By Cub Buenning

Someone is gonna get blown out tonight.

This was a thought that I could not erase from my mind all day Monday.  Game 4 between the Lakers and the Nuggets will probably go one of two ways.  Either the now famously dysfunctional Nuggets will lay down and give their guests a few extra days off before they start their second round series or they are going to come out chock full of piss and vinegar and run the Lakers out of the building.

Someone is gonna get blown out tonight.

Never before has a team polarized the critical element of their fan base like this year’s Nuggets.  In Monday’s local newspapers alone, calls for a “blow it up” philosophy littered the pages.  The Denver Post’s well-known columnist, Woody Paige called for the head of either Head Coach George Karl or forward Carmelo Anthony.  Rumors circled about how the players really had started not only tuning out their coach, but also began losing respect for his commitment to the team.

Someone is gonna get blown out tonight.

The first half was a well-played, high percentage shooting for both teams (49%-LAL, 51%-DEN) and LA were the proud owners of a 10-point lead.  If my feeling was to come to fruition, the season was 24 minutes from being over (maybe even less.)

The Nuggets are gonna get blown out tonight.

Suddenly, things changed.  The Nuggets continued the strong shooting and coupled that with a bit of the long-lost heart that all hoop fans have wanted to see.  They scraped for loose balls and began to finally counterpunch the Lakers’ relentless onslaught of jabs and uppercuts. The deficit was just a bucket by the third quarter’s end and the sell-out crowd was finally rewarded with an actual game.

No one is getting blown out, this one’s going down to the wire.

The game really took form during the mid-section of the fourth quarter when JR Smith and his feline counterpart (remember, don’t shake the tree) put on an all-court display.  With about half of the fourth quarter still to be played and the Lakers clinging to a three-point advantage, Smith draws a three-shot foul on Kobe, calmly nails them all, only to see Bryant immediately answer with an 18-footer to put the Lakers back up 90-88.  A drive by Anthony again knotted the score at 90, before Bryant hit a 3 and a driving lay-up in succession to kick the Laker lead to five.  Smith, who surely lost his conscience on a basketball court LONG ago, crushes a deep-