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Lakers 119, Denver 92: Rolling to the Finals

Kobe Bryant dunks in Game 6 of the Western Confe


It started in Game 5.  The Lakers played intelligent, aggressive basketball for 48 minutes (or very nearly, at least), recognizing what was being offered by the opposition, methodically and repeatedly- not always a given for this bunch- taking advantage.  All that while they raised the bar in the second half with some high level D.

Well, what was a very satisfying treat for Lakers fans Wednesday night turned out to be the appetizer. Tonight, in LA's 119-92 smackdown of the Denver Nuggets in Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals they, to extend the food metaphor, got a night at the steakhouse- I prefer a bone-in ribeye- complete with all the appropriate sides and a chocolate souffle to finish things off.  Everything was clicking, from an active and committed defense that held the Nuggets to 41% shooting through three quarter, to an impressively efficient and patient offense. 

You know, that same offense that had hoops analysts (myself included) schoolgirl giddy for the first couple months of the season and has made only periodic appearances during the Playoffs.  The one where things flow to the point it's amazing folks don't slip on the floor, the machine is so well oiled. 


When the Lakers are as smart as the were tonight with the ball, excluding the 11 first half turnovers of course, they're very difficult to defend.  As impressive as the final numbers were- 57% shooting,  28 assists on 42 field goals (at the end of three, it was 23 dimes on 32 makes), a somewhat mind-bending 24-24 mark from the stripe- they don't necessarily illustrate how well the Lakers picked apart the Nuggets.  Only a handful of times did the Lakers not get a good look at the basket.  The lack of an extra pass was the exception to the rule, as was a possession without some sort of post touch.  The rock went in, it went out, it changed sides of the floor. 

As a result, the Lakers were able to pound the Nuggets in the paint and, particularly for the non-Kobe members of the crew, produce the sort of wide open perimeter jumpers that remind guys more of pregame shootaround than Game 6 of the WCF. 

Perhaps best of all was the consistency of the effort.  The Lakers won the first quarter by five, the second by eight, the third by three, the fourth by 11.  Denver's only really serious run, which kept the game close for the middle minutes of the second quarter, was met with a championship caliber response.  Over the final 7:18 of the first half, the Lakers outscored the Nuggets 21-7, limiting them to a single field goal and turning a one-point deficit into a 13 point lead at the break.  In the third, Denver threw at the Lakers what Carmelo Anthony can't penetrate against Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom was left in the tank, but LA didn't budge.  No TO's in the frame, meaning George Karl's bunch had to earn a comeback. 

Didn't happen.  Couldn't, really.  Because no matter what the Nuggets did, LA continued to pick them apart on the other end, steadfastly refusing to go away from what was working.  Admittedly, this was the worst game, especially defensively, the Nuggets played of the six.  On some levels, it's a shame they went out like this, though I doubt the purple and gold faithful will shed any tears. 

But I don't think it would have mattered.  The Lakers were in a zone Denver couldn't match even with a more typical performance. 

It's nearly impossible to expect the Lakers to operate at this level of efficiency through the Finals, whether against Orlando or Cleveland.  The opponent is less important than simple math- the shots won't always go down, the opposition won't always buckle the way Denver frequently did in front of their own rim.  But if the Lakers continue to show the discipline displayed on both sides of the ball over the last eight quarters when the ball tips on June 4, they'll raise their championship odds exponentially. 

Will they?  I'd like to think so.  We'd all like to.  Of course, Charlie Brown always wanted to believe Lucy would stop pulling that football away, too.  We'll find out in a week or so. It's worth noting, though, that after a very disappointing series against the Rockets the Lakers just finished off a very good Denver team in six games, forced to win physical battles, work through fatigue, find contributions from around the roster, step up defensively, and come through on the road.  Games 4 and 6 against Houston seem like a far more distant memory, even if the questions about "which team shows up" still linger (and they will). 

