Boxscore: Lakers 93, Nuggets 89
Offensive Efficiency: Lakers 101.9, Nuggets 96.61
True Shooting Percentage: Lakers 52.2, Nuggets 52.3
For the first time in the three games versus the Nuggets, the Lakers, and especially Kobe, finally made Denver pay for sending those hard double teams at the Lakers biggest offensive weapons. On more than one occasion, Kobe found a way to get out of a tough situation by finding the open man. In Darius’ preview, he pointed out that, “the Lakers had issues making the defense pay for those double teams by hitting only 6 of their 47 three point attempts.” While the boys in the Forum Blue and Gold were still awful from range (four-for-13 on the night), they still found ways to put points on the board — and of the four that they hit, three of them were timely threes that the Lakers needed down the stretch. Fish hit a long two in the corner with his foot on the line and Jason Kapono hit a long two of his own off the dribble, which definitely skew what seemed like another horrible shooting night in the Lakers favor. Kobe finished the night with nine assists, and made another great pass to Andrew Bynum with less than a minute to play which would have been his 10th, but ‘Drew whiffed on a bunny around the rim (with a little help from the slap on the arm Nene gave him). Regardless, this was one of the highlights of the night.
Also, the Lakers played another great defensive game. The Nuggets scored 18 fast break points and recorded 44 points in the paint — the same exact numbers they had just a night earlier against the Clippers. The difference between the two games is that the Nuggets were able to launch wide open three pointers against the Clips (the made 12-of-21) and shot 53.4 percent from the field. Against the Lakers, a lot of those threes were contested, much like the game winning attempt Al Harrington put up with Ron all over him. The Nuggets shot a pedestrian 44 percent from the field (relative) and just five-for-23 from behind the arc. Timofey Mozgov was the only Nuggets starter who shot on the plus side of 50 percent, and he only took three shots on the night. The Lakers are still trying to find their stride on the offensive end, but are becoming one of the league’s premier defensive teams under Mike Brown’s system.
Going back to Darius’s preview, he noted that when George Karl went small with Al Harrington playing the four, the Lakers had problems finding a way to defend them. Tonight was no exception as Harrington almost single handedly kept the Nuggets alive down the stretch. Harrington hit a pull up jumper over Pau just under six minutes left to play. About 40 seconds later, he hit a three on the left wing, then hit another from range about 30 seconds later. Then, with about 3:30 left o play, Harrington was able to get to the rim and finish for his 10th straight point. The Small ball game left the Lakers defense struggling for stops during that four minute stretch, after they had been solid for the better part of the first 40 minutes.
Also, Kobe’s shooting versus the Nuggets has been bad, to say the least. Through three games, he’s shooting less than 30 percent from the field, 2-of-17 from three point range and has 12 turnovers. Give a lot of credit to Aaron Afflalo who defends as well as anyone in the league, but it’s really a team effort from Denver. They’re one of the few teams that still dedicate their defense to making sure Kobe doesn’t get his by sending hard double-teams whenever possible. A lot of teams have sent occasional double teams while trying to make Kobe a jump shooter as much as possible, but Denver likes to make Kobe’s night as long as possible, by sending tough, physical double teams, sometimes as far as 35 feet away from the basket — which makes passes out of those double teams much tougher, too.
There isn’t too much to be picky about in a tough road win to start off the Grammy trip, but the Lakers free throw shooting was awful tonight. 15-for-25 from the line isn’t going to get it done as this trip continues. Even five more makes turns tonight into a completely different game down the stretch, leaving the Nuggets fighting just to get back into the game instead of one possession away with 30 seconds left to play. MWP was the biggest offender going 0-for-4 from the line, but Fish was the only Laker to play more than 20 minutes without missing a free throw.
Play of the Night:
With just over three minutes left to play in the game, Andrew Bynum made a great block on Nuggets center Nene then hustled down the court and received an alley-oop pass from Kobe, which Bynum laid in. It’s always good to see the big guys get rewarded for running the floor, it’s a bonus if it comes immediately after a great defensive play. Check the highlight below (about the 1:20 mark).