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Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Lakers Can't Close, Lose Game Five (5.8.12)

Although Andrew Bynum thought it would be "easy" to close out the Nuggets in game five, no one besides Kobe actually stepped up to the challenge. Bynum provided the Nuggets some bulletin board material before the game, stating, "Close out games are kind of easy. Teams tend to fold if you come out and play hard in the beginning, so we want to come out and establish an early lead and protect it." Bynum's comment is actually pretty spot on, but the execution of the Lakers to start the game would make him eat crow. The Nuggets won the first three quarters, and they were able to keep the Lakers at an arm's length until the final minutes when Kobe took over with a flurry of 3's that almost led to a victory. The Nuggets eked out the victory after Kobe missed a contested 3 from the far wing and Sessions missed a second chance opportunity with a wide open 3 at the near wing as the buzzer went off. The Nuggets won 102-99 and have now forced a game six in Denver. With the score ending up so close, the Lakers will watch the film and be disappointed by the amount of miscues and unforced errors they committed.

Kobe came out of the gate very aggressive and looked to put Denver away early. However, Kobe could not connect on his jumper and he ended up finishing the first quarter 3-10 for 7 points, 2 assists, and 1 steal. Kobe forced two 3's and could not connect on his mid range jumper. However, Kobe did attack the basket hard on four different occasions, and he finished on three of them. Kobe also set up his teammates for open looks, but the shots weren't falling. Pau and Barnes missed multiple wide open looks off of drive and kicks from Kobe. With Bynum doubled off of the ball on almost every possession, the Lakers really struggled to establish an inside presence. Bynum actually had a very active quarter, especially on the glass, Drew went 2-4 for 6 points and 7 rebounds. Unfortunately, Drew would only gather 4 more rebounds for the rest of the game. Pau finished the quarter 1-4 for 3 points and 2 rebounds. The Lakers did gather 6 offensive rebounds to start, but those second chance opportunities only led to 5 points. The Nuggets finished the quarter up 26-23. It was evident from the beginning that the Nuggets were not going to be steamrolled.

In the second quarter, the Nuggets extended their lead, winning the quarter 23-20 and entering the half up by 6. The second quarter started very ugly as the second unit struggled to score. The second unit only scored 7 points in the opening five minutes of the quarter. The first possession yielded a shot clock violation as Ramon Sessions made an ill-advised decision to pass up an open jumper and instead dump the ball off to Jordan Hill as the shot clock expired. The next possession, Sessions pounded the ball the entire possession and ended up shooting an air ball contested jumper to beat the shot clock. Following a Barnes 3, Denver called timeout and Kobe and Bynum checked in at the 7:11 mark.

Although Bynum completely disappeared in the quarter, Kobe kept the Lakers within striking distance. Following an open jumper brick from Barnes, the Lakers looked to establish Bynum. Kobe dribbled at the near top and he fed Bynum the ball at the near block. Bynum took one dribble to back down, but as he backed down, Al Harrington pulled off the classic veteran move of pulling the chair. Bynum immediately fell over and landed on his butt as he lost the ball for a turnover. The Lakers went right back into Bynum. He caught it at the far block, held the ball, was tripled, and kicked it to an open Barnes at the near wing. Barnes swung to Blake at the far wing, and Blake drove middle and hit Barnes at the near wing. Barnes swung to Kobe at the near side 3, and Kobe used a pick from Hill to attack middle. As Kobe went middle, Barnes dove from the top of the 3 into the lane. Kobe hit him on the dive and Barnes finished. Although Barnes struggled mightily with his jumper on the night, his activity was great. A little later, the Lakers went back into Bynum. Bynum was in an iso at the far mid block. The defense sagged on him, so he kicked it out to an open Kobe at the far top 3. Kobe attacked to his right and went to the rim hard with both hands on the ball. Kobe took the foul and sank the free throws. Kobe later attacked in transition and was fouled on his layup. He sank the free throws. The next possession, he took another foul in transition and sank both his free throws. Kobe followed this with a nice baseline drive from the far side. Kobe went up strong for a two handed dunk. JaVale McGee swatted the dunk, but only because he stuck his hand through the rim for a goaltend violation.