More Friday night funness and tips of the hat--

  • Kobe Bryant: Had he worn scrubs and gloves and hit the floor with a holster full of scalpels, dude couldn't have been more surgical.  35 points on 12-20 shooting, six boards, 10 dimes, and a block of Carmelo Anthony to end the first half.  The Nuggets again seemed determined early to force other players to beat them, sending doubles at Bryant and trying to force the ball from his hands.  Kobe obliged, and Denver paid the price.  He consistently found the open man, passing up Kobe-makeable shots for even better looks for a teammate somewhere else on the floor.  When he did shoot, everything seemed to be in rhythm.  He attacked the rack, he used picks, he made JR Smith pay (stop me if you've heard this already) for keeping his hands down on the perimeter.  As the game went on, the Nuggets were forced to try and defend him with one guy, and we've seen how that can go.  Just as he was in Game 5, Kobe was fantastic as a total floor leader on Friday.
  • Pau Gasol: First, it was good to see that face up jumper start to fall again for Pau, but more importantly, we were again treated to an illustration of why it's important he get the ball up and down the post.  Because whether he scored (20 points on 8-12 shooting) or passed (six assists), Lakers congratulate each other during Game 6 Gasol displayed the patience, vision, and skill that can make him so dangerous.  Left hand, right hand, you choose. Even better, he was strong defensively.  Three steals, a block, and some very good work on the pick and roll around the perimeter that helped limit Anthony and Chuancey Billups to a combined 8-24.  Pau's 12 boards were part of a strong effort on the defensive glass for the Lakers.  The second-chance-happy Nuggets only managed seven offensive boards on the night (that's a 17% rate, well below Denver's 27% postseason mark). 
  • Lamar Odom: Any concerns that Odom would slip back into bad habits after a monumental Game 5 were put to bed.  20 points on 7-12 shooting, eight boards and an assist, plus the same sort of defensive versatility put forth a couple nights back.  He wasn't epic, but Odom was a major factor in the proceedings, which is what the Lakers need him to be.  Plus, by winning in six, that bad back of his will get much needed extra rest heading into the Finals.  
  • Small Forwards: Trevor Ariza was nails in the first quarter.  Ignored by Denver (again), Ariza made the Nuggets pay (again).  He hit open threes when they were offered, or took a more aggressive path to the basket when given the opportunity.  What I loved was the judgment he showed.  There have been times this season where Ariza would hesitate, sometimes to take the jumper, other times to drive with force. Tonight, he had some swagger, the confidence to do both.  When guys like TA are a factor offensively, what do you do as an opposing coach?  On the other end, Ariza ran into some foul trouble, but the Lakers got some good minutes from Luke Walton, particularly as he got settled into the game.  Walton's first ticks of burn weren't good, but in the third quarter after Ariza picked up his fourth foul two minutes in, Walton made himself a factor, scoring six of his 10 points.  He'd finish with three assists, did some decent work defensively, and as is his custom, was diligent in getting the ball to the post.  Together, Walton and Ariza combined for 27 points on 12-17 shooting.

Derek Fisher and Sasha Vujacic hit some important shots.  Andrew Bynum, while not a factor offensively, continued to show some signs on the other end (though the lack of rebounding- one in just under 22 minutes- remains a problem).  Two second half turnovers, 24 converted free throws.  And when the Nuggets began to melt down in the second half, the Lakers ignored it and kept rolling right along. (Except when they literally couldn't, as when while on the floor Kenyon Martin grabbed on to Sasha's leg and wouldn't let go, like a heavily tatted three year old might his dad at a crowded amusement park.  Not that Vujacic tussled with Martin- Sahsa is scrappy, not crazy- but it's hard not to notice that sort of thing.)  No yapping, no pushing or shoving.  They new they were the better team, and carried themselves as such.

In short, they acted like they'd been there before, because they have.  Now they just have to go a step beyond. 

More to come tomorrow.

BK

 
Comments () | Archives (22)

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Great W, and timely, our guys need the rest. Brilliant play on both ends, extremely solid execution, I'm proud of 'em.

Go Lakers! Championship or bust!

Either Magic or Cavs, we can beat either one! Go Lakers! Championship or bust!

nobody be happy. We're in the same position last year. Lakers got to push this last stretch.

2:00 in the morning in Austin, a city I'm still getting to know. The afterglow of the game is fresh and somewhat surreal. The game's being replayed on espn, I'm going to get a pillow and blanket and lay down on the couch, enjoy it one more time. Contentmet.

That was truly a thing of beauty. There was a clarity, rhythm, and a symmetry to the Lakers play in Game 6 that you rarely see in an NBA game. It was as close to a perfectly played game as you're liikely to see. The fact that they did it in a very important game and in a hostile road environment makes it all the more commendable. A special performance timed such that it's likely to catapult them to the championship. As a 40 year Laker fan, I was as awed and humbled by that game as I maybe have ever been and I've seen the best of the West/Chamberlain era, Magic's Showtime, and
of course the Kobe years. Simply awesome.

