That was a fantastic game, exactly what you hope a Game 7 will be. Two teams laying everything they had on the Staples Center floor, and in the end it was the home team pulling it out. With the win, L.A. advances to face Oklahoma City, starting Monday in OKC.
Here are six takeaways ...
1. The bigs were huge.
Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol both came into Game 7 needing redemptive performances, though not necessarily for the same reasons. Bynum was widely criticized for his comments before Game 5 about the "kinda easy"-ness of closeout games, which he answered with a completely lackluster performance. In Game 6, he put up better numbers (16 rebounds, four blocks) but was frequently beat in transition, slow to contest and late to help defensively. Gasol, meanwhile, was pretty ordinary himself in Game 5, and followed with arguably the worst game of his professional career Thursday night.
Both had a ton on the line tonight, and both were outstanding.
The energy on both ends of the floor was light years ahead of the previous two games. Both Bynum and Gasol were aggressive contesting shots, and came out to give support to the pick-and-roll. Gasol, particularly, was animated, showing more emotion during dead-ball situations than I've ever seen from him. He backed up the fire with production, as well. A team-high 23 points, plus 17 rebounds, 6 assists and 4 blocks. Bynum's line -- 16-for-18 with 6 blocks -- isn't a massive leap from what he put up in Game 6, but the overall quality of play was substantially better. He was a huge reason the Nuggets shot worse than 40 percent.
These are the bigs the Lakers will need going forward, fully invested in every play.
2. The Lakers displayed genuine pride and poise.
You'd expect no less in a Game 7, but tonight the Lakers brought serious intensity from start to finish. After Denver made its third-quarter push, the Lakers not only locked down defensively, but contested every rebound and hit the floor for every loose ball. Bynum was on the deck. Gasol was on the deck. World Peace threw himself into the courtside spectators. Down the stretch, they were the team making every significant play, keeping balls alive and establishing good position. In that "uh-oh" moment after Denver took a 73-69 lead with 10:44 to play, L.A. regrouped and shut the door, holding the Nuggets to seven points over the next 10 minutes to again take control.
Fundamentally, every fan wants a team he or she can feel good about, willing to clock in and play with superior effort. At points throughout the season, the Lakers did exactly that, but in Games 5 and 6 didn't deliver. Tonight, they did. Fans will happily take the reminder these Lakers have it in them. Big picture, it's reasonable to worry about a series that took too long to close out, or their ability to beat the Thunder going forward.
Small picture, take as long as available to savor what was a phenomenal effort in an epic 48 minutes.
3. Metta mattered.
Metta World Peace finished the first half 1-of-6 from the field, but the important thing wasn't his line, but Danilo Gallinari's. Denver's SF was also 1-of-6, and it only got worse for him in the second half. Metta was everywhere, closing on shooters on one side of the floor, then recovering to other players maybe 20 feet away. He finished with 4 steals and 2 blocks. That would have been enough in his first game back, but MWP also kicked in with key buckets at the other end. The shooting percentage was low, but World Peace did something very important for the Lakers: When granted open shots on the perimeter, he took them. Four triples dropped, helping offset the low-efficiency night.
He owed his teammates in a big way, and played big to make up for it.
4. Kobe Bryant didn't force the issue.
As the game went on, George Karl abandoned a series-long strategy of avoiding the double on Kobe as much as possible. Instead, he started throwing bodies his way, forcing someone else to step up. In response, Bryant repeatedly moved the ball to the open man, creating excellent opportunities for teammates through most of the second half and contributing to a team high eight assists. Still, when the Lakers needed a big shot, they got one with a brutally tough, late-clock 3-pointer from the right wing, putting L.A. up seven and essentially ending the series.
Meanwhile, on the defensive end Kobe picked up Ty Lawson, and in the process helped shut down the focal point of Denver's offense.
The final line -- 17 points on 7-of-16 shooting -- won't overwhelm, but Bryant played a great game.
5. The playoffs/Game 7 rookies weren't good.
There's nothing like a Game 7, something Ramon Sessions and Jordan Hill learned the hard way. Neither was effective, and both seemed to be overwhelmed by the moment, playing with that weird, big-game-induced combination of tentativeness and hyper-speed. They combined for six points on 3-of-12 shooting, and six personals. Needless to say, neither saw a great deal of PT.
6. Steve Blake was awesome.
Playing big minutes in relief of Sessions, Blake had impact almost immediately. He hit his first triple late in the first, then two more in the second. In all, he hit his first five and finished with 19 points, good for the second-best total on the team. Plus, he forced turnovers at the other end, fought for loose balls and generally did his scrappy Steve Blake thing. A huge moment for a guy who has had far more downs than ups in his Lakers career.
BOLD PLAY OF THE GAME
How about this?