Nuggets 120, Lakers 101: A round of IV drips for all my friends!!!
After a Game 3 spectacular 41-point performance made even more remarkable by its well rounded additional contributions, Kobe Bryant had- as the saying goes- "left everything on the floor." So much was spilled, in fact, that Kobe appeared on the verge of keeling over during a postgame interview with ESPN's Doris Burke. I grew genuinely worried that one more follow up question would have resulted in Burke conducting Bryant's eulogy for the network's highest rated episode of "Outside The Lines." Thus, it was no surprise to hear that Bryant was immediately hooked up to an IV drip for a dose of fluids upon hitting the Pepsi Center visitor's locker room.
Perhaps Kobe should have handed trainer Gary Vitti his credit card and hosted the medical equivalent of an open bar, because the entire team appeared in need of a pick me up cocktail.
Climbing back into Saturday's game after being down eight at the final frame's start would a taxing proposition in most settings, much less while gasping for breath in Denver's thin air. It also would be equally difficult under most circumstances, much less those that include lingering injuries for Lamar Odom and Trevor Ariza. As ESPN's J.A. Adande noted, dudes were looking more black and blue than purple and gold. And don't discount a fatigue factor this deep into the month of May, which Kobe admitted could be affected some younger Lakers less seasoned in postseason rigors.
"You gotta push through it," insisted Kobe. "As a young team, when you have a 2-1 series lead, there's kind of the attitude where every play is not as important. When you're tired, you say, I don't have to get that ball or don't have to get on the floor for that loose ball, as opposed to taking every possession as if its' the last possession, like we did in the third game."
In the meantime, save Carmelo Anthony- battling a pregame stomach flu compounded by a second quarter ankle
sprain- the Nuggets were bursting at the seams with vigor. Did a
potential difference in energy in reserve culminate into a 120-101 loss? It's hard to say for sure, since I'm not in the Sunshine State (Gorgeous!)
and didn't get to witness firsthand how pumped or pooped the Lakers
were before this contest. But I'd like to think exhaustion played a
role. Otherwise, there's simply no excuse for how badly the Lakers
were torched in hustle-related aspects of the game.
Denver offset Melo's 3-16 struggles from the field in a variety of ways. Limiting themselves to just six turnovers. A big second half from Chauncey Billups en route to 24/3/3 helped. Smith scoring 24 points off the bench. Another ten off the pine from Linus Kleiza. A dozen points from the offensively-challenged Dahntay Jones. Without question, these factors played a role, but not nearly as much as how the Nuggets simply played like bats outta hell every second they were on the court.
That monster effort explains the biggest battle won by Denver, the one that ultimately removed any chance of a victory from the Lakers' hands. In my mind, if the Lakers don't fall short 58-40 in the rebounding margin, they give themselves a shot at winning. Unfortunately, the Lakers were dominated in a quest to collect misses, scoop up loose balls and generally control the boards, which often equals controlling a game. This tone was set remarkably early. With just three minutes and change in the books, the Nuggets were already paced ahead of the Lakers by five. By the end of the first quarter, Denver had collected as many offensive boards alone. Things never looked up from there, and that imbalance put a distinctive stamp on the game.
Just how badly were the Lakers crushed in this department?
Kenyon Martin collected fifteen rebounds, tying Pau Gasol (10) and Andrew Bynum (5) by this lonesome. WIth a baker's dozen, Nene nearly bested that Laker duo, too. Chris Andersen collected fourteen off the bench, which fell just two short of outdoing the ENTIRE Laker second unit's total. Anthony Carter's two boards doubled the output of Trevor Ariza's, despite playing one-fourth of the minutes (six vs. twenty-six) and giving up five inches. And if I may offer the most damning of tallies, the Nuggets helped themselves to an absolutely comical twenty boards on the offensive glass. That's just plain silly. It also helps explain why the Lakers were outscored 52-34 in the paint and 23 of Denver's points were of the second chance variety.
I don't know everything about the roundball game, but those figures just don't hit me as "Instant win: Just add water."
