(Note: Sorry for the sound delay and lack of sound in the videos that are not even embedded in this post. I had some extreme technical difficulties with both my personal and work computer, and due to time restraints, I was forced to leave them as they are in their current state. I’ll work on fixing them for you guys. Thanks for baring with me.)
I’m just going to completely ignore the first half of last night’s game because I was infuriated and frustrated with the things the Lakers were doing both offensively and defensively in that half. Besides, there was enough good and bad in the second half for me to completely erase that half from my memory (I might not even save that half of video on my computer, well see). What I do want to pay special attention to was how the Lakers were not only able to come back in the third quarter, but how they were able to go into the fourth quarter with the lead – and it was through their defense.
Check out this video below. All the Lakers needed was 4 1/2 solid minutes of hard nosed defense to completely rattle the Nuggets and erase a 10-point half time deficit (which got up to 15 in the third). You’ll see the Lakers showing on every screen, bigs falling back to their assignments after the parameter defenders got through screens, guys rotating over when a teammate gets beat off of the dribble – and most importantly, they contested every shot except for an offensive put back from Chris Anderson, which happened to be the Nuggets only bucket of the stretch. One play in particular, stood out for me and it came around the 4:15 mark in the quarter game. The Nuggets finally move the ball around and the ball ends up in the hands of what looks like a wide open Aaron Afflalo. Thinking he has enough separation, he takes his time shooting the three, but Gasol hauls ass over to the corner, gets a piece of his shot, which forces Afflalo to force up a wild, off-balanced runner on the baseline as the shot clock expired. The ball bounced off of the side of the backboard. Lakers ball. This short stretch of basketball just gives us a glimpse of the Lakers potential if they played with any kind of effort.
This second clip shows why the Lakers weren’t able to leave Denver with the win: defensive collapses. The very first defensive possession shown on this clip shows very good initial defense. Denver isn’t moving the ball well, and Melo ends up taking a bad, contested shot over Ron Artest. However, no one boxes out, extending the possession for the Nuggets. Anderson kicks it out to Ty Lawson, who rotates it over to the hot shooting JR Smith who knocks down the game tying three-pointer. There is one or two sequences where the Nuggets don’t score, but I included them just to illustrate the good looks that they got. Completely unlike the third, the Lakers were lazy on the S&R, they allowed penetration, help didn’t come over when that penetration was allowed and there were just too many uncontested shots. A lot of this had to do with fatigue, but then again, the Lakers as a whole just seemed uninterested in playing defense after the Nuggets got a couple shots to go down. It seemed to deflate them, which allowed the game to get away.
THE GOD-AWFUL FINAL POSSESSION
Now, let me begin this by saying Derek Fisher did a lot of good things in this game. I thought he played Chauncey Billups very well on the defensive end of the floor. After a couple consecutive turnovers from Pau and LO in the fourth quarter, he took the liberty of driving, putting his body in the defender and drawing the foul when the Lakers desperately needed the points, and he knocked down the free throws. I was aware that Fish was on the floor last night, and it was for MOSTLY good things. That final possession, not so much. I don’t care if it’s Kwame Brown or Michael Jordan, on a final possession, with 12 full seconds, I never want to see one player bring the ball up court, dribble with no purpose and shoot a contested jumpshot, especially not an ageing Derek Fisher. That’s just despicable. I was going to include the video clip, but I don’t want to be pissed for the rest of the day after watching that again. You all saw it, and I’m sure none of you want to see it again.
From ESPN’s Daily Dime: Tough to learn anything from a Lakers-Nuggets game without Kobe Bryant, Andrew Bynum and Kenyon Martin. At least we learned the Nuggets learned what to do when one of their players gets hurt. On Thursday night, when Joey Graham sprained an ankle in the second quarter and stayed in the backcourt while the Lakers advanced the ball, the Nuggets at least had the presence of mind to foul and stop the clock. That’s more respect than they accorded to their leading scorer, Carmelo Anthony, on Wednesday night in Oklahoma City when he was knocked cold in a collision with the Thunder’s Kevin Durant. While Carmelo was on the deck, the Nuggets kept playing at the other end of the court, and then Denver guard J.R. Smith grabbed a rebound and steamed toward the basket, stepping right past the sprawled Anthony in the process. Anthony has no recollection of what happened from the time he hit the floor until he was walking off the court. He’s only heard about it from teasing teammates and doesn’t want to see a replay.
From Silver Screen and Roll: Phil Jackson should’ve called the timeout. Why he didn’t, with the Lakers down two to the Denver Nuggets with 12 seconds to play, I have no idea. If Kobe Bryant had been in the game, that’s one thing. In that situation, you know where your shot is coming from. The guys on the floor know their roles. But Kobe sat out tonight – for reasons that, depended on whom you asked, ranged mysteriously from fatigue to swelling in his right knee, though I personally suspect he didn’t respond quickly enough to Brian Shaw’s Facebook friend request – so the normal endgame playbook was unavailable. You have to call the timeout, to set up a play and to make sure everyone understands what their assignments are. If you don’t, you might end up with a farcically inept offensive possession, something with essentially no hope of success. Like, oh I don’t know, an isolation set for Derek Fisher. Let’s be clear about this: never at any point this season did I expect to type the words an isolation set for Derek Fisher. That’s not an offensive play that should be run by the Lakers under any circumstances. It’s not an offensive play that should exist in theory or practice. It’s not really an offensive play, period, in that it doesn’t offer a more than de minimus expectation of producing any points. It’s Derek Fisher. He has trouble scoring when there’s no one guarding him and he has four seconds to line up a wide-open jumper. When he has an actual, athletic defender on him, like, say, Carmelo Anthony? And he’s forced to create his own shot – I really can’t believe I’m typing this – off the dribble? At some point you cross the line from the sport of basketball into science fiction, or avant-garde surrealist theater.