Love it, love it, love it, great way to finish the series.

Not satisfied though. We got 4 more to go.

I have no respect whatsoever for Kenyon Martin who said that the Nuggets are still the better team even though they've been eliminated. Sour grapes perhaps, but for him not to give the Lakers any credit at all tells me what type of person and player he is, CLASSLESS!!! The guy is just a perennial sore loser who runs his neck all the time, but never backs it up. He was one of the main Nugget players to boast that he will keep Kobe/LeBron from happening. He was wrong, even though LeBron may not make it. Martin should be the last person to open his mouth about anything because he's a loser and a hater. For an older guy and a veteran in the NBA, KMart says some of the dumbest things and can't seem to grow out of his thuggish image. In my opinion, Martin is a farce as a player and for someone who is considered by many in the NBA to be tough, he's a whiner, crybaby, choker and loser. He will discover next year also that the Nuggets are not better than the Lakers. Until PJ and Kobe retire, this will be the lot of the Nuggets and the other would be contenders in the West.

People forget that the Nuggets had the easier path the WCF by beating a weak one man team in the Chris Paul Hornets and the equally talented but weak minded Dallas Mavericks. But in the finals, they met a more powerful team in the Lakers which led to their exit from these playoffs. The bottom line is that PJ has complete mastery over the likes of Karl, Adelman and Sloan regardless of changes of teams and their personnel.

What's really scary is how close Kobe is resembling MJ when MJ was entering his 30's and making his 3-peat run. People can hate on Kobe and say this and that, but he's really done a magnificent job for us and I hope that he and PJ get that elusive ring since Shaq left. Kobe will be a handful for the Magic or the Cavs in the finals. If it's the Magic, Kobe will score in an array of ways that the Magic haven't seen even from LeBron. Kobe is also clutch from the free throw line and great passer in his own right. He presents the same problemsfor the Cavs as well and neither the Magic or the Cavs have anyone to guard Kobe out on the perimeter or in the post. The Magic will throw rookie Courtney Lee and Pietrus at him and the Cavs will use Delonte West, LeBron or Pavlovic on him. Only LeBron will be able to guard Kobe on certain situations, but not all game long. I can't wait for the finals to begin. Go Lakers!!!!

So much for all the experts, analysts and pundits(Tim Legler, Charles Barkley and many others)choosing the Nuggets to win the series in six. Legler was especially off and wrong with his analysis, predictions, bashing and constant questioning of the Lakers hearts and passion to win games. I always thought that Greg Anthony and Stephen A. Smith were the better analysts not because they would've chosen the Lakers, but because they're more objective. What did happen with Greg Anthony and Stephen A. Smith? Barkley is just a Laker hater with a big mouth.

Extremely proud of this team. I think they are way more tough than last years team, and the mission is obviously not yet accomplished in thier minds.

Looking forward to next week

That is about as perfect as you can play. Hopefully this is just the beginning. Really proud and thats the kind of game we have been waiting for. Nice to see Pau defending the rim like he can. Nice to see Luke show his value, always knew he would make some significant contributions on this ring run. Now lets get down to business. Plenty of scary moments this year. I am starting to feel like Jerry West watching games.


PAU GASOL: I mean, you don't really think about the loss of last year. But we think about how hard we have been working all year long to get this far and to have the opportunity to win the championship.
And I think that's what I know went through my mind a couple times when I thought I was a little too tired or a little fatigued here or there, I'm like, look, you've got to toughen up, gotta dig deep and get whatever you have out there, because that's what my team needs and that's what our team needs.

THAT DON'T SOUND SOFT TO ME!
*
X, X, X, X, X, X, X, X, X X, X, X, 4, 3, 2, 1 ->Hit it Laker Tom Parade Time!!
*

