With 15 seconds left to play, Lamar Odom pulled up and knocked down a huge three to cut a Denver Nuggets lead from five to two. On the ensuing inbounds play, Denver got the ball into Danilo Gallinari, forced him to pass the ball and fouled Nene, who is a career 68 percent free throw shooter. He knocked down the first one to extend the lead to three, but missed the second. The Lakers catch a break, or so we thought. Kenyon Martin was able to force Lamar Odom under the rim and tip in the missed free throw to put the game on ice and end the Lakers nine-game winning streak with a 95-90 win.
This was one of those losses that we had the pleasure of watching toward the end of last year’s regular season: it wasn’t about the numbers, more about the effort and the willingness to execute. Denver worked to force Lakers turnovers and hit the offensive glass hard — and those were the things that ultimately gave the Nuggets the upper hand down the stretch. Take a look back at the events that transpired with just over five minutes left to play.
• 5:18 – Down only one, the Lakers run a high 4-2 P&R with Odom handling the ball and Kobe setting the screen. LO turns the corner and drives baseline a little too out of control as he runs over Nene before making the skip pass to a wide open Fisher in the opposite corner. Charging. Turnover.
• 4:13 – Right after a Raymond Felton three-pointer put the Nuggets back on top by two, the Lakers finally get the ball to Pau at the pinch post after I begged for the Lakers to start running the offense through the bigs. As Derek Fisher tried to run off of Pau to clear things out for the Spaniard, Felton simply slaps the ball out of Gasol’s hand. Turnover. This leads to a Wilson Chandler bank shot. Nuggets up four. On the Lakers VERY next possession, they get into the Triangle, Ron Artest makes an entry pass from the corner to Gasol. Nene pokes the ball away after a couple of pump fakes. Turnover. That leads to a Kenyon Martin layup. Nuggets up six.
• 2:15 – With the Lakers needing every stop they can get, the Nuggets go to a high screen and roll with Felton and Nene. Felton gets it to Nene deep in the paint because Pau didn’t recover after he hedged on the screen. LO makes a nice rotation and contests Nene’s layup, but no one rotates to put a body on Kenyon Martin who tips in the miss. Offensive rebound. Nuggets up eight.
• :15 – The afore mentioned Kenyon Martin tip after Gallinari’s missed free throw.
The worst part about the previous sequence is the fact that it could have been much longer had I decided to include the Nuggets offensive rebounds or Lakers turnovers that didn’t lead to points. There really wasn’t much intensity for the first 45 minutes of the game, they didn’t run too much of the triangle, and they didn’t take care of the ball. The Lakers starters had a combined 13 turnovers — slightly more than what they’ve averaged as a team for the full season.
For the Nuggets, Raymond Felton played a fantastic second half. All 16 of his scored points came after intermission, he chipped in four assists and was a part of some of the key plays down the stretch that led to the Nuggets win. Felton was able to get into the paint at a regular basis and either finish or kick out to shooters. Danilo Gallinari was the beneficiary of a few of those, hitting three of six from behind the arc while leading the Nuggets in scoring with 22. Also, Kenyon Martin finished with 18 points and five offensive rebounds. Denver played to win tonight, played with infinitely more intensity than the Lakers did and they ended up being rewarded with a win.
For the Lakers, Gasol had a great first half. He did have two costly turnovers toward the end of the game, but he did finish seven for 10 with 12 rebounds. And most important, it looks as if nothing bad will come out of that scary fall he took after being fouled by Nene. Andrew Bynum finished with 16 rebounds, and could have potentially reached the 20-rebound mark if he hadn’t tweaked his knee after Lamar Odom ran into it. Trainer Gary Vitti took a look at his knee and said there was nothing wrong with it, but Bynum didn’t see the floor down the stretch of the game, so that’s something that we’ll keep an eye on the next couple of days.
The Lakers have the Jazz next on Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. out here on the West Coast. 10:30 start time out east.