From Land O’ Lakers: The final play was, to be frank, a disaster from the start. With 12.7 seconds remaining and the Lakers down by two to the Nuggets in Denver, Pau Gasol inbounded the ball to Derek Fisher, who quickly pushed up court against Chauncey Billups. With about seven seconds to go, Lamar Odom popped out and set a screen for Fish, blocking off Billups. The other three Lakers –Gasol, Sasha Vujacic and Ron Artest (you’ll notice an important name missing) — were closely guarded. Here Fisher missed what would be his best chance to fire away. It would have been a deep three, but compared to what followed would have been ideal. Off the screen and heading right at the wing, Fish was picked up by Carmelo Anthony on a switch. Six seconds to go. Fish tries to find space to make an entry to Odom, who is fronted by Billups, but can’t do it over/around the much larger Anthony. Fish tries to probe with the dribble, but it’s hardly his strength. With about 3.5 to play, Artest flashes high beyond the top of the arc. Maybe Fish could have hit him there? Moving away from the bucket and with J.R. Smith in the vicinity, it would have been a tough look.
From SLC Dunk: I hope you weren’t expecting any help from the Lakers last night. And this is the total fanatical/conspiracy side of me with no rationale and nothing to back it up, but I think Phil Johnson Jackson loves sticking it to the Jazz. He knows what it at stake in the playoffs. He “rested” Kobe last night on purpose against the Nuggets, giving Denver a better chance to win. LA had nothing to gain last night by beating Denver. Sure, another win might get them HCA if they make it to the finals, but it’s likely that Cleveland is coming out of the East anyway and they’re not going to get HCA. If he was looking just to rest Kobe, there are three cupcakes left on their schedule where he could have sat Kobe. Maybe it wasn’t to stick it to the Jazz, but it was a strategic move so that they wouldn’t have to face Denver until the WCF instead of possible in the second round.
From the LA Times: Shannon Brown winced in pain in the second quarter and after the game, his sprained right thumb giving him so much pain. Sasha Vujacic was happy and sad. He was happy because he was out of the “doghouse” in a big way, starting in place of the injured Kobe Bryant (swelling in his right knee). Vujacic was sad because he was unable to perform the way he preferred and because the Lakers lost to the Denver Nuggets, 98-96, Thursday night Pepsi Center. Even though they didn’t shoot the basketball well, Brown and Vujacic played a role in helping the Lakers come from 15 points down in the third quarter.
From the LA Daily News: The Lakers hit the road once more, knowing a victory Thursday night over the Denver Nuggets would give them the best record in the Western Conference standings for the third consecutive season. The Lakers also realized they had five regular-season games to play in seven days before beginning their defense of their NBA championship. They had to balance rest versus readiness in the final days before the playoffs start April 18. So, Kobe Bryant didn’t play a minute and didn’t put on his uniform for the Lakers in their 98-96 loss to the Nuggets in front of a sellout crowd of 20,044 at the Pepsi Center. The Lakers said right knee swelling had sidelined Bryant. Denver rallied from a seven-point deficit in the fourth quarter to defeat the Lakers for the third time in four games this season. The game wasn’t secure until the Nuggets’ Carmelo Anthony blocked Derek Fisher’s 3-point try at the buzzer.
From Lakers of Fire: The Lakers came up just shy of upsetting the Nuggets tonight. But why would that have been an upset you say? Well, because Phil Jackson surprised us all by holding Kobe Bryant out of the game without so much as a heads up to anyone. Oh, Phil, you clever little devil you. Even in a narrow loss, that crafty bit of gamesmanship was either a stroke of genius… or perhaps it was just cowardice in disguise. On one hand, benching Kobe for the night was brilliant tactic by the Zen Master. This game had a playoff atmosphere around it, especially from the Nugget fans, but by sitting Kobe, that intensity was negated. Any sense of rivalry was removed right then and there. This went from a potential message game for both teams to a no-lose situation for the Lakers. If they lose, well, of course they did, they didn’t have Kobe. If they win, suddenly Denver has to be feeling pretty lousy about their post-season chances if they can’t beat a Kobe-less Laker team on their own court.
From T.J. Simers: Unless the Lakers are trying to make the case they are better without Kobe Bryant, they have bagged the rest of the regular season, but then you’ve known that for weeks. No more phony baloney about gaining momentum as they go into the playoffs, it’s all about flipping the switch on April 18, and by Phil Jackson’s calculations the Lakers will be opening against Oklahoma City. The tiebreakers and the schedule favor Portland, he said, and so the Lakers have the Blazers finishing sixth when the season ends next week. San Antonio has the tiebreaker over Oklahoma City, which would leave one of the hottest teams in the Western Conference in the Thunder taking on the defending champs. Young legs versus playoff know-how.