The Lakers’ last two shots were a pair of three pointers from two of their point guards in the final minute of the game, and no, not one of them was named Derek Fisher (or even Kobe Bryant). Ramon Sessions and Steve Blake, holding down the backcourt in crunch time, may never be placed in the same breath as the Steve Nashes, Tony Parkers or Chris Pauls of the world, but they sure are dependable when it matters, and tonight, it mattered a whole lot.
Unlike the first three games, where one team completely dominated the other, this game was a close match throughout. There were 18 lead changes, neither team led by more than seven points and both the Lakers and Nuggets even shot the ball with the exact same field goal percentage (45.3%). Denver was fighting to stay alive in the series and the Lakers were fighting to keep them from having any hope that that would ever happen.
In the first half, the two teams kept it close, but the Nuggets were playing a better game. The Lakers shot just 44% from the field and allowed Denver to shoot 51%. No one could stop Danilo Gallinary, who led the team with 12 points after two quarters. Neither Sessions nor Blake were big enough to control Andre Miller, who scored 10 first-half points. And Kobe Bryant was having another tough shooting night (5-13 at the break). The Lakers also had 8 turnovers by halftime, which, fortunately for them, only led to nine fast break points for the Nuggets.
In the second half, the Lakers’ game on both sides of the court came alive, as did their energy. Denver’s second chance points went down, they turned the ball over more than twice as much as they did in the first half, and they just committed a series of late-game mistakes that cost them the game.
Coming off their loss in Game 3, the Lakers needed to match the energy and the effort of the Nuggets tonight before heading back home. They could not allow Denver to again take complete control of the game the way they did on Friday. The rebounds had to be anticipated, the offense needed to be more efficient, the defense needed to be more intimidating and the effort needed to be collective. They did all that tonight, and now have a commanding lead in the series.
Teamwork Works – The Big Three did what they’re expected each night to do, but this game wouldn’t have been won without the contribution of the Laker collective. There were six players in double figures, no one had less than a pair of rebounds and except for Jordan Hill, every player handed out an assist.
Jordan Hill – Call him the new Mr. Double-Double because that is what he keeps giving to his team. To think that it took just one game’s worth of effort against the Oklahoma City Thunder for the coaching staff to realize what an asset Hill could be and most definitely is. He doesn’t try to do too much and doesn’t disappear from the scene either. The game is simple to him – grab rebounds, play defense and score on easy hoops, and for that the Lakers are a better team. Tonight he fought under the basket for boards to give the Lakers second chances to score, he put back a missed shot by Steve Blake and even altered a few shots on the defensive end. He finished tonight with 12 points, 11 rebounds (7 on the offensive end) and a steal in just over 23 minutes of burn.
Steve Blake – He’d scored just 12 points in the first three games, but tonight put in a 10-point effort that held so much more weight than it appears. Blake had just two points going into the final quarter, but it was in that final quarter that he really shined. He blocked Danilo Gallinari’s shot from behind. With the shot clock running down, he hit a three off a pass from Pau Gasol, then hit the quick jumper to beat the buzzer, and then, with the Lakers up by three points and 37 seconds left on the game clock, Blake inched his way into the corner, received a pass from Bryant and drilled a dagger three that put the Lakers up by six points. He was engulfed in a huge embrace by Kobe Bryant and then by Pau Gasol, and received a slew of high-fives and chest bumps from other teammates. He deserved it.
Blake is part of a Lakers’ bench that will always be criticized for producing so little, but with this set of reserves, it’s about quality not quantity. The Nuggets reserves scored 13 more points and three more rebounds (they also played one more bench player than the Lakers), but none of them came through in the last five minutes of the game the way Blake did for the Lakers.
Captaining Their Ship – Kobe Bryant will be called out for another bad shooting night, and Pau Gasol, for everything that he has contributed in this series, has yet to receive the same accolades as Andrew Bynum and even Jordan Hill, but credit the Laker team captains because they’re guiding this team the best way they know how. Bryant had 22 points but needed 25 shots to get there, but he also had eight rebounds, six assists and a steal. The five turnovers notwithstanding, that’s a great night of production. 25 shots is a lot (okay, maybe not for Kobe), but he did more than just score tonight – he grabbed boards and made plays. Gasol, with 13 points on 6-12, nine rebounds, a block and six assists himself, had yet another efficient, all-around good game. He’s averaging 14 ppg on 49% shooting, 8 rpg and 5 apg. Great leading by the captains so far in these playoffs.
Second Half Defense – In the first half, the Lakers allowed Denver to shoot 51%, gave up nine offensive rebounds which led to 14 second chance points and 36 points in the paint (18-31). In the final two quarters, the Lakers defended more tightly and allowed just 39% shooting, four offensive rebounds and only four second chance points and just 16 points in the pain (8-20). Again in this series, the Lakers held Denver to just 88 points, a long way from their season average of 110 ppg)
Rebounding – It’s never good when a team has to be reminded to rebound, but after the last game’s effort, the Lakers needed it and they came through tonight, outrebounding Denver 48-38.
Free throws – The Lakers got to the line 18 times and only converted half of those attempts. Both Andrew Bynum and Steve Blake missed a pair of free throws with under two minutes left in the game. If it weren’t for those threes by Sessions and Blake, those four missed free throws would have been disastrous for the Lakers.
Defensive Switches – It happened much too often tonight and in the previous three games – Ramon Sessions having to cover the 6’10” Gallinari or Pau Gasol having to check the small and quick Ty Lawson.
Andrew Bynum’s Rebounding Efforts – It’s hard to nitpick at someone who scored 19 points on 8-12, but after his big Game 2 efforts, Bynum said he was disappointed that he didn’t alter a few more shots or grab a few more boards. He then went into Game three and looked disengaged in the first half. He admitted after the game that he wasn’t ready (wasn’t ready?). He then came in to tonight’s game and grabbed just seven rebounds in over 35 minutes of playing time. Jordan Hill, who played 12 less minutes than Bynum, grabbed 11 boards. Bynum had a solid game today, but too many times he was caught looking away already before making any sort of effort to fight for the offensive or defensive rebound. Yes, it’s important to get back to other side, whether it’s to stop a fast break point by the Nuggets or to be in a position to score yourself, but being such an important anchor in the middle, it wouldn’t hurt to fight for a few boards and either prevent the second chance points or to score those points.
The Lakers now hold a 3-1 lead going back to Staples Center and, if they’re smart, they will try to close out this series as quickly as possible. If they get the same collective effort they did tonight, OKC won’t have been resting for long.
Relive the final minute of the game below: