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Friday, May 11, 2012

Kobe Can't Do It Alone, Drew & Pau Disappear (5.10.12)

The Los Angeles Lakers stepped onto the court and were ran out of the gym on Thursday night by the Denver Nuggets. On a night when Kobe Bryant was ailing with gastroenteritis, the Lakers desperately needed Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum to step up and have big games. Well, that didn't happen. Pau went 1-10 for 3 points, 3 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal, and 1 block in 29 minutes of lethargic, pathetic play. Drew went 4-11 for 11 points, 16 rebounds, 3 assists, and 4 blocks. Don't let Bynum's rebounding and block numbers fool you, Bynum was a non factor. Drew consistently sagged off of the screen man, failed to hedge screens, and jogged back in transition. Bynum was responsible for numerous easy buckets in transition and off of the pick and roll. Bynum's work on the boards points toward a "fake hustle." He did very well on the glass, but Bynum was routinely exposed in defensive sets.

As a whole, it seemed like the entire Lakers team came down with an ailment of some sort. LA did not come prepared to close out the series. Only Kobe showed up. Kobe turned in a "flu game" performance equivalent to Michael Jordan by dropping 13-23 for 31 points, 2 rebounds, 4 assists, 1 steal, and 3 turnovers. However, one key ingredient was missing. Remember the classic scene where Scottie Pippen carried MJ off the court because MJ could barely walk and was so exhausted? Well Kobe had no one to carry him, no wing man, no help. Kobe turned in a solo performance as his teammates disappeared.

Riding the energy from game five's victory in LA, the Nuggets came out scorching hot in Denver. The Nuggets raced out to a ridiculous 13-0 lead in the first three minutes. The Nuggets killed the Lakers with transition 3's.

The Lakers ran a set to establish Bynum on the first play of the game. Pau caught the ball at the near mid block. Drew stood at the near top key, and Kobe came over and set a cross/back screen, allowing Bynum to roll to the rim. Pau lobbed the pass and Bynum went up and gathered it at the far block. Instead of finishing in the air, Bynum came down, went up, and had his shot blocked by Mozgov. Bynum regathered, went up, and was blocked by Ty Lawson. He regathered again at the near block, turned baseline for the righty hook, and missed. Denver gathered the miss and Gallinari pushed ahead. With Faried streaking the court, Sessions had to pack the paint to prevent the layup because Pau trailed the play and was the last one back. Gallo kicked the ball to the wide open Lawson at the far wing 3, and Lawson drilled it. Sessions could not close out in time because he had to wait for Pau to get in the paint and pick up Faried. Following an Ebanks miss, Arron Afflalo pushed up the court. Drew and Pau trailed everyone, so the guards had to match up with the bigs in the paint. By the time the bigs got into the lane, Afflalo kicked the ball out to Gallinari at the far side 3, and Gallinari swished the open 3. Then Kobe missed a jumper. Lawson grabbed the board and pushed up the far side. Running full speed, Lawson split Pau and Kobe and sped past the rest of the Lakers for an open layup in transition. Kobe missed another jumper, and Lawson pushed up the near side. Utilizing a five-on-three advantage, Lawson hit Gallo at the near side 3. Gallo held the ball for a second as Ebanks closed on him. With Pau and Drew, once again, trailing everyone, Kobe had to pick up both Mozgov and Faried at the rim. Gallo swung the ball back to Lawson at the near wing 3, and Lawson sank the open shot. Bynum finally got into the lane once Lawson caught the pass, leaving no time for Kobe to close out. Faried closed out the run following a pick and roll setup from Gallo to Mozgov to an open flashing Faried at the rim for a dunk, making the score 13-0 with 8:51 to go.

