young focused on his inside game. But even more was due to the fact that they had a 68-56 lead that was only looking to get larger. The Wizards fought back, but neither team could deviate much from the 12-point differential.
“Even when we took the thing close, it was like they were throwing in threes,” Saunders said.
But it was another forward, this time Yi, who came out of nowhere in the fourth, continuing the string of good play by the Wizards’ forwards. He went on a streak, making five of seven shots during the fourth quarter.
The Wizards had a great night on paper, with Young who led the team with 26 points, and four other players were in double-digit scoring on 51.2 percent shooting. Howver, with Denver’s successful perimeter defense and the Wizards more selective shot selection, it was the Nuggets who came out ahead with a 120-109 road win, as expected for the highest-scoring team in the Western Conference.
Now the Wizards go on the road in hopes of getting the monkey that is their winless road record off their back. They go on a four-game road swing starting in Oklahoma City on Friday and do not return to the Verizon Center until Feb. 4 to see the Orlando Magic and the return of Gilbert Arenas.