Kobe capitalized on numerous aggressive plays that led to trips to the line. Kobe finished the quarter 2-3 with 11 points, 1 rebound, 1 assist, and 2 turnovers. Bynum, by Denver's design, finished 0-1 for 1 point, and 1 turnover. Bynum had limited opportunities because Denver doubled and tripled him on and off the ball. Denver's defense routinely sagged in like a shell around the lane. Although negated offensively, Bynum could have made it up on the glass. He did this well in the first quarter, but in the second quarter he had zero rebounds. Bynum had plenty of misses to gather as the Lakers finished the half shooting just 33%, and 0-6 from deep. Pau also struggled offensively, 0-3 for 0 points and 1 turnover, but he made an impact with his 3 rebounds, and 2 blocks.

The third quarter consisted of more Kobe, plenty of defensive breakdowns, and jumpers from Matt Barnes, missed 3's to be precise.

Kobe started the quarter with a long 2 by curling to the far wing and sinking a 22ft jumper. Kobe missed his next three jumpers. On one of them, he caught the ball at the far top 3 with 4 on the shot clock. Kobe attacked left, kept dribbling to the far mid corner, and fired off a running-jump-off-one-foot floating jumper as he headed toward the baseline. It turned into an air ball, and Ty Lawson capitalized with a floater in the lane. The fans in Staples Center began to boo the home team with the score standing at 59-47. Mike Brown took a timeout, and Matt Barnes made his only jumper of the quarter. Pau spun off the near block toward the baseline. As he spun, Pau lost his balance and fell to his knees. Pau then rifled a pass to Barnes at the far wing. Barnes sank the open 3. Two minutes later, Kobe and Pau ran a high pick and roll. Pau slipped the pick and Kobe hit him at the free throw line. Pau caught it and kicked to the wide open Barnes at the near wing 3. Barnes bricked it. Barnes followed that with an air ball finger-roll layup in the lane on the fast break.

JaVale McGee and Andrew Bynum followed Barnes with a nice mini dunk contest. McGee pulled off a nice reverse dunk past Bynum. Bynum followed with an alley oop slam. Sessions and Bynum ran the pick and roll from the near top 3. Sessions got to the near elbow, stopped, and lobbed the ball to the rim. Bynum went up, caught it with two hands, and cocked it back for a nice one handed throw down.

Then Kobe pulled off a Jordanesque layup. Kobe brought the ball up the far side, got to the far top 3, and used a pick from Pau. Coming off the pick, Kobe went middle, crossed from right to left at the top of the key, and shook Faried. Kobe attacked to the rim, jumped from the dotted line, and held the ball with both hands above his head. Kobe then decided to hang around a while, as he ball faked to Bynum at the top of his jump. Then Kobe had to adjust his shot as JaVale McGee rotated to swat it away. On his way down, Kobe brought the ball to his hip and released a lefty scoop shot high off the glass and out of JaVale's reach. Bynum followed Kobe's amazing play with a technical, but Afflalo missed the free throw. Kobe responded to an Andre Miller 3 with a floater and a 3 of his own, both coming in transition.

Then came the defensive breakdowns. Following Kobe's 3, the Nuggets led 66-63. Denver came out and used Miller in an iso at the far mid wing. Kobe stuck with him and would have forced a tough shot in the lane, but Jordan Hill rotated and bailed out Miller. Hill allowed Miller to do what he does best by dumping the ball off to JaVale McGee for a nice dunk on the near side. Kobe yelled at Hill, "No! I don't need that help!" Following another brick from Barnes, Miller schooled Barnes in an iso at the near wing. Miller took a dribble in, crossed left to right between his legs, and then spun baseline to finish an uncontested layup at the rim. No help side, no on ball defense.

