Tuesday, May 1, 2012
Rapid Reaction: Lakers 104, Nuggets 100
By Andy Kamenetzky
The Lakers remain undefeated in the Mike Brown postseason era, despite the Nuggets' pesky refusal to wave the white flag. The showing in Game 2 on Tuesday wasn't nearly as dominant as in Game 1, and I imagine Brown will point out more mistakes in Wednesday's film session. But the bottom line is the Lakers are up 2-0, and you can't ask for anything better. Here are four takeaways from the game.
1) When Kobe gets rolling, it's just ridiculous. Heading into this series, Kobe Bryant hadn't shot the ball well against Denver this season. Thus, after his slow first half in Game 1, 14 fourth-quarter points and a steadily increasing efficiency felt like a nice omen of his having figured out Denver's scheme against him. Then again, Tuesday night didn't necessarily present a big mystery to unravel. George Karl opted largely to guard Kobe in single coverage with either Arron Afflalo or Corey Brewer, the first among the better wing defenders in the NBA, and the second certainly credible. And in both cases, they were rendered pretty helpless. Bryant's first basket was a rather emphatic dunk off a cross-court baseline feed from Matt Barnes, quite the announcement of his intentions to own this game. From there, the reins were never relinquished en route to 38 points on 15-for-29 shooting.
Shots were drained from inside, outside and all points in between. Whether attacking the rim, working in isolation, spinning baseline, fading away, jab-stepping, head-faking, pulling up or using his super status to get away with the mother of all push-offs, Bryant emptied his proverbial bag. And as we've learned over the years, it holds an awful lot of tricks. The second half probably featured a little too much one-on-one for the good of the overall offense. But at the same time, his night was pretty efficient and often spellbinding.
The timeliness of his makes also was key. With just more than four minutes in the game and Denver starting to gain momentum, Kobe found himself faced up against Afflalo yet again. This was a possession on which the Lakers really needed a basket, a moment their leader always knows. A few jab steps later, a 3-ball dropped, and the Lakers were back up by eight. He also drained a pair of free throws with 9.4 seconds on the clock, keeping the lead at five and essentially ending Denver's quest to push overtime.
Although really, Bryant's best plays of the night might have come on the defensive end. In the second half, after Steve Blake missed a 3-pointer, Denver was off to the races yet again, with Al Harrington on the receiving end of a home run pass from Andre Miller. Kobe, 33 years old and hopped up on German medicine, chased down Big Al from behind and blocked what should have been a flush. Then, with 2:21 left to play, Kenneth Faried couldn't hang on to a home run pass from Ty Lawson, and a scrum ensued for the loose ball. Kobe came up with the rock, sped down court, absorbed contact from one defender, and wrapped a pass around Danilo Gallinari to Andrew Bynum for a dunk and a six-point lead.
In a game in which Denver continued to claw for survival, Kobe made sure to cut off the oxygen supply whenever possible.
2) The Lakers' defense wasn't as tight as during Game 1. It was a weird opening 24 minutes for Denver, in that the Nuggets shot just 38.5 percent before intermission but went cold completely on their own terms. There weren't a ton of Lakers misses, but every time they did clang, the Nuggets were able to turn on the jets. In Game 1, the Lakers were consistently matching Denver stride for stride, holding the Nuggets to just 19 fast-break points. In Game 2, before intermission alone, the Nuggets had notched 15. Lakers defenders were constantly left in the dust, and the rim was in turn left more vulnerable. In the meantime, Denver grabbed 13 offensive rebounds and converted them into 18 second-chance points. Thus, the Nuggets were able to stay in the game.
In the second half, the Lakers did better getting back to control the tempo and kept Denver away from the offensive glass, but in turn grew sloppier with their overall coverages. Various Nuggets were able to weave and probe, setting up teammates away from the ball and generally wreaking havoc from the lane. Denver bumped its overall percent to 44 percent as a result and made the game far too close for comfort. Thankfully for the Lakers, their opponents offset this good fortune with some mental errors down the stretch.
And throughout the game, the 3-point line was there for Denver's taking. Possession after possession, various Nuggets were given clean looks from outside and looked the gift horse in the mouth. They morphed into the Lakers at their worst, the team that couldn't buy a triple even with an AmEx black card. The Nuggets missed 15 of 19 tries, but that was more the result of dumb luck than quality challenges.
The Lakers need to rediscover the lockdown defense of Game 1, or they could find themselves dropping games in Colorado.
3) Jordan Hill maintained his presence off the bench. In Karl's pregame meeting with the media, he was asked about Bynum's Game 1 effect. He claimed to be content with the way the Nuggets defended Drew and, beyond Pau Gasol's eight assists, really didn't think the starting frontcourt hurt them necessarily more than would be expected, given the talent. Where he thought things went off the rails, however, was Jordan Hill's 10-10 double. Karl said the newbie's activity caught everyone by surprise and said he hoped his team could minimize Hill's presence with the weapon of added familiarity.
Hill failed to reach double-digit scoring for the first time as a Lakers reserve in the rotation but nonetheless made a valuable contribution as the top big off the bench. He pulled down another 10 boards, and his energy led to nice moments. In the second half, he blocked Miller's shot at the rim, which was eventually converted into a fast-break dunk by Ramon Sessions(!). He also broke up a lob pass from Miller to JaVale McGee and prevented an easy dunk.
The Houston "throw-in" remains a valuable member of the bench, and on a night when Blake and Barnes combined for just two points, Hill did his part to minimize any damage from the drought.
4) It wasn't a historic night again for Bynum. But if 27 points, nine rebounds and two blocks equal "mortal" for Drew in this series, the Lakers will gladly take it. And by the way, I gotta call myself out in praise of Bynum. In my Game 2 preview, I expressed doubt whether Bynum, often prone to turnovers while swarmed by multiple defenders, could limit himself to just one turnover again. Well, shut my mouth. The kid finished the night with a whopping zilch in the turnover column. Save one possession trapped along the sideline and forced into a long shot to avoid a failed 24 second violation, Bynum was just as impressive negotiating two or three bodies at a time. Against a team like Denver that makes hay running, this importance can't be overstated.
Bold play of the game: See "Bryant, Kobe," and "block, chase-down."