TOOT TOOT FINALS EXPRESS LEAVING THE STATION ALL ABOOOOOOOOARD!!!!!
YIPEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!
GOOD NIGHT LAKER TOM
GOOD NIGHT JON K.
GOOD NIGHT JUST ANOTHER MAMBA FAN
GOOD NIGHT KEIFO
GOOD NIGHT EDWIN MY MENTOR
GOOD NIGHT, OTIS, TALIQ(SHERIFF)
GOOD NIGHT BABY OUTLAW, BABY BANNER HOLDER BABY BANNER HOLDERETTE, SBPIMPTWINS
GOOD NIGHT FAITH - LOVE YA!
GOOD NIGHT MY PRINCESS EAST COAST JESSIE - LOVE YA 2!!!
GOOD NIGHT LAKER NATION I THINK I'M GOING TO CRY.
YIPEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!
*
ALL TOGETHER NOW
We’re the Freaking LA Lakers , we’ve won 14 Rings
10 of the 50 Greatest players played under our wings
We’ve had 3 Laker Dynasties, but who’s keeping score
That’s 2 better than any team & we’re working on #4
The best Winning Percentage in History, yeah that’s true
You want Hall of Fame Coaches, Check it, we’ve got two.
We got the current and future MVP in Kobe Bryant
The list of Laker greats starts with the great George Mikan
We Claim Shaq, Magic, Wilt, Elgin & Kareem
Worthty, Goodrich & Big shot Horry, we take only the cream
We Claim a Glove, A Mailman, A Logo, and a Beast
We’re coached by a 9 time Title Winner who learned Zen in the East
Chick Hearn the Legend, Broadcasted our Lakers Games
Now he’s Broadcasting from Heaven & is in the Hall of Fame
We got Sports Winningest and Best Owner in Dr. Jerry Buss
And The only one that can beat the Freakin La Lakers is us
That’s just a summary of our Resume, we don’t talk we Do.
WE’RE THE FREAKING LA LAKERS WHO THE HELL ARE YOU!!
LAKERS TODAY LAKERS TOMORROW LAKERS FOREVER

Posted by: MAMBA24 | May 30, 2009 at 02:19 AM

Nemaia,

Legler is and always will be a Boston homer. It taints his view of the Lakers because of it. As for Barkley, who knows? Sour grapes is my guess. He's never won a title.

Dave M
Your post was very Jack Kerouacish.

This group reminds me of the Magic led team in the 80s when they play like last night. Sure the Shaq let combo from a few years ago was great but the group last night led by a seasoned [and focused] Kobe reminded me more of Phil's glory days with Micheal. When Pao is on all cylinders he simply can't be stopped by even a good center, and when Odem comes in and plays well nobody in the league has the answer. Add to that strong play by the off guards [and great shooting and decisions] and at that point Kobe can pretty much have his way with anybody in the league, one on one. It was fun to watch, and I imagine fun for everybody on the floor, at least for the Lakers. Go Lakers!

So so so proud of this squad. Great road win. 4 more guys 4 more!!!

The offense was a beatiful thing to watch, at times looked so effortless to score. This was the Lakers at the beginning of the season. And the Lakers played defense last night. Great game. If they play like this for the next 4 games, I think sweep over whomever they play. Go Lakers !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

>>>I have no respect whatsoever for Kenyon Martin who
>>>said that the Nuggets are still the better team even
>>>though they've been eliminated.

At the start of a series & while a series is going on, you HAVE
to believe you're the better team or you have no chance of winning.

But K-Mart is still clinging to that false notion like Pau's arm or
Sasha's leg. Guy just can't get through his blue-light-special
brain that his team just got thumped by a better team. Well he
can stick his neck out and kiss the playoffs goodbye, because
the only thing his team are going to be better at are fishing for
the next couple of weeks.

My least favorite sportswriter in the world is Jay Marriotti, and I'm sure any of you who've lived in Chicago for an extended period of time will agree with me. A great example of his idiocy was his constant bagging on the 95-98 Bulls when they were one of the greatest teams of all time (and I'm far from a Bulls fan, but even I had to admit they were flat-out awesome then). So, of all the many reasons I loved this victory, one of the most satisfying is that Jay the Joke predicted the Lakers wouldn't win a single game in Denver. HA! Take that moron!

PS If you're looking for a good time, try to get either Jay, TJ Simers or Peter Vecsey into a good old-fashioned e-mail flame war. Nothing felt better than to be told by Vecsey that I see everything through Purple and Gold goggles! Damn straight!

PPS GO LAKERS!!!!!!!!! This team may frustrate me, but damn do I love them!

The Lakers were fantastic in game 6. But now comes the real challenge - the Bill Plaschke curse. He wrote today: "Are you ready for a five-game Laker victory?... It doesn't matter what team they play."

