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Posted by Kevin Arnovitz
In Game 5, the Lakers cracked the code on the offensive end. They discovered that the Nuggets were giving them swaths of open space in the halfcourt, much of it the result of double-teams. The Lakers' offense is predicated on spacing and movement, and Denver's pressure had the unintended consequence of opening up the floor. Here's Bryant describing the dynamic Wednesday night:
Kobe Bryant: "I'll just read the defense."(Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images)
They cocked their whole defense to me so I tried to beat them with my passing a little bit. They've been so ready to trap me and double team me all over the place so I just stretched the floor out, Pau, they double teamed him on the post too. So all we did was just put the ball in my hands, put the ball in his (Gasol's) hands, make the defense commit and then we made plays from there...
I'll just read the defense. Denver's not going to let me isolate someone and go by them. They're not going to let me play one-on-one. I have to trust my teammates to make plays, and then when those lanes open up, I'll take advantage of them.
The Nuggets trapped Bryant aggressively – probably too aggressively -- and the Lakers made them pay. By Thursday morning, some Nuggets players were openly wondering if they were giving Bryant a little too much respect at the expense of their base defense.
How would Denver respond on Friday night?
If you're a Nuggets fan, the first defensive set is exactly what you want to see: Pressure on Bryant, but a strong, alert rotation that doesn't give him the opportunity to make a play for someone else. Unfortunately, things begin to disintegrate quickly:
Ariza finishes the night with 17 points on only nine shot attempts. He's the primary beneficiary of Denver's defensive lapses:
Your 2009 Los Angeles Lakers. Gladly accepting their opponent's challenge against their first option to leverage an open shot for their second. They shoot 60% from the floor in the first half with 16 assists on their 21 field goals.
And Mr. Gasol?
The Lakers had ignored Gasol for much of the series, and relegated him mostly to dribble hand-offs at the pinch post when they used him at all -- an absolute waste. When you have the best passing big man in basketball, it's a crime not to utilize that talent. Friday night, they abided.
The Lakers' issues in this postseason has never been about heart, and rarely been about effort. It's a matter of execution, exploiting their vastly superior skill set in a system perfectly tailored to their talent.