Nuggets' "Crash Ball" Wrecks LakersThe L.A. Lakers had an opportunity to take a commanding 3-1 lead over the Denver Nuggets in the Western Conference Finals but the Nuggets played what Lakers Coach Phil Jackson termed "crash ball" and the Lakers simply crashed, losing 120-101, their worst defeat in this year's playoffs. The Nuggets drove the ball to the hoop aggressively and when they missed shots they either scooped up the offensive rebounds and/or they drew fouls. The final margin is a bit artificial--the Nuggets led by 11 with 2:25 remaining and then poured on some meaningless points in the last couple minutes--but there is nothing fake about Denver's rebounding dominance in this game: the Nuggets outrebounded the Lakers 58-40 and became the first team in 15 years to have three players each record at least 13 rebounds in the same playoff game. Kenyon Martin led the way with 15 rebounds, followed closely by Chris Andersen (14 rebounds off of the bench in just 24 minutes) and Nene (13 rebounds). Chauncey Billups and J.R. Smith provided the scoring punch with 24 points each, making up for Carmelo Anthony's 15 points on 3-16 shooting as the All-NBA forward battled a stomach virus plus the effects of a sprained ankle. All five Denver starters scored in double figures and, other than Anthony, they all shot good percentages.
Kobe Bryant scored a game-high 34 points, setting an NBA record for most points in the first four games of a Conference Finals series (147), but he shot just 10-26 from the field. Bryant also had seven rebounds and five assists while committing only one turnover in 41 minutes. Pau Gasol contributed 21 points, 10 rebounds, four assists and three blocked shots; he made some good defensive rotations but no one supported him on the backside of the play, so if he did not get the block or the rebound no other Laker was there to help him. Andrew Bynum scored 14 points on 6-7 shooting but the Lakers need for him to be a presence defensively and to get more than five rebounds in 23 minutes. Lamar Odom--who is called "versatile" so often you could be forgiven for thinking that is his first name--had yet another "triple single": five points on 1-8 shooting, eight rebounds, one assist. Yes, Odom is playing hurt--he bruised his back in the Houston series--but the sad thing is that if you look at the game logs from his career and compare them to his recent production you cannot tell the difference between when he is physically hurt and when his concentration has simply wandered. Trevor Ariza has emerged as the Lakers' third option in this series but he had just three points, one rebound, one assist and no steals in this game.
The Lakers took a 1-0 lead after Bryant split a pair of free throws--and then the Nuggets led the rest of the way, though the Lakers did stay in contact until the bitter end. Naturally, in the next couple days we will hear about how the Lakers are finished but the reality is that the Lakers reclaimed homecourt advantage by winning game three and they can now rely on their two trumps--Bryant's brilliance plus homecourt advantage--to win this series. Would it be preferable, for many reasons, for the Lakers to have ended this series more quickly? Obviously. Is it possible that the Nuggets will win this series? Sure, but the most likely scenario is that the Lakers will be the more energetic team at home in game five and that they will take a 3-2 lead. The Lakers' fluctuating effort defensively and on the glass can be frustrating to watch at times but a glance at the history books reveals that the Lakers are not the first number one seed to be pushed to six or seven games in the playoffs. Just last year, the mighty Boston Celtics had to win two seventh games en route to capturing the championship. While the Celtics' effort defensively did not fluctuate as much as the Lakers' effort does this year the bottom line is that the Celtics were on the brink of elimination twice--and they also battled back from a 24 point deficit in one Finals game versus these very same Lakers.
posted by David Friedman @ 3:01 AM