Thanks Bill, for the brilliant basketball analysis. It doesn't matter what team they play? Has he learned nothing about basketball in all his years as a sports reporter? Wait a minute, based on his past "predictions," it's obvious he hasn't:

"I've picked against the Bruins in 5 of the last 6 games, but they'll win this time" (before UCLA gets routed by Florida in the 2005 NCAA Championship Game)

"10 reasons (all based on superstition) UCLA will win this time" (before UCLA gets routed in the 2006 Final Four)

"UCLA will win because Howland will outcoach Calipari" (before Memphis dominates UCLA in the 2007 Final Four.)

(Paraphrase) Memphis wins because Calipari is a better coach than Bill Self (before Kansas wins the NCAA Championship)

"The Lakers should trade Kobe" (November 2007)

"The Clippers are really putting it together" (November 2007, after going 4-0 against losing teams; later that day, they lose by 30 to the Pistons and end the season as a lottery team again)

"UCLA will WIN national basketball championship. write it down." (Bruins lose second round to Villanova, 2008)

To predict that the Lakers will win in 5 after the inconsistency they have shown this year could be written off as a little post game giddiness after they played a perfect game 6 against Denver. But to say it doesn't matter who they play is arrogant and completely devoid of any understanding of basketball - and I am a die hard Laker fan.

The Finals will be a tough test and completely unpredictable, especially if they play Orlando. Let's hope the Lakers play with the same kind of offensive precision and defensive intensity they showed the last 5 1/2 quarters against Denver.

And to all those media idiots that picked Denver, please keep picking against the Lakers in the finals.

Go Lakers!

>>> I have no respect whatsoever for Kenyon Martin who said that the Nuggets are still the better team even though they've been eliminated. Sour grapes perhaps, but for him not to give the Lakers any credit at all tells me what type of person and player he is, CLASSLESS!!! The guy is just a perennial sore loser who runs his neck all the time, but never backs it up. He was one of the main Nugget players to boast that he will keep Kobe/LeBron from happening. He was wrong, even though LeBron may not make it. Martin should be the last person to open his mouth about anything because he's a loser and a hater. For an older guy and a veteran in the NBA, KMart says some of the dumbest things and can't seem to grow out of his thuggish image. In my opinion, Martin is a farce as a player and for someone who is considered by many in the NBA to be tough, he's a whiner, crybaby, choker and loser. He will discover next year also that the Nuggets are not better than the Lakers. Until PJ and Kobe retire, this will be the lot of the Nuggets and the other would be contenders in the West.

People forget that the Nuggets had the easier path the WCF by beating a weak one man team in the Chris Paul Hornets and the equally talented but weak minded Dallas Mavericks. But in the finals, they met a more powerful team in the Lakers which led to their exit from these playoffs. The bottom line is that PJ has complete mastery over the likes of Karl, Adelman and Sloan regardless of changes of teams and their personnel.

What's really scary is how close Kobe is resembling MJ when MJ was entering his 30's and making his 3-peat run. People can hate on Kobe and say this and that, but he's really done a magnificent job for us and I hope that he and PJ get that elusive ring since Shaq left. Kobe will be a handful for the Magic or the Cavs in the finals. If it's the Magic, Kobe will score in an array of ways that the Magic haven't seen even from LeBron. Kobe is also clutch from the free throw line and great passer in his own right. He presents the same problemsfor the Cavs as well and neither the Magic or the Cavs have anyone to guard Kobe out on the perimeter or in the post. The Magic will throw rookie Courtney Lee and Pietrus at him and the Cavs will use Delonte West, LeBron or Pavlovic on him. Only LeBron will be able to guard Kobe on certain situations, but not all game long. I can't wait for the finals to begin. Go Lakers!!!! >>>

Posted by: Nemaia Faletogo | May 30, 2009 at 12:53 AM

Damn, how do you write so well at 1:00 AM? That was a treat to read. A lot of these comments are a treat to read right now cause we all feel like we're in basketball heaven after these last two games, especially last night. Hopefully the positive vibes will keep being written by the faithful even after the buzz wears off, which should right around Thursday afternoon.

I thought it was funny what JA Andande wrote about Bynum being the only one in the locker room wearing the conference champions shirt and hat combo (although that doesn't seem likely) and how he violated protocol by saying they would rather have Orlando. I understand his reasoning but it just seems like an ill-timed statement that I bet Kobe and Phil weren't necessarily pleased about. Probably harmless and definitely won't matter if Orlando advances but maybe a sign of the young mind behind the big body. We need AB to step up on the big stage and start earning the fat contract that he's going to be collecting next year.

Adande was a hack with a penchant for bold and stupid predictions when he was at the Times, why should it be any different now?


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