“Full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”
That line was tweeted to me by longtime Laker observer Gary Collard. And, to be honest, he’s completely right.
The Lakers fought furiously down the stretch. Kobe Bryant went nova from behind the arc and set the internet ablaze with shotmaking that only adds to a legend. But, the fact is, the Lakers still lost as his clip ran out of ammo when the game was close enough to grasp. It was a sight to behold watching him sink three after three but in the end all his barrage did was give a frustrating night about 10 minutes of fun.
And really, it’s the frustration that will sit with me now as the adrenaline wears down.
The Lakers did not come ready to play this game. Their offensive execution was substandard almost all evening. The ball didn’t move and neither did the players. Facing a sagging defense that doubled Andrew Bynum every time he touched the ball, kickout passes were sent to open shooters that couldn’t make the defense pay, only emboldening the Nuggets to stick to their plan of clogging the lane. And with the paint contested and shooters missing, the Lakers’ offense went where it usually does in those instances, to Kobe bail outs with the shot clock winding down far too often.
Their defense wasn’t ready either, though. The Nuggets successfully ran isolations with Gallinari to great success early in the game, with Devin Ebanks unable to contain him. Gallo rained in jumpers and used crafty moves off the bounce to get into the lane and score at the rim. When it wasn’t Gallo doing damage, it was Arron Afflalo finally finding his offensive game, coming off curls to hit mid range jumpers, hitting a three in transition, and making smart cuts to free himself around the rim. Sprinkle in some fine play making from Ty Lawson and the Nuggets had an early formula that gave them the burst they’d need to build and hold onto an early lead.
But the real stars for the Nuggets were Andre Miller and JaVale McGee. Miller simply outclassed every Laker that tried to guard him. Steve Blake literally had no chance against Miller’s bruising style, consistently getting backed down and shot over the top of once the lane was gotten. On several crucial possessions late, Miller was able to work over Blake and find his way to within 10 feet where he’s simply a terror against a defender of any size. The Lakers should have been helping off of non-offensive threats to aid Blake (who fought as hard as he could) but it never came and Blake was forced to operate on an island most of the night. Again, though, Miller abused nearly everyone he faced, even taking Matt Barnes to school on a couple of drives that ended with finishes at the rim.
And then there was McGee. The Nugget big man brought his A+++ game tonight and completely took over the game at one point. He grabbed offensive rebounds and finger rolled in follow baskets. He caught lobs in transition and in the half court. He even worked the post on a couple of possessions, masterfully finding creases in the defense to get up good shots that fell. When you add his offensive exploits to his impact on D where he blocked (and goaltended) several shots to make his presence in the paint known, he was – just like in game 3 – the difference maker in this game.
Add it all up and this is what made this night so excruciating.
Before the game Andrew Bynum commented that closeout games are “easy” in that if the team doing the closing brings the needed effort they can bury the other team and make them quit. The thing is, the Lakers didn’t bring the needed effort. And they surely didn’t bring the needed focus. Instead, they attacked with little regard to strategy and when it came time to knock down their open shots and defend with purpose, they didn’t do it. Denver, on the other hand, played like a team with their backs against the wall and never gave up. They were able to build up a big enough lead so that a classic Kobe push became, essentially, irrelevant as the hole was simply too deep to climb out of.
And now, the Lakers must go on the road and try to clinch the series. Sure, they’ve proven they can win on the road but the opportunity that they really needed to take advantage of just slipped through their fingers. Give the Nuggets a load of credit in this game as they stuck to their script and got the W. But also blame the Lakers here. They knew what needed to be done; knew what type of game they needed to play and refused to do so. Kobe’s late heroics were the equivalent of putting lipstick on a pig; it only served to cover up the ugliness of what had transpired for the previous 40 minutes. The fact he almost pulled it off is a testament to him. The fact that he even needed to try is a testament to how his team played on a night where they needed to give more than they did.