Barnes finished his contributions in the quarter by flaming out with an air ball on a wide open 3. Blake brought the ball up to the top and hit Barnes at the far wing 3. Andre Miller sagged off Barnes and stuck to Bynum. Wide open, and with no close out in sight, Barnes fired up an air ball. Barnes finished the quarter 1-5, 1-4 from deep, for 3 points, 1 assist, and 1 steal. The Nuggets won the quarter 27-22 and went into the fourth up 76-65. At this point, the bench of the Nuggets had 29 points, compared to LA's 13. Kobe finished the quarter 4-7 for 11 points, 1 steal, and 1 turnover. Bynum went 1-1 for 4 points and 2 rebounds. Pau went 1-1 for 2 points, 1 rebound, 1 assist, and 1 block.

The fourth quarter contained "A Tale of Two Kobe's," more mental lapses, and a a huge hill to climb.

Kobe started the fourth aggressive. Kobe took a pass at the far corner and attacked middle into the lane. Kobe shot up a floater, missed, and got his offensive rebound in the lane. Kobe pumped, took a dribble left, and hit the fading 12ft jumper. Kobe would miss his next three shots.

Following Kobe's make, Ramon Sessions fumbled away a sure two points. Following a turnover from Miller, Sessions pushed up the court, avoided Miller with a behind the back dribble, and lengthened his dribble to get some more speed. As Sessions approached the rim, he lost his handle and ruined a two-on-one transition opportunity with Kobe as the ball bounced out of bounds. Not to be outdone, Pau decided to give away two points by not getting back on defense. Pau got stripped as he turned middle from the far mid block. Instead of getting back on defense, Pau argued with the sideline referee. JaVale McGee got a step on Jordan Hill and began sprinting. Andre Miller sent the alley oop lob from half court and JaVale slammed it home. If Pau had hustled back, he would have been at the rim waiting instead of allowing JaVale to speed past everyone and finish with his athletic talents. Andre Miller then capitalized on a sleeping Bynum. Miller brought the ball up and noticed Bynum staring at him and not putting his body on JaVale. Miller lobbed the ball to the rim and JaVale sprung from the near block and threw it down. Two minutes later, McGee gave Denver their biggest lead of the game. Following a missed floater by Brewer, McGee ran down the ball to the far mid wing. McGee gathered it, attacked baseline, and threw down a thunderous one handed slam as Pau softly fouled him on the waist. McGee didn't make the free throw but the score swelled to 90-75 with 6:35 remaining.

Then the Lakers got going. Kobe hit Pau for an assist. Then Kobe forced Arron Afflalo into a tough contested turnaround jumper. Bynum followed with a nice putback after a Sessions miss. Kobe then sank his first of four straight 3's. Kobe passed out of a double at the far wing to Pau at the far top 3. Pau swung it to Sessions at the near top 3. Kobe circled from the far wing to the top 3 as Pau set a pick for him. Sessions hit Kobe at the top and he sank the catch and shoot 3, making the score 92-82. McGee followed with a putback finish. Bynum came back and attacked McGee for a trip to the line. Bynum made one of two. Following a Gallinari miss, Kobe pushed up the near side in transition, got to the near block, and threw an over the shoulder no look pass into the lane. Pau caught it at the dotted lines and hit the easy shot in the lane. Bynum followed with momentum shifting plays. He swatted McGee's lefty scoop in the lane, and he hustled down the court for a nice putback layin following a Sessions' miss in transition. That put the score at 94-87.

Then the game got real interesting. Following an Afflalo miss, Kobe curled to the far top 3 and took the pass from Sessions. Kobe caught it and shot it in rhythm for a 27ft bomb. This put the score at 94-90 and the crowd went crazy. Andre Miller quickly responded with an isolation move from the near top and a finish at the rim over Blake. JaVale McGee followed with a huge block. Kobe curled and caught the ball at the top 3. Since Kobe had just hit the 3, two Nuggets stayed with Kobe and left the screen man, Pau. Pau rolled to the far block, and Kobe hit him in stride. Pau went up for the two handed dunk, but JaVale McGee swatted the dunk away. Bynum followed with his own good defense, forcing Lawson into a contested jumper from the top of the key. Sessions gathered the miss and pushed up the near side. With a numbers advantage, Kobe began desperately waiving his arms calling for the ball. Sessions hit the wide open Kobe at the far wing and Kobe caught the pass and drilled the 26ft 3 in transition. The crowd erupted, but Andre Miller quickly silenced everyone as he came down and hit a leaner from the far mid wing off the glass.

