The Lakers beat the Nuggets in a crucial Game 5 to go up 3-2. Some notes on the big game at Staples Center:
The Lakers had various runs -- a 10-1 run early in the game, a 7-0 run in the middle of the third. But the Nuggets more than responded, and led most of the night. The Lakers needed spectacular plays just to keep it close ... until the beginning of the fourth quarter. That 11-0 Laker run was different from the others. That's when the Lakers played their best, but it's also when the Nuggets played their worst. Two great looks for Kenyon Martin were both botched. Chauncey Billups launched a 27-foot 3-pointer with 13 seconds on the shot clock. Nene got an offensive foul and a technical and had to leave the game for a few minutes. Credit the Nuggets with recovering their poise down the stretch, but the crowd was into it, the Lakers were fired up, and the damage was done.
Lamar Odom approached the free throw line, after getting fouled making a mean dunk. But his face was sweaty. So he did what anyone would do, he wiped his face ... on his shorts. Seriously. Bent over in half and stuck his face down by his knees. Flexible, open-minded dude. (And what's wrong with using the shirt?)
Kobe Bryant said he made a conscious effort to be a decoy. I'd be very interested in how that idea came about. Did Bryant tell anyone about it? Did the coaching staff gameplan for it? Or was it a game-time thing? Now that it has worked, it puts Denver in a guessing game for Game 5. L.A. might do it again. But I wouldn't bet on it.
Carmelo Anthony gave Kobe Bryant a bona fide shot to the face, but it was called a regular foul. That was one of several plays that made you think "they're letting them play." The exception: Nene's incredibly feeble sixth foul.
At one point, Odom bent over and the camera angle caught the profile of his back, with its protruding hunch -- a swollen bruise, wrapped in protective covering. It's big. I can only imagine how painful that must be.
Phil Jackson deserves all kinds of credit for a career of experimenting. Think about Shannon Brown. Since entering the league in 2006, he has started just nine games, and played a total of about 900 minutes. He couldn't get off Mike Brown's bench in Cleveland. Ditto Scott Skiles' in Chicago, and Larry Brown's in Charlotte. But in Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals, Brown plays 14 big minutes of the second half, and delivers a huge dunk and lots of useful energy. During Brown's time on the floor, the Lakers outscored the Nuggets by 13.
Linas Kleiza (let's call him "the Lithuanianugget") is a good basketball player. When Denver was lacking focus and fight, he hit a big 3, a big 2, had a beautiful dish to Nene (who blew the finish) and dove head first onto the floor, almost nabbing a big turnover. He does everything hard, too. He's not playing scared.