Kobe closed the gap, but the defensive mistakes continued for the rest of the quarter. Kobe hit an open jumper from the top of the key for the first LA bucket of the game. Bynum followed with a swat and Kobe created contact for a trip to the line and sank both. Following the free throws, Lawson brought the ball up the far side. Lawson hit Mozgov at the near top key, and Mozgov handed it off to Lawson. Sessions went under the screen, and Bynum didn't hedge the pick. Lawson hit the wide open 3 from the near wing for his third straight bucket. Denver followed this with the same set. This time Lawson hit Faried at the near elbow. Lawson ran over for the handoff, but Faried faked the handoff and attacked right and into the lane. Faried hit the running layup over Pau. Following an Ebanks made jumper, Bynum was burned down the court by Mozgov. Bynum started with a two step advantage, but Mozgov out ran him as Lawson brought the ball up the near side. Once he got to half court, Lawson hit Mozgov in the lane for the easy dunk ahead of everyone. Following that, Kobe missed a jumper, and Gallo brought the ball up the near side. With Pau trailing everyone, Kobe matched up with Gallo to stop the ball. Sessions matched up with Lawson at the far wing, but Pau signaled for Sessions to match up with the open Afflalo at the near side. Gallo noticed Sessions vacating Lawson, so he sent the skip pass to the far wing. Pau lost sight of the ball as he turned his head and Lawson drilled the open 3. Why Pau would signal Sessions to leave the hottest guy in the building is bewildering. Sessions should have said "F-you" and told Pau to hustle back. Never leave the hottest guy in the gym. Never.

Following some nice stops, Kobe followed with a floater and two jumpers to close the gap to 28-20. Kobe barely missed a two for one transition 3 to create some momentum to close the quarter. Denver came down, and the Lakers forced Al Harrington into a tough reverse layup. Harrington missed, and Jordan Hill grabbed the board. Excited to get down the court with 10 seconds to go, Hill sent an ugly outlet pass to Kobe that flew out of bounds like a bullet and effectively destroyed any momentum heading into the second. Gallinari punished LA with a drive into the lane and a nice dump off to Brewer for a layup to close the quarter, 30-20.

Kobe finished the quarter 4-8 for 10 points, 2 rebounds, and 1 turnover. Bynum went 0-4 for 1 point, 8 rebounds, 2 assists, and 1 block. Pau had just 1 block, his only stat of the quarter. Ty Lawson went 5-6, 4-4 from deep, for 15 points, 3 rebounds, 2 assists, and 1 block. Bynum and Gasol's effort was definitely absent. They routinely trailed in transition and allowed the Nuggets to get off open 3's as the guards had to pack the paint and wait to pass off the bigs.

The second quarter featured more Kobe, and the Lakers actually got within four points. Kobe checked in early at the 8:55 mark and immediately hit a 3 from the far wing. Kobe then stripped Andre Miller, but Barnes blew the open look in transition. Kobe then forced a turnover as Faried set a moving pick on him while he hounded Lawson. Bynum followed with his first field goal of the game. He shook baseline at the far block and turned middle for the righty hook in the lane with 5:38 to go. After forcing a shot clock violation with great defense on Miller, Kobe took a handoff and hit a pull up jumper at the free throw line. Kobe followed with a dunk in transition to make the score 41-36. Kobe then caught Afflalo on the reach-in-swing-through-jumper for the foul. Kobe sank the free throws. Kobe followed by stealing the ball from Faried in transition. Sessions capitalized with a layup in transition. Pau followed with his only bucket of the quarter. Kobe pushed up the far side, got to the far wing, and hit Pau at the far block. Pau attacked baseline with two dribbles, spun back middle, and hit the turnaround righty hook in the lane to make the score the closest it would get, 47-43.

Following Kobe's push, the Lakers could not close out the half strong. Following a Pau brick, Afflalo pushed the ball up the far side and attacked the lane. Afflalo kicked out to the open Gallo at the top. With Bynum trailing the play, the guards packed the paint, and Gallo sank the open 3. The next play, Bynum actually stepped out on a pick and roll and contested Lawson's jumper from the near elbow. Lawson missed, but Pau and Faried battled for the rebound. Both players stuck their hands up through the rim, and Pau touched the ball as it bounced off the board and toward the cylinder. Pau was assessed a goaltend, and Denver closed the half, 54-45. Kobe finished 3-5 for 9 points, 2 assists, and 1 steal. Bynum went 1-1 for 2 points, 2 rebounds, and 1 assist. Pau went 1-5 for 2 points and 2 rebounds. Denver hit twenty 3's in the first five games, but they knocked down eight in the first half of this game.

The third quarter doomed the Lakers. Kobe took two IV's of fluid at the half, but nothing could stop Ty Lawson.

