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Sunday, May 24, 2009

Bryant Scores 41 as Lakers Take 2-1 Lead Over Nuggets

This is a great time to be a basketball fan, because The Best the Game Offers are both performing splendidly on the sport's biggest stage, the playoffs: LeBron James is averaging 42 ppg in the Eastern Conference Finals and just hit the biggest shot of his career to tie Cleveland's series with Orlando at 1-1, while Kobe Bryant is averaging 37.7 ppg in the Western Conference Finals and just scored 41 points as the L.A. Lakers beat the Denver Nuggets 103-97 to take a 2-1 series lead. Bryant shot 12-24 from the field and 15-17 from the free throw line and also contributed six rebounds, five assists and two steals. He had just one turnover in 41 minutes and scored 13 of his points in the fourth quarter, with 12 of those points coming in the final 6:46, starting with a turnaround jump shot that broke an 81-81 tie and including a big three pointer at the 1:09 mark to put the Lakers up 96-95. Bryant set a Lakers franchise record for most points in the first three games of a Conference Finals series (113), breaking his own mark of 109 set in 2001 versus the San Antonio Spurs (James Worthy's 96 points versus Seattle in 1987 and Kareem Abdul Jabbar's 91 points against Portland in 1977 round out the top four).

As Magic Johnson said right after the game ended, "Finally, Kobe got some help": Pau Gasol had 20 points and 11 rebounds, while Trevor Ariza added 16 points, five rebounds and yet another huge steal on a late-game inbounds play; much like he did in a similar situation in game one, Ariza shot the gap, this time picking off Kenyon Martin's looping toss toward Carmelo Anthony with the Lakers clinging to a 97-95 lead at the :36.5 mark. Anthony fouled Ariza--Anthony's sixth foul of the game--and Ariza made both free throws. Billups answered with two free throws but Bryant closed out the scoring by making four straight free throws in the final 22 seconds.

Denver's big guns all shot blanks from the field: Anthony scored 21 points on 4-13 field goal shooting, Billups had 18 points on 5-15 field goal shooting and J.R. Smith put up a Ron Artest-like line of 15 points on 4-15 field goal shooting, including 2-10 from three point range; the Nuggets shot just 5-27 (.185) on three pointers, with Billups (2-7) and Anthony (1-7) also shooting poorly from long distance. Chris Andersen provided a huge lift off of the bench with 15 points on 6-9 field goal shooting, seven rebounds and three blocked shots.

Despite all of the brick laying by their key offensive players, the Nuggets got off to a good start--building a 25-17 lead less than 10 minutes into the first quarter--and were ahead for most of the game. Anthony scored 14 first quarter points--seven of them coming on free throws--but he did not make a field goal in the second half. I respect the way that Anthony has raised his game in this year's playoffs but before anyone rushes to put him in the elite category with Bryant and James he must sustain that high level of play for an extended period of time.

It will be interesting to see how the rest of this series plays out. The Nuggets only won four more regular season games this season than they did last season but they moved up from the eighth seed to the second seed as injuries brought down teams like the Spurs, Hornets, Jazz, Suns and Mavericks; that enabled the Nuggets to earn homecourt advantage and have the opportunity to avoid playing the Lakers until the Conference Finals after being swept by the Lakers in the first round last year. It is evident that the Lakers are not as deep this year as they were last year--bench players Sasha Vujacic, Jordan Farmar and Luke Walton have all been noticeably less productive. Perhaps the Nuggets will win game four and extend this series to at least six games but if the Lakers take that contest and close out the series by winning game five at home then it would be reasonable to ask how much the Nuggets have in fact really improved (as opposed to moving up in the standings due to the aforementioned misfortunes suffered by other West contenders). The Nuggets are supposedly a smarter, more composed team this season but we have seen them lose their composure and make bad plays down the stretch in two of the three games in this series; to the extent that the Nuggets have improved this season I think that the real difference is that their bigs (specifically Nene and Kenyon Martin) are healthier and those guys--plus free agent acquisition Andersen--have played excellent defense in the paint. The Nuggets' bigs have done a good job in this series versus the Lakers' taller frontcourt but, just like last year, the Nuggets still have no answer for Bryant, who is shooting nearly .500 from the field and attempting more than 13 free throws per game.

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posted by David Friedman @ 12:39 AM

7 comments

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7 Comments:

At Sunday, May 24, 2009 3:51:00 AM, Anonymous jack B said...

David,

have you seen the articles around the web? Lebron hits one game winning shot, it gets put up there with Jordan over Helo, Jordan over B.Russell, Horry over Kings. But Kobe practically forced the Lakers to win a game on the road that everybody had them losing(From Hollinger, to Kia shootaround crew). A lot of people are saying Nuggets lost it instead of Lakers winning it. People forget that lakers lost more than 15 Free Throws. Why do you think that people are making Kobe the anti-hero? It's like people can't wait for him to be gone. I think its a shame because dude is one of the top 10 players of all time. Can't blame pepple for being down on his personality but isn't it supposed to be about basketball?

On dissenstion between Bynum and Phil: Is Andrew right for being pissed off at PHIL? Although he is not 100%, the Nuggets have no answer for him. It was pretty telling that at one time in the game, The lakers were only going to Andrew in the post instead of going to Pau Gasol.

