Play as one.
Play for all of us.
Almost everyone in the NBA wants to get shots, and more often than not, problems in the locker room arise when a player feels like he isn't getting his fair share.
But when it comes to defense, most guys in the league are happy to let someone else take on the unglamorous task of locking up the opposing team's best player. There are those who relish the opportunity to take on the toughest defensive assignment, both they're vastly outnumbered by those who would rather reserve their energy for the offensive end.
Nicolas Batum has been one of those defense first guys through his first three seasons in the NBA, during which he's been Nate McMillan's go-to defender. But Thursday night, McMillan opted to put Wesley Matthews, who had already been charged with replacing Brandon Roy's scoring in the starting lineup, on one of the leagues most dynamic scorers in Carmelo Anthony. McMillan noted pregame that Batum had "problems" matching Anthony's physicality in previous matchups, which was why Brandon Roy checked Anthony in the previous game against Denver and why he had decided to give the job to Matthews this time around.
For Batum, that decision might have been the equivalent of a volume shooter having his number of touches cut in half, but the Frenchman knew he would still get a crack at Carmelo, even if he wouldn't get the honor of checking one of the premier offensive player in the NBA right off the bat.
"I talked with Dre a little bit about that," said Batum of not initially checking Anthony. "He say 'I think that's a good situation because you can be in foul trouble in the first quarter (guarding Anthony)'. Wes got a foul, I go on Carmelo, try to deny him, grab him because I can stop him. I know I can stop him. I show tonight that I can."
Though Batum didn't do it alone, by his own admission. And in retrospect, the ability of Matthews and Batum to share the burden that is slowing down Carmelo Anthony left both players with enough energy to get involved on the offensive end, which further resulted in tiring Denver's best player.
"We try to make to make it hard on offense, but to make him play
defense," said Batum. "He don't want to play defense, so try to make him
tired playing defense. And on offense, try to frustrate."
Matthews and Batum accomplished both, scoring 20 and 14 points, respectively, while holding Anthony to 18 points of 5 of 15 shooting, with both of those statistics being well below his season averages. Batum also drew three of Anthony's six fouls, which might have determined the outcome more than any other facet. The Nuggets are 1-10 all-time with Anthony fouls out, as he did Thursday night.
"It helps," said Matthews of having two above average wing defenders. "I
think it frustrates other players too, to have two different types of
defenders and playing styles thrown at you. You can't get accustomed to
"Anybody is going to get frustrated when you've got the emphasis on him. "We were really trying to take him out of his game and minimize what he wants to do."
While taking Anthony out of what he wanted to do, both Matthews and Batum got to share the toughest defensive assignment while still getting buckets, something both wanted to do.
For Batum-as-defensive-specialist, getting bumped from the leadoff assignment on Anthony could have been considered a demotion, but he was savvy enough to realize sharing the load actually made him a better defender and gave the team a much better chance of winning.
"Me and Wes can do a pretty good job on him and that's what we did," said Batum. "He was 5 for 15. One time he's got Wes, then he's got me. He was tired because he can't go nowhere. Wes is physical, he's small. Me, I'm long, athletic so we're different but we can both stop him. That's what we did tonight."