Lakers 92, Denver 89 (box score)
Offensive efficiency: Lakers 97.9, Nuggets 94.7
True shooting %: Lakers 51.5%, Nuggets 52.5%
Andrew Bynum returned and showed exactly why everyone has been pining for him to get back on the floor with this team. He made an immediate impact on the game, showing that his combination and size and skill can the a real difference maker for this team. His numbers – 29 points on 18 shots, 13 rebounds (6 offensive), 2 blocks, and 1 assist – tell part of the story, but not entirely. Obviously the stats are fantastic and proved that in any give game he can carry the load on both ends of the floor by providing real production. On a night where Kobe (17 points on 18 shots) wasn’t sharp with his shot Bynum filled the scoring gap that LA needed to win this game. And in a game where Denver threw out their own super-sized lineup of Nene and Mozgov as their big men, Bynum’s work on the glass kept the Nuggets honest in being able to fully push the ball as he did major work on the offensive glass and made the Nuggs stay in their backcourt securing rebounds.
Beyond the numbers, though, Bynum did what he would ideally do on every night – he put everyone into their normal slots on both ends of the floor by moving Pau to PF and helping the integrity of the defense by allowing guys to pressure the ball a bit more and then protecting the rim with force whenever a Laker was beat off the dribble or if a big man tried to take control of the paint. The domino affect was real as Bynum manned the pivot on both ends, allowing Pau to work the elbows and shallow wing on offense and be a secondary helper on defense. Bynum’s presence also meant that the offense could work more through the post and create better shot distribution across the entire team. Kobe took a few less shots than normal (maybe if his shot was falling he’d have been a bit more aggressive) but Bynum and Gasol combined for 28 shots and worked 18 feet and in most of the night. This put loads of pressure on the interior of the Nuggets defense and allowed the Lakers many open shots from the outside (more on this in a minute).
Overall, for his first game back and with obvious wind issues after his first stretch of minutes, Bynum played about as well as one could hope and showed how he could impact the floor on both ends. If he’s even 80% this good on any given night, the Lakers have added an all-star to their lineup and that’s something any team would love to be able to say after 4 games.
In the game preview I mentioned that the Lakers would need to play a deliberate style and not get caught up playing at the Nuggets’ pace. Well, that didn’t happen. At all. The game ended up having 94 possessions which easily ranks as the fastest game the Lakers have played this year. Too often the Lakers took the quick shot rather than being patient and running their sets and it rarely worked out for them. Long jumpers early in the clock fueled Denver run outs and hasty passes that resulted in turnovers did the same. Considering the advantage the Lakers had inside most of the night, going inside more often should have been the plan but the Lakers shunned that advantage to play loose and in the style of their opponent. The Lakers survived the day mostly because the Nuggets were even more mistake prone and couldn’t make enough shots that they’d typically bury, but that’s not a plan the Lakers can depend on nightly – and certainly not tomorrow night when these teams play again in Denver.
After shooting well from the outside against the Knicks, the Lakers fell back into last year’s habits of not being able to hit an outside shot. They only hit 2 0f their 24 attempts from deep (8.3%!!!!!), and some of them weren’t close at all. Blake went 0-6, Kobe 0-5, and Fisher 0-2. Even Kapono only buried 1 of his 4 attempts from distance. Some of this was fluky, of course, but it’s a bit disturbing that even when the guys were getting good looks they couldn’t seem to find their range. With Bynum back, the Lakers shooters will be tested more than ever as defenses collapse to take away the paint. If they can’t make defenses pay, the ugliness we saw today will be repeated too many times for anyone’s comfort.
The Play of the Game
With the Lakers down two and only two and half minutes remaining, the clock was starting to become an enemy and every possession more valuable. So, with the shot clock running down and a desperation heave forced to be taken, the Lakers looked like they’d have to fight for another stop after the Nuggets secured the ball. But, that never happened as Derek Fisher (the guy who was forced to shoot against the clock in the first place) hustled his tail off to secure the rebound and then call a timeout before the Nuggets could tie him up for a jump ball. The play earned the Lakers another possession which ultimately led to two Kobe Bryant FT’s that tied the game. The Nuggets wouldn’t score again and that possession proved to be the key to LA’s late mini-run that won the game.