Don't get me wrong. Glass weakness wasn't the only reason the Lakers fell short. On the road, 42% from the field generally won't get it done, particularly when you treat the stripe as anything but a charitable offering. The Lakers just can't get simpatico with the free throw line, missing eleven times at the stripe (24-35, 69%). And I personally can't decide if I'm more upset that only nine of thirty-one three pointers dropped, or that thirty-one three's were actually launched to begin with. (Am I allowed to vote "both?") There was also a general inability to protect the paint, whether slowing of drives from the perimeter or keeping tabs on fellas making cuts to the basket. The usual suspects are still unable to rediscover their touch, with Odom a striking sore thumb at 1-8 from the field. The Lakers remain largely dependent on Kobe (34 points on a not so stellar 10-26 clip) and Pau (21 points, 8-11 from the field, still in need of more touches). None of this helps their case.
But to me, it was all about the rebounds, because a better job in that department might have meant sneaking away on top. I'll take a cheap win over a deserved loss any day of the week. Whether the Lakers are too noble or simply ran out of gas, everyone got what they earned. Assuming they aren't too upset to sleep, the Lakers will hopefully use the plane back to L.A. as an opportunity to nap.
A few more notes
- Derek Fisher's fourth quarter minutes: Zero. Quite interesting, in light of the heat PJ has been taking from fans and media alike for riding with the vet through thick and thin, the latter describing his marksmanship this postseason.
- According to ESPN's broadcast, Kobe's 147 points through Game 4 tops any player during the opening quartet of the Conference Finals.
- I'm guessing Andrew Bynum's fourth quarter foul on the Birdman will be reduced from "Flagrant One" to "good ol' fashioned whistle." The elaborate windup and two handed delivery may not have been particularly wise, but that style also made the sequence look much worse than it really was. Even the ESPN broadcasters expressed surprise at the call. I also thought Drew recovered from a mediocre first half to offer some promising fourth quarter moments.
- And speaking of decisions made by the refs, I expect Phil Jackson to get fined for criticizing the referees. Asked by the Times' own T.J. Simers about the Lakers' rep for inconsistent effort, PJ replied that officiating can make it difficult to compete at the proper level.
"Basketball is a game where the aggressor gets the advantage and
tonight, we didn't know what a foul was and what wasn't a foul out
there. Start of the ballgame, we got guys knocked around going
to the basket... and by the
end of the ball game, little fouls were being called all over the
game. 49 foul shots... in a ball game like that. That's
not how we wanted to play. That's not we wanted to play. That's not what we wanted to do. So as the momentum changes in a ball game like that and the refereeing
becomes where you're always on your heels and guys are in foul trouble,
then you're are not aggressive anymore. You're the guy that's
defensively playing the game. And that's what I don't like."
On a roll and likely aware his wallet was about to grow lighter, Phil elaborated...
"The situation that got the game kind of out of hand, Luke (Walton) came
across the lane, got hit in throat by Nene with an elbow, complained to
the referee about getting hit in the throat with an elbow on his cut.
And it was an off ball cut. The referee gave him a technical and
subsequently gave him three consecutive fouls. That kind of
disparity we don't like in ball games. That's not equal refereeing.
Those are the things that change the course of games. We don't like
that. We want the game to be fair and evenly played."
Which is hardly how Phil chalked up an incident where Dahntay Jones appeared to purposely trip Kobe Bryant...
"There was another situation out there tonight that was unacceptable by Dahntay Jones. Just unacceptable defense. Tripping guys and playing unsportsmanlike basketball."
Asked point blank if he thought the trip was intentional, Jackson didn't hesitate to offer a "yes," adding this wasn't the first time Jones has pulled a shenanigan of sorts during the series. (I assume PJ is referring Jones pushing Kobe in the back with two hands during a Game 3 drive to the cup, a play that could have led to injury and was retroactively assessed a flagrant.) Between Jackson drawing attention to the trip and the broadcast reaction- calling the play "dirty"- I'm expecting Jones to (at
least) get word from the league office or (at most) get hit with some form of punishment.