Then, Kobe went "unconscious!" Sessions dribbled the ball at the near wing. Kobe used a back pick to circle from the near top 3 to the near corner. Sessions hit Kobe in the corner. Kobe jabbed right, swung the ball back and forth, and went up for the impossible 3 over Gallinari. Kobe sank the shot with Gallo in his grill. The building shook. Kobe had just hit his third 3 in 90 seconds.

However, sanity would return. The Lakers forced Miller to miss a tough far mid wing pull up jumper. Kobe brought the ball up and probably felt immortal. He got to the top of the key, danced a bit, crossed from right to left, and exploded to the rim. Kobe made contact with Gallo in the lane and used the space to get off a clean 4ft jumper. The ball went too high off the glass and just missed. Kobe then just missed a catch and shoot 3 from the near wing. The shot looked good, but it went off the front rim and bounced off the board.

The Nuggets left the door open by missing free throws. Utilizing an inbounds play from the sideline, Ramon Sessions hit a wide open 3 with 19 seconds left to play. This put the score at 100-99. Andre Miller then made one of two, to give the Lakers one last chance at a 3. Blake inbounded from the far sideline. He hit Pau at the far top 3. Pau sent it back to Blake at the far wing. Blake then hit Kobe at the far wing and cut to the near top 3. Kobe held the ball to kill the time. Then he swung through from right to left, pulled up for the 3 with Miller in his face, and hit back iron. Blake crashed and caught the ball at the near elbow. While in the air, Blake sent the pass out to Sessions at the near wing. Sessions fired the wide open 3 and hit front iron, missing short.

The Nuggets escaped LA, 102-99, and stole a game on the road. Kobe started the fourth 1-5 for 2 points and 3 rebounds in his first six minutes of the quarter. He finished 4-7, with four straight 3's, for 12 points, 2 rebounds, and 2 assists. Bynum went 2-2 for 5 points, 2 rebounds, 1 assist, and 1 block. Pau went 2-3 for 4 points, 4 rebounds, 1 steal, and 1 turnover. The struggles of the team to start the fourth quarter doomed the comeback attempt. Kobe came so close to pushing the Lakers over the hump, but he could not remain perfect to the end. After making those four 3's in a row, he missed his next three shots, all decent looks.

Once again, the Lakers struggled to shoot as a whole. LA shot 38.9%, while Denver shot 45.9%. Kobe went 14-32, 5-11 from deep, for 43 points, 6 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 steals, and 3 turnovers. Kobe tried his best to will the team to victory, and he came damn close, but in the end he just didn't have enough help. Kobe actually played into the hands of Denver's strategy. They packed the paint and forced jumpers. Kobe did go 10-11 from the line, but he also shot a lot of jumpers. Bynum went 5-8 for 16 points, 11 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 block, and 1 turnover. Pau went 4-11 for 9 points, 10 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal, 3 blocks, and 2 turnovers. Kobe's attempts may have limited Bynum and Pau production wise, but he also kept the Lakers in the game. Denver played great defense on the inside and made it tough for Bynum or Pau to do much from the inside. Double and triple teams were prevalent. Sessions and Barnes struggled mightily to hurt Denver from the outside, shooting a combined 8-26 for 20 points.

Overall, the Lakers could not punish Denver on the inside. Denver outscored LA 58-44 in the paint. JaVale McGee once again outplayed Bynum, dropping 9-12 for 21 points, 14 rebounds, 1 assist, and 2 blocks. Most of McGee's points came off of dunks and offensive putbacks. His activity put Bynum to shame. Andre Miller was also huge off the bench going 8-11 for 24 points, 2 rebounds, 8 assists, 1 steal, and 1 turnover. Miller made 5 of his 8 buckets in the paint.

The Lakers gave away an extra day of rest and will now have to fly to Denver for game 6 on Thursday. The only positive to gain from the loss is that Metta World Peace will be available for game one against the Thunder once the Lakers advance. The Lakers need to come out focused and ready to play from the start. Let's see if this team has it in them to close on the road. 

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