On Fisher: Why is Fisher still allowed to drive to the basket? There should be a rule that states that Fisher is not allowed to drive to the basket. Nothing good happens when he does that.

ON Vujacic: I think the Lakers will try to trade him this summer. he hasn't been the same since Ray Allen went by him for that Layup during the finals. He is a bit too hyperactice. Its a shame because this guy can really shoot the ball. his Psyche right now is jsut not right.

on Ariza: This guy is playing out of his mind. I bet you that the Knicks and Magics regret trading him. he's practically the Lakers best three point shooter during the Playoffs. I'm amazed on how well his long range shooting has improved. I think Lakers will definitely try to keep him.

On Shannon Brown: This guy amazes with how well he is playing. he has consistenly outplays fisher during the playoffs. A lot people are already saying Fisher is done. Fisher's only good game was game 1 of this series.

 
At Sunday, May 24, 2009 3:55:00 AM, Anonymous jack B said...

David,
what do you make of this? its from a Spurs Coach:
-----------------------------------
Chip Engelland, the respected shooting coach and Spurs assistant who has worked with Grant Hill and Steve Kerr, among others (and whom Battier called for defensive advice on the day of Game 1). Asked what he would do if Kobe came to him for help on his jumper, Engelland laughs, then says, "I would rebound." No really, Chip, what would you do? He thinks for a moment. "Maybe I'd work on shooting while fatigued, but that's about it. His technical form is amazing. He's one of the great jump shooters of our time."
------------------------------------

 
At Sunday, May 24, 2009 5:05:00 AM, Anonymous basketball fan said...

Well,as my nickname suggests i'm a big basketball fan but i'm not enjoying the game as much as i did before. Reason? NBA officiating. Being a follower of several more team sports, i'm sure that nba referees are the worst. In the first two games of this series, they allowed Denver to play as hard as they could while the Lakers were not given this permission. And coming to the third game, we saw a free throw fest from the Lakers. On the other hand, almost everyone around me(who is interested in basketball) agrees that Cleveland were favored by the referees in the first two games and i expect that tonight Orlando will get some help from them to get the lead.

Last words for the referees: Basketball is a nice game, for me the most amazing sports and don't try to take the joy of watching games. Try to be as objective as possible and for god's sake,this is playoff basketball, allow some physicality as opposed to calling fouls frequently.

 
At Sunday, May 24, 2009 12:01:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Jack B:

I have gone from being a voracious reader about basketball to being very selective about what I read, simply because so much of what is written about the sport is pure nonsense.

That said, LeBron's shot was fantastic and it saved the series for Cleveland, because a 2-0 deficit heading on to the road would have been very difficult to overcome.

I agree with you that some people seem anxious to simply push Kobe aside. Although I ultimately felt that LeBron deserved the MVP this season, I disagreed with those who were crowning LeBron back in October and November as opposed to simply letting the season play out.

Bynum is not right. His primary role on the team is defender/rebounder and unless he defends/rebounds he is not going to get extended minutes. Jackson has made that very clear. Bynum also seems to have some stamina problems; conditioning has been an issue for him during his career and though he had made some progress in that regard the time off with his injury seems to have set him back.

If Fisher did not drive at all then teams could overplay him for the jumper.

What could the Lakers get for Vujacic after the way he has played this year?

Ariza understands his role very well and does what he is supposed to do. He deserves credit for working on his shot but he also gets a lot of wide open looks because he plays with Kobe.

 
At Sunday, May 24, 2009 12:08:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Jack B:

I saw that quote; what I think about it is that coaches/scouts/GMs have a better appreciation of just how good Kobe is than do journalists, self-styled "experts" and casual fans. Kobe's greatness is not purely based on scoring or style points or the "beauty" of his game--as Henry Abbott wrongly and repeatedly insists--but rather on the fact that he has no skill set weaknesses.

 
At Sunday, May 24, 2009 12:11:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Basketball Fan:

You really think that NBA officiating is worse than the officiating/umpiring in the NFL and MLB? NBA referees grade out at a very high percentage. Do they miss some calls sometimes? Sure, just like players and coaches make mistakes, but the overall quality of NBA officiating is high.

 
At Sunday, May 24, 2009 4:54:00 PM, Anonymous Joel said...

It's definitely a great time to be an NBA fan (unless you're a Lakers fan like me and spend every game on the verge of a heart attack). The 5 Conference Finals games have been decided by a combined 13 points. In every game we've seen teams clawing back from big leads, spectacular individual performances from the big stars, and a flurry of big shots and lead changes in the fourth quarter. Maybe I'm not paying attention but I haven't noticed all the bad officiating mentioned by the commenter above.

Carmelo still has a long way to go before meriting comparisons with LeBron or Kobe. People forget he had fairly average (by his standards) regular season before catching fire in the playoffs. The greatness of #23 and #24 is that they have played at this level pretty much every night for several years.

Kobe is just something else. I've seen him hit shots like that one over Smith so many times, and I still have to shake my head in amazement when he does it yet again. When you combine his incredible skill-set, basketball IQ, and sheer will to win, you can see why he's the best closer on the planet. (I'm sure there are some 'clutch stats' out there that will prove me wrong though...)

 

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