When previewing this game, I mentioned that a major key to this match up would be for the Lakers to play a controlled game where they kept an even keel and didn’t let the emotion of the game get away from them. Well, they were able to do just that as they defeated the Nuggets 107-97. The Lakers played with precision and focus, ultimately showing that in a game that could have gone either way (especially at half time) that they could still seize control of a game and take down an opponent with a deliberate attack.
At the start of the game, the Lakers showed their hand early by trying to establish the interior with post ups. Bynum are Pau were both featured from the get go and while both big men missed some bunnies inside, the plan was clear. The Lakers were going to go inside and attack Nene and Kenyon Martin and make them defend the rim.
But while the Lakers probed the interior trying to find their rhythm, Ron Artest started the contest with his game in a groove. He too went to work inside, getting his first three baskets on lay-ins after attacking Carmelo on quick moves to the rim and strong post ups. He then complemented his inside scores with a corner three pointer that pushed his first quarter point total to 9. Ron’s early offense kept the Lakers in the game and his work on that side of the ball seemed to only fuel his defensive effort against Carmelo Anthony. Ultimately, Ron scored 19 points on 8 of 12 shooting while helping to hold a frustrated Carmelo Antony to only 23 points on 24 shots from the field.
In the 2nd quarter it wasn’t the starters that made the difference, though, it was the bench unit. With about 2 minutes remaining in the first frame, Phil went to the group consisting of Blake, Brown, Walton, Odom, and Gasol to settle the team down and see if they could finally put together some consistent offense and defense. This group rewarded Phil’s faith by executing well on both sides of the ball and getting the team into a rhythm that would last the rest of the game. Mind you, they didn’t cut into the 3 point deficit that began the first quarter (the Lakers trailed by that same three points at the half) but what they did do was slow the game down and start to convert on the types of plays that the Lakers wanted to emphasize. Using an inside-out attack and good ball movement, the Lakers got good looks at the hoop for Odom and Gasol (and later Bynum) and then swung the ball back outside for shots by Shannon and Blake. When shots missed the Lakers used their excellent floor balance and spacing to hit the offensive glass and get second shots at the hoop. By the time halftime came, the Lakers had grabbed 8 offensive rebounds which helped them stay close as the Nuggets continued to score the ball well by knocking down threes (5 of 11 in the first half) and get into the open court.
Where the game turned, though, was in the 3rd quarter. Right when the period started, it was obvious that Kobe was going become a more active participant in the Lakers’ sets and not just rely on simple post ups to the bigs to get the Lakers going on offense. After playing set up man and facilitator in the first half (taking only 4 shots), Kobe came out shooting in the third period making 6 of his 10 shots from the floor and completely taking over the game on offense. Mind you, he didn’t dominate simply by making shots. Instead Kobe mixed in pin-point passes with his fantastic baseline jumpers and post ups from both low blocks to completely dissect the Nuggets defense. When Denver double teamed him, he ably kicked out to shooters both with simple strong side kickouts and precise skip passes to the weak side to set up shooters. Every time Kobe touched the ball he seemed to make the correct read and by the time the quarter was over he had poured in 14 points and 4 assists in the frame playing a major role in turning the Lakers 3 point halftime deficit into a 10 point lead going into the 4th. You really can’t say enough about the offensive clinic he put on as Denver literally had no clue how to go about slowing him, and subsequently, the team down in that period.
The final 12 minutes was much of the same from the Lakers as they combined their 2nd and 3rd quarter showings to create a solid 4th quarter that would see Denver gain no ground. In the last period the bench came in and played well like they had earlier and then the starters came in after their normal rest to clean up the rest of the game. When the final buzzer sounded, the Lakers had proven that, on this night at least, their focus and determination could not be disrupted by Denver. Every small push by the Nuggets was countered and whether it was a set play to get Pau a lob or just a power post up by Bynum, the Lakers continued with their game plan of attacking the paint to keep Denver at bay.
A couple of other key stats/notes from this game:
*I mentioned that the Lakers had 8 first half offensive rebounds, but they kept that pace up for the rest of the game finishing with 15. Gasol had 6 on the night to go along with 7 defensive boards and 19 points – included in both his o-rebound and point total was a snare of a Shannon Brown miss at the end of the third quarter that Gasol put-back to before the horn sounded to push the Lakers lead to 10. On twitter I called that board a “man’s rebound” as Pau muscled his way inside and grabbed the ball between two Nuggets. On the night the Lakers out rebounded the Nuggs by 20, 47-27.
*Kobe played a great game on offense, but so did his counterpart. Arron Afflalo had 22 points on only 11 shots and made 5 of his 7 three point attempts. Whenever Kobe (or another defender) left him, Afflalo made the Lakers pay with another made jumper. After he made a few in a row you would have thought that the Lakers would have paid a bit more attention to him but with the defense clearly geared on slowing Anthony, Billups, and to a lesser extent Nene, Afflalo just continued to be the open man. Luckily tonight his ability to knock down shots didn’t turn the game but you could see that he was ready and able to take advantage of the space given to him.
*I mentioned Pau’s 19 points, but LO and Bynum also had very good games (again). Even though Drew suffered through some foul issues in the 2nd half, he was still able to play 27 minutes scoring 17 points, grabbing 7 rebounds and blocking 2 shots. LO, meanwhile, had 18 and 10 with 2 assists off the bench. Combined that’s 55 points, 30 rebounds, and 6 assists for the Lakers’ trio of bigs and as James said in the comments: “This is one of those games where I’m reminded how unfair it is to have Pau, Drew and Lamar on the same team.”