It would have been ignorant and delusional to think that the Denver Nuggets would just lay down and succumb to the Lakers after their Sunday afternoon dominance. The Nuggets are a proud team, led by a proud coach, and despite falling short on the scoreboard for the second game in a row, they gave the home team something to really fight for.
The Lakers got off to a fast, efficient start, outscoring Denver 12-3 before the remainder of the Staples Center crowd had even settled into their seats. Despite Denver starting 0-5 from the field, however, Kosto Koufos finally scored on a layup, and ignited the Nuggets into one of their many scoring runs. Unfortinately for them, no run ran long enough to hold off the home team.
After the first half, there was no doubt that Denver had found their fast break mojo, forcing the Lakers on their heels each time they sprinted in the other direction to score. The Lakers didn’t necessarily play badly in the first 24 minutes, but their efforts on defense were clearly not as aggressive as it was in the first game.
Despite reaching a 19-point lead in the third quarter, for example, they allowed Ty Lawson to go on a one-man 7-0 run that cut their lead to just 12 points, and then just 10 points going into the final quarter. The lead teetered from double to single digits, and it went down to as low as four points with three minutes left in the game. Fortunately, the trio of Bryant, Bynum and Ramon Sessions took over late in the fourth and finished Denver off.
Kobe Bryant – That was no 2-10 shooting for the Mamba tonight. Unlike his slow start two days ago, Bryant was aggressive at the onset, tearing up every defender that George Karl placed in his way – Arron Afflalo, Danilo Gallinari, Corey Brewer – none could stop him. Except for a couple of questionable offensive non-calls (Bryant sometimes pushes off, but let’s get real, who DOESN’T do that in this league?) that sent Brewer leaning away from the shot attempt, Bryant was simply textbook Mamba. One-legged Dirk-like fadeaways, mid-range jumpers, a difficult mid-air shot and-1, a headfake that Afflalo is usually good at not falling for but fell to tonight. Bryant even chased down Al Harrington on a fast break and blocked his dunk attempt. Late in the fourth, he and Steve Blake harassed Kenneth Faried into fumbling the ball, which led Bryant on a break and hand-off to Andrew Bynum who dunked it and-1. It helped the Lakers hang on to a slim lead with the game clock running down. He finished with 38 points on 15-29 from the field, 6-7 from the charity stripe, four rebounds, two assists, three steals, a block and just a single turnover.
Andrew Bynum – A dominant center for a championship-contending team should never be a wild card, but Bynum has been periodically this past season. He’s had strings of games where he’s been unstoppable on either end of the court, and he’s also had some games where his intentions come into question. The hope for these playoffs is that the former version of the young center shows up, and after his exceptional defensive afternoon in Game 1, the expectation (a word we use carefully when speaking of Bynum) is that he would have the same type of attitude and effort. Tonight he didn’t disappoint. He didn’t have any record-breaking stats, but 27 points on 12-20, nine rebounds, a pair of dimes, two blocks and zero turnovers doesn’t sound so bad. Bynum was a force tonight, and no Koufos. Mozgov or Faried could stop him.
Ramon Sessions – Sessions chased down Corey Brewer on a break, but Brewer’s dunk hit nothing but the backboard. The Lakers’ point guard, owever, was close enough to the play for the officials to think he fouled Brewer, which sent Sessions flying onto the ground in frustration. Fortunately for the Lakers, that call fueled a usually calm Sessions, and he followed that call with a floater and layup which brought the Laker lead back up to 14 points. Sessions finished with 14 points, four assists, two steals and zero turnovers.
Pau Gasol – This may have been the quietest double-double an All-Star forward could have – 13 points on 5-10, 10 rebounds, the team leader in assists with five, two steals and two blocks. On a team with the scoring abilities of Kobe Bryant and Andrew Bynum, Gasol has kindly stepped into other roles, scoring when the opportunities come and facilitating…always. He said he’s constantly looking for his teammates, taking it upon himself to make sure they get good looks, assuring that the offense is working. As arguably the best passing big man in the league, Gasol’s lack of scoring can sometimes be justified because he finds other ways to contribute by taking on the playmaking role that this team has thrived on.
Jordan Hill – He could have been a liability, with all the legal battles he’s had to deal with the last couple of days posing a distraction. But Hill was not perturbed, putting in an excellent night of work with his six points, 10 rebounds and a block.
Turnovers – For a team who’s known to give the ball away, the Lakers have played surprisingly cleanly these first couple of playoff games. They had just 11 turnovers tonight.
Laker Defense – It’s funny that a high point just one game ago could turn into a low point in the next, but the Lakers were killed in transition tonight by a Denver team who was catching up on all the running they were deprived of in Game 1. The Nuggets scored 30 fast break points tonight. As soon as the Lakers missed a shot or turned the ball over, the slew of blue uniforms would run towards the other end to score, most times leaving the five yellow jerseys standing in a cloud of smoke.
Paint Points – Another thing the Lakers took away from Denver in the last game was their ability to get to the rim. Bynum may have played warden to that painted area on Sunday, but tonight the interior defense was just not as strong as it should have been, and Denver got 60 points in the paint because of it. Lapses in defense or a lack of communication, earned Denver some uncontested hoops and kept the game closer than it had to be.
Second Chance Points Allowed – To be fair, the Lakers allowed 13 offensive rebounds in the first half, but only six in the second half. However, giving up 19 offensive rebounds altogether is too much to allow for one game. There were defensive possessions where every Laker was flat-footed, scarcely putting a hand up to grab that loose board, and they paid for it.
Bench – Other than Jordan Hill, the rest of the Lakers’ supporting cast was nowhere to be found. Steve Blake and Matt Barnes did what they could but for the team to make a true playoff run, the reserves have to contribute so much more than they did in the regular season.
It wasn’t an easy game to win, but the Lakers pulled it off, not allowing the Nuggets to lead once in two games. Now they’re off to the mile-high city of Denver, which has always been a challenging place to play. Let the adjusting commence!