Denver opened the quarter with two offensive rebounds on hustle plays. Denver could not capitalize, but it was clear that they came out ready. Gallinari then caught Pau sleeping and he sent a perfect bounce pass to a flashing Faried in the lane. Faried caught the pass at the far block and finished a reverse on the near side as Pau softly fouled him. Bynum then had a putback swatted by Gallo, and Faried tracked down the ball to the far elbow. Faried gathered the ball and pushed up the court to attack the basket. Barnes hacked his arms, and Kobe hustled from behind to swat the ball. Faried fell hard to the ground and Kobe was assessed a flagrant foul. Kobe made a great play on the ball, but the fall determined the call. Spectating NBA players from the 90's and below must have laughed at such a weak call. There was definitely a foul, but Kobe made a nice play on the ball. If Faried had jumped off of two feet, he would have been fine. Instead, the rookie took off of one foot, got hit in the air, and flew to the floor. Faried sank both and the "Kobe sucks!" chants began to boom throughout the stadium.

Down by 14, the Lakers needed a big play. Kobe backed down at the far mid block, took the double, and hit Sessions for a wide open 3 at the top. Sessions passed up the shot, watched two guys fly by him, took a dribble in to his right, picked up his dribble and hesitated as no one closed out on him. Sessions passed up the open jumper and instead kicked it to Barnes at the near top key. Barnes bricked and Afflalo hit a far wing jumper to give the Nuggets a 14-2 run in the opening four minutes. Sessions' indecision and passiveness highlighted just how unprepared every Laker, besides Kobe, was for this game. Lawson followed with an uncontested 6ft floater in semi-transition. The Lakers actually got back on defense, but they never found their own man, allowing Lawson to capitalize on the confusion and attack the paint.

Then Kenneth Faried showed why he is "The Manimal." Lawson sent the outlet to Faried at the far side. Faried attacked baseline and kicked it to Gallo at the near side 3. Gallo missed, but he ran down the offensive rebound at the near mid wing. Gallo hit Faried at the near mid corner baseline. Faried immediately attacked the rim for a dunk, but Bynum swatted him. Faried corralled the ball in the lane and went up for the putback, but Barnes stripped him on his way up. As Barnes tried to take off with the ball, Faried got his hands in to recover it and finish the putback at the rim, making the score 71-51. Faried's activity and effort was outstanding on this play. This play should be looped in the Lakers' locker room to teach them what it means to play hard.

Ty Lawson closed the quarter and destroyed any hope of a comeback. Lawson ran a pick and roll from the far wing. Sessions was cleared out on the pick and Bynum didn't hedge. Lawson sank the open 17ft jumper from the far mid wing. Lawson then hit Afflalo on a cut to the basket for an easy layup. Lawson then hit Al Harrington on a roll to the rim that led to free throws. Lawson ran another pick and roll from the far top with Mozgov. Lawson faked the set up to attack right, but instead, he waited as Mozgov slid over and set the pick for him to attack left. Lawson went left, Bynum didn't hedge the pick, and Lawson sank the 17ft jumper with no one even near him. Three possessions later, Lawson ran the same exact play. Lawson ran a pick and roll with Harrington at the far top 3. Lawson faked right again, waited for Harrington to slide over to set the pick on the left, and attacked left to the far elbow. Once again, Bynum didn't hedge, and Lawson sank the open jumper. Lawson came right back down and ran the same set. He faked right, noticed Hill coming to hedge hard, and allowed Harrington to slide over and set the pick for him to attack left. Lawson went left, turned the corner, and finished the layup at the rim. Lawson then sank an open 3 to close out his great quarter.

The Nuggets finished the third up, 90-68. Lawson went 6-8 for 13 points, 1 rebound, and 3 assists. Kobe went 5-8 for 10 points, 1 assist, and 1 turnover. Bynum went 3-6 for 8 points, 6 rebounds, and 3 blocks. Bynum's third quarter was very good offensively, but his atrocious pick and roll defense allowed Ty Lawson to burn the Lakers. Bynum consistently sat back and watched Lawson kill the Lakers. Pau finished 0-3 for 1 point, and 1 rebound. The Nuggets won the quarter 36-23.

