This game began much the same way that many Laker games of late seem to begin — with the Lakers appearing ready to play, moving the ball, getting offensive rebounds for second chance points and then, as fast as you can say “altitude,” they are suddenly down by nine.
Three-point shooting, again, affected the Lakers tonight — those that Denver shot with ease, and those that the visiting team simply could not hit.
After Carmelo Anthony let one loose from beyond the arc, Phil Jackson immediately called a timeout, lashing at his team as they made their way to the bench. Shooters seemed to be wide open all over the court.
The second quarter started with a Carmelo drive directly to the basket with not one player in Purple and Gold standing in his way. It took 20 shots for ‘Melo to get his 31 points, but the Lakers’ defense against him was not as potent as it had been in that fourth quarter the last time these two teams met. Perhaps Ron Artest, assigned to ‘Melo watch, was in more of an offensive groove tonight.
In the absence of Kobe Bryant, it was Ron who helped Pau Gasol on the offensive end, shooting 7-11, three from downtown.
Helping ‘Melo carry the offensive weight tonight was J.R. Smith off the bench. As smug and cocky as any professional athlete can be, J.R. Smith is, at the very least, a dependable source of offense for Denver off the bench. He thinks he can shoot over anyone, blow past anyone, and defend against anyone. And as hated as he is by so many Laker fans, at least he has stats to back up his talk, which is more than can be said for the Laker reserves.
At the end of the first half, it was Laker Bench 12, J.R. Smith – 16.
Mental lapses occurred from every which way in this game and that, above all else, is what earned the Lakers this loss, and forces them to bid farewell to the 60-game season that Phil challenged them to attain.
Having shot a mere 38.1% from the field, the Lakers missed some unbelievably easy shots. On a fast break pass from a running Sasha Vujacic to a sprinting Ron Artest, Ron, caught between a lay-up and a dunk, barely hopped a few inches from the floor and hit nothing but rim. Pau Gasol, half a foot from the rim and with no Nugget taller than him around the hoop, tries to float one rather than dunking it, and it’s blocked. In the fourth quarter, Jordan Farmar, penetrated to the basket and missed an uncontested lay-up.
The third quarter was an efficient one for the Lakers. Their defense perked up and allowed only 16 Denver points to their 27. Shannon Brown finally made his first shot, a three, and it was followed by another one from behind the arc by Ron. Lamar Odom, who had a quiet offensive effort, fought for an offensive rebound midway through the quarter and laid it up quickly. Suddenly they were behind by only two points. After a steal and signature Shannon dunk, the game was tied.
Laker fans at Pepsi Arena cheered just as loudly as the home crowd and it appeared that momentum had shifted in favor of the road team.
The fourth quarter, however, is where the Lakers missed Kobe the most. In his absence, Sasha had found his rhythm, hitting three from downtown and yes, Ron was more aggressive with his offense. But who would take over and close this game out? Ahead by seven points in the fourth, who would step up and lead this team to a victory? It appeared to be a group effort, with Sasha hitting his shots, Jordan Farmar following a timely three-pointer with a block against a Chauncey Billups attempt and Shannon Brown playing as best as he can with the injured thumb.
However, with 32.1 seconds on the clock, and Denver ahead by one point, who would play the man of clutch?
After J.R. Smith missed his first free throw, then made his second, the Lakers did not call a timeout, instead deciding to inbound from full-court, and either attempt a shot for the overtime, or go for the win.
Derek Fisher, ever the fearless leader, dribbled to the right, then to his left and at the point of launching a shot that, for his record, would have probably gone in, was blocked. Buzzer sounded, game over. Denver wins the season series 3-1.
It’s difficult to decide what exactly to take from this game. On the one hand, the Lakers fought back and weren’t blown out of the arena, despite missing two key players in Kobe and Andrew. On the other hand, there was a small part of every fan watching that knew which team this game meant more to and, in effect, would probably win because their desire was greater.
Hopefully, when this next week and a half is over, the Lakers will have that desire too.
Pre-game Thoughts: Hopefully the 3 days off have given the Lakers some time to get re-energized to pull off this win against Denver, even without Andrew Bynum and Kobe Bryant
Half-time Thoughts: 47-57, Denver. The Nuggets are playing almost effortlessly. Hopefully the Lakers can do to Smith in the second half, what they did to contain George Hill.
Most Thoughtless Player(s) of the Game: Any player wearing Purple on the floor when the Lakers were up by 7. Too many mental lapses and missed opportunities pulled the Nuggets right back into the game.
Most Thought-filled Player(s) of the Game: Pau Gasol had another big game with 26 points, 13 rebounds and 5 assists, but Ron Artest really filled in for Kobe’s absence, tying his season high of 22 points, and adding 6 rebounds and 3 assists.