Sunday, April 29, 2012
Rapid Reaction: Lakers 103, Nuggets 88
By Brian Kamenetzky
I'm not sure if it's possible to draw up a better blueprint for a win than the one executed by the Lakers Sunday afternoon at Staples Center in Game 1 of their first round matchup against the Denver Nuggets. They controlled the pace of play throughout, took the wind out of Denver's transition game and benefited from a balanced attack offensively, and now lead the series 1-0 after a 103-88 stomp job on the visitors.
Nobody knows how long this season's playoff run will last, but for one day at least, the Lakers looked like a team ready to make some noise.
Here are four takeaways ...
1. Andrew Bynum dominated the game.
His first field goal came with 4:24 remaining in the first half, a tip on a Kobe miss. He followed it with a dunk off a nice feed from Pau Gasol. He'd finish the first half with six points, his third bucket again coming on a dunk after a feed from Pau. But the modest production offensively tells little about the incredible impact Bynum had not just on the opening 24 minutes, but the game as a whole. He was absolutely dominant in the paint, nearly obliterating Denver's efforts to get to the rack in the half court. Bynum recorded three blocks in the first quarter, and in the second showed great mobility on the perimeter matched with Ty Lawson, sticking with him as Lawson drove left and sending the shot attempt into Denver's bench.
Bynum was a factor even when he wasn't blocking shots. Al Harrington air balled a second quarter jump hook around Gasol in part because he knew Bynum was there to contest, just one of the litany of Denver shots he altered in the paint.
In the third, Bynum continued the block party, swatting Kenneth Faried on Denver's first trip and adding three more to reach eight, establishing a career playoff high. He was quick in his help, recovered well, and did what he could to close on perimeter shooters. Most encouraging about Bynum's work is that it came while he was a relative non-factor offensively. George Karl continued his practice of aggressively double-teaming Bynum on the catch, forcing him to give up the ball. He did, leading to a ton of open looks for the Lakers and helping fuel a very effective attack from beyond the arc (50 percent through three quarters). He's spoken a lot this year about focusing on defense and rebounding even when he's not getting touches at the other end, and Sunday did just that.
He finished with 10 points, 13 boards and 10 blocks -- that's a triple-double to you and me, and the swats set a franchise record along with tying an NBA postseason record -- in arguably his most impactful game this season (and he's had a lot of them). We've talked a lot over the past few weeks about what the Lakers look like when Bynum is fully engaged.
This is it. The Lakers held one of the league's most explosive offenses to 35.6 percent from the floor. Denver isn't a great perimeter team. The Nuggets rely on attacking the rim, and with Bynum serving as catalyst the Lakers basically made it impossible.
2. The Lakers got their wild cards.
Before the game Karl talked about limiting damage from L.A.'s non-stars. To use his term, he didn't want to create any "wild cards." In that regard, the Nuggets were a total failure.
Devin Ebanks ticked every box the Lakers put in front of him. He was active away from the ball, took smart shots, hit the glass and filled the wing on the break, all while doing his best to make Danilo Gallinari work at the other end. He finished the first half with 12 points on 5-of-6 shooting from the floor, along with three rebounds. Jordan Hill grabbed six rebounds in the first 24 minutes, three offensive, and while he was a little quick on the jump shot trigger, did exactly what the Lakers need. He showed hard on Denver's pick-and-rolls, got his hands up in the paint and worked hard. He was just as good in the second half, and finished with 10 points, 10 rebounds and two blocks. Steve Blake hit three big triples in the first half, leaving him as the team's second leading scorer behind Ebanks heading into the locker room with nine points.
No, that is not a typo.
With those guys playing well, the Lakers didn't necessarily need great games from their stars ...
3. ... but got them anyway.
Kobe struggled mightily against the Nuggets in three regular-season games this year, shooting less than 30 percent. The first half Sunday was no different. He finished 2-of-10 from the floor (eight points) as Arron Afflalo did a good job of staying in front of him, forcing Kobe into perimeter looks away from the bucket. His first basket came on a layup, slipping by a good back screen from Ramon Sessions to accept a pass from Gasol. In the second half, however, Kobe got rolling. His game came with more forward motion, moving at the basket, with more shots coming in the paint rather than the perimeter. He hit three of his six shots in the third for nine points, and in the fourth added 14 more. Generally speaking, he avoided forcing shots, and moved the ball well when Karl sent double-teams his way.
He finished with 31 points on 11-of-24 shooting from the floor, along with five rebounds and four assists. That'll do nicely, thanks.
Gasol, meanwhile, did his typical stat-stuffing act. I've already mentioned a handful of his assists, five of which came over the first two quarters, when he mostly filled the role of facilitator. He was more aggressive offensively in the second half, when he earned five of his six field goals, but remained active on the glass and in the passing game. A couple of bounces this way or that, and Bynum wouldn't have been the only Laker with a trip-dub.
Gasol finished with 13 points, eight rebounds, eight assists and two blocks.
Defensively, Gasol did a very good job of helping shut down Denver's pick-and-roll game, getting out on the floor and working hard to recover down low.
4. The Lakers held on to the ball.
The tempo game is keyed in part by how well the Lakers take care of the ball, and Sunday the Lakers did well. Four turnovers in the first six minutes could have hurt them, but Denver couldn't take advantage. After that, the Lakers quit with the generosity. For about the next two quarters worth of ball, the Lakers had only one giveaway. They'd finish with nine, helping explain a modest 19 points for the Nuggets on the break.