Bryant Still The Best Closer In The Game
By J.A. Adande
LOS ANGELES -- Sure, we've seen this before from Kobe Bryant -- the 40-point night, the clutch shooting, the takeover mentality, closing like Circuit City. Only this came in a different context. This one, which salvaged a 105-103 victory for the Lakers in Game 1 of the Western Conference finals, followed 94 games that followed a summer of Olympic competition that followed a 103-game season.
His 18-point fourth quarter followed his finger popping out and having to be forced back into place, another in a long accumulation of injuries. It came amid the slight signs of fatigue, such as the ball hitting the front of the rim even on some shots that went in. And it all came on the day his sensei passed on "favored son" status to Kobe's younger rival.
"I do think LeBron [James] has surpassed Kobe as a player."
Those were the 10 words from Jerry West that resonated around the league Tuesday. Not that West is the first to say it, but he's easily the most important to say it, given his relevance to Bryant. This isn't just "the critics" or "the media." West was the one who traded for Bryant back before teenagers -- especially teenage guards -- were considered safe picks. He was the one whose counsel Bryant sought when he was first learning his way around the league or squabbling with Shaquille O'Neal.
Bryant claimed that he wasn't offended that someone who meant so much could cast his vote elsewhere, and said, "The debate of who is the best player ... that's going to go on for whatever. That's not something I concern myself with."
Nuggets Waste Golden Opportunity
By Marc Stein | ESPN.com
LOS ANGELES -- J.R. Smith says the knee that he tweaked in Tuesday night's frantic Game 1 finish is merely bruised and won't stop him from playing in Thursday night's Game 2.
That's the silver lining for the team that just squandered a golden opportunity.
Apart from Smith's insistence that he's fine -- and maybe the fact that Kobe Bryant is now just two technical fouls away from a one-game suspension -- there is lots for the Denver Nuggets to lament after they started the Western Conference finals with a 105-103 defeat to the Los Angeles Lakers at Staples Center.
"The next 48 hours," Nuggets coach George Karl conceded, "are going to be difficult."
That's because the visitors wasted Carmelo Anthony's 39 points and clanked 12 free throws, which pretty much nullified the fact that the Nuggets were sent to the line 11 more times than the hosts. The game was physical and close -- pretty much everything Denver could have wished for after nearly a week off since dismissing Dallas in Round 2 -- but the ending couldn't have been much more painful.
Kobe-led Lakers one step closer to dream Finals clash with LeBron
Lee Jenkins | SI.com
LOS ANGELES -- Jerry West spent 14 years playing for the Lakers, 19 in the front office, most of his professional life serving as their ambassador. He is the man who graces the NBA logo, who gave the league Showtime, and who shrewdly traded Vlade Divac to the Charlotte Hornets in 1996 for the draft rights to Kobe Bryant.
On Tuesday, West made headlines for saying what many others already have, that LeBron James has surpassed Bryant as the best player in the NBA. It was not an original opinion, but coming from West, it had a little more bite.
Bryant said he was not offended by West's comments or even irritated by them. But on Tuesday night at Staples Center, he fired back in his own quiet way. Just as the Nuggets were threatening to steal Game 1 of the Western Conference finals, and Carmelo Anthony was threatening to take ownership of Staples, Bryant showed that any debate over the NBA's best player is still in session.
With the Lakers dragging after a seven-game battle royale with the Rockets, Bryant played 43 breakneck minutes. With Trevor Ariza failing to keep up with Anthony, Bryant insisted on switching defensive assignments. And with the Lakers trailing by six points at the six-minute mark of the fourth quarter, Bryant scored 10 points to wipe away the deficit and deliver a 1-0 series lead. Anthony finished with 39. Bryant, in a vintage display of one-upsmanship, had 40.
Kobe's selfishness keys Lakers' Game 1 win
Mark Kreigel | foxsports.com
LOS ANGELES - Carmelo Anthony, with 39 very efficient points on 20 shots, had a better line in the box score.
But Kobe Bryant had the better fourth quarter.
Anthony, making his debut in the conference finals, had a great learning experience. Bryant got a game closer to the championship round.
Anthony, the young star displaying newfound maturity, took his shots within the Nuggets' offense.
For the Lakers, Bryant — who finished with 40 — was the offense.
And when it meant most, he was the defense, too. In that fourth quarter, with the game still in the balance, Bryant informed Trevor Ariza to step aside, that he would be checking Anthony the rest of the way. Kobe is listed 6-foot-6, 205 pounds. Carmelo goes 6-foot-8, 230.
"Had to go down there and wrestle with a bear," said Bryant.
As it happened, the bear scored nine points in the last quarter. But Bryant had 18, shooting 4-for-5 from the field and 9-for-9 from the line.
Kobe scores 40 as Lakers come back to beat Nuggets
By Mike Bresnahan | LA Times
The Lakers traded for Trevor Ariza a year and a half ago, a move that was viewed with raised eyebrows in the locker room because two popular players were sent away.
He was young, untested and an NBA unknown when he arrived, but it's now safe to say Ariza has plenty of friends, especially after making in-game amends with the biggest defensive play of the Lakers' still-evolving season.
The troubles Ariza had in guarding Carmelo Anthony were whisked away with his burst to the ball as Denver guard Anthony Carter inbounded it from the left side with 30.5 seconds left to play.