To start the fourth, Mike Trudell reported, "Before the fourth quarter, Kobe went over to Mike Brown and said, 'Hey, leave me in.' He's not ready to give up regardless of the fact that Denver seems to be scoring at will." Unfortunately, Corey Brewer would heat up and take away any chance for a Kobe miracle. Brewer hit back to back pull up jumpers from 20ft, and then he stole a pass and finished the layup on the break. Brewer's outburst put the score at 96-70 with 10:22 to go. Two minutes later, Brewer sank a 3 from the near top and dunked the ball in transition. Brewer put Denver up 101-73 with 7:52 remaining.

Kobe finally gave in and subbed out. Despite his illness, he played all but three minutes to this point. Kobe finished the quarter 1-2 for 2 points, 1 assist, and 1 turnover. Bynum didn't play a minute. Pau went 0-2 for 0 points, 1 assist, and 1 steal. Brewer finished the fourth 5-8 for 11 points, 3 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals, and 1 block. Brewer went 5-5 for 11 points, 1 rebound, and 1 steal in the first four minutes of the quarter. The benches cleared and the Nuggets won 113-96.

The effort of the Lakers was very disappointing. When asked about Metta World Peace's return, Kobe stated, "He's the one guy that I can rely on night in and night out to compete and play hard and play with a sense of urgency and play with no fear. So I'm looking forward to having him by my side again." With this statement, Kobe essentially blasted the entire Lakers' roster. Kobe needs his teammates to step up, especially the starters. After disappearing in the past two games, Kobe stated, "I talked with Pau a little bit after the game; I'll speak with Andrew too." The sad thing is, Metta is the least capable player out of the starting five, yet he is the only one Kobe can trust to come out and play hard. If one of the other guys had actually stepped up, Kobe Bryant would not be desperate for Metta World Peace to come and save the day. Bynum, Gasol, and Sessions all failed in game six, and in game five. Bynum shot 3-9 from inside five feet. Pau shot a horrid 10%. Ramon dropped an efficient 14 points on 4-9 shooting, with 2 rebounds, 3 assists, and 1 turnover, but his impact was not felt. With Drew and Pau not making contributions, Ramon needed to put up around 25 in order to become a threat and actually make Ty Lawson work on defense. Instead all three Lakers played passive and hoped for a Kobe miracle.

Ty Lawson negated Kobe's 31 with 32 of his own. Lawson went 13-18, 5-6 from deep, for 32 points, 5 rebounds, 6 assists, and 1 block. George Karl found great success by setting up the secondary pick and roll option. Lawson routinely burned the Lakers by running the high pick and roll. Lawson would dribble to his right, as if he was going to use the pick, and then he would either cross over or back out as the pick man would turn and set the pick on the other side. Lawson would explode while the big man defender stood out of position. George Karl must have noticed something on the game tape, because they ran this play to death against Bynum. Bynum would fail to edge on the initial setup, as well as the secondary pick. Bynum routinely played off, left the guard out to dry, and watched as Lawson sank open jumpers from the wings and elbows. The Lakers want Lawson to settle for jumpers, but not open jumpers on his home court, and especially not on a night when he is on fire.

The Lakers were destroyed all game. The Nuggets came out with an impressive jump early. They held even in the second, dominated the third, and closed the game as they ran off a big run to start the fourth.

Now the Lakers are forced into a game seven situation. Although the Lakers have the benefit of playing at home, we all saw them lose game five at home. Maybe the return of Metta can ignite the team, but it should have never even gotten to this point. Bynum's "easy" comment sure is looking like it came eons ago. Two disappearances later, Bynum better come out and ball on Saturday. With game seven on the line, the Lakers will be forced into the toughest battle of the season. What once looked like an easy closeout in game five will now be the toughest out of the year, and currently the only seven game series of round one (pending the Clippers and Grizzlies) in the NBA playoffs.

Even worse, the Lakers tainted game four's impressive road victory telecast on KCAL 9. Many thought that game would be the final Lakers game ever shown on the station. Now the final KCAL 9 telecast of a Lakers' game will be this ugly, disheartening blowout. Hopefully Fox Sports West will be redeemed with a home victory in game seven.

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