There was a little too much loft on the pass, Ariza was a little too fast in ripping the ball away before it got to Chauncey Billups, and the Lakers were a little too good for the Nuggets in taking Game 1 of the Western Conference finals, 105-103, Tuesday at Staples Center.
Lakers' escape isn't too sweet
Mark Heisler | LA Times
Normalcy returned to Lakerdom, with the purple and gold back on top again.
Suggesting a long, hard series awaits, as opposed to proving they were superior to the Nuggets in any way, the Lakers pulled this one back in after trailing by 10 points in the first quarter, and five in the last 4 minutes 17 seconds before Kobe Bryant rescued them in a 105-103 escape Tuesday in Game 1 of the Western Conference finals.
Bryant scored 40 points, 18 in the fourth quarter, as well as guarding Chauncey Billups in the beginning, J.R. Smith in the middle of the game and Carmelo Anthony at the end.
"Once I sensed we didn't have the energy, I took it on myself to lead by example," Bryant said.
Nuggets lose Game 1 in L.A.
By Benjamin Hochman
The Denver Post
LOS ANGELES — Anthony Carter let the poor pass slip out of his hands, just as the Nuggets let Game 1 slip through theirs, and there stood the crestfallen guard, declining a postgame interview, while media smothered him like Lamar Odom on the inbounds.
Down the dimly lit tunnel in the Staples Center where the Lakers won Game 1 of the Western Conference finals, 105-103, Carter finally paused and opened up to one reporter, speaking softly.
"That's not what lost the game," he said of his inbound pass that Trevor Ariza swiped with 30.5 seconds left and the Lakers leading by two points. "We still had time on the clock. We just didn't come up with a few plays."
Then, asked if the series was just getting started, he flashed a smile.
"Yeah," Carter said. "We've got a long ways to go."
Indeed, the No. 1-seeded Lakers and No. 2-seeded Nuggets battled toe-to-toe, with the team's two biggest stars, L.A.'s Kobe Bryant (40 points), and Denver's Carmelo Anthony (39), putting on an incredible show.
Paige: This defeat really hurts
By Woody Paige
The Denver Post
LOS ANGELES — Heads bowed and bodies bent, the Nuggets stumbled unsteadily away from the court, caught in a cruel cascade of confetti.
They had just endured the team's worst loss ever. Suffer the Nuggets did.
It wasn't Game 7 of a playoff series. It wasn't a 40-point beatdown. It wasn't at home. It wasn't on a last-second 3-pointer. And it wasn't because of a lack of effort, energy and enthusiasm.
But It was to the high-and-brash Lakers, and it was in a game that the Nuggets should have won, and it was the Game 1 that got away, and it was the Nuggets' prime opportunity to win on the road in the series, and it was a chance to erase all the grimy memories of last season's sweep and previous playoff series with the Lakers, and it was turned on a sloppy, senseless inbound play.
It was the game that will prevent the Nuggets from winning the Western Conference finals. When the series is over, the Nuggets and their partisans will reflect sadly on Tuesday night in downtown L.A.
Kiszla: History on the side of Lakers
By Mark Kiszla
The Denver Post
LOS ANGELES — Championship pedigree matters. The Los Angeles Lakers have it. No doubt. The Nuggets? Not so much.
In the shadow of 14 L.A. championship banners, Denver threw away Game 1 of the Western Conference finals, losing 105-103 on a Tuesday night that felt heavy with regret.
"We missed out on a great opportunity," Nuggets guard Chauncey Billups said, "to steal this game."
After the loss, as his players slowly buttoned shirts and tried stiff upper lips on for size in a quiet visitors locker room, Denver coach George Karl sat slumped on a chair in his office for a very long time, his head so heavy with dejection it seemed impossible for him to lift it. Anybody who walked by could see Karl's agonized dejection.
This is not how a champion acts.
After committing a killer turnover in the game's last seconds, rushing an inbounds pass that led to a key steal by the Lakers as the home team held by its fingernails to a two-point lead, Nuggets guard Anthony Carter tried to turn invisible in defeat, slipping quietly into the arena hallway, in search of his wife.
Nuggets want Melo shooting more
Anthony leads Denver with 39 points, but his teammates lament he didn't have more chances down the stretch.
By Chris Dempsey
The Denver Post
LOS ANGELES — Of all the shots Carmelo Anthony took — and made — Tuesday night, all the talk after the Nuggets' Game 1 loss to the Lakers was about the shots Anthony didn't take.
Anthony led the Nuggets with 39 points. He hit 14-of-20 shots, including 4-of-5 on 3-point attempts, and made 7-of-8 free throws. He took five shots in the fourth quarter. However, he did not score again after a follow shot with 3:25 left to give the Nuggets a 96-92 lead.
"I wish we could rewind the game a little bit and at the end I wish he could have gotten his hands on a few more balls on the last few possessions because he was going so good," Nuggets guard Chauncey Billups said.
Added guard J.R. Smith: "I think we got to do a better job as a team of getting him the ball at the end of the game. I think that should be more of an emphasis. We just got to learn from our experiences."
But Anthony didn't see it that way. He scored nine points in the fourth quarter.
"I could have been a little bit more selfish," Anthony said, "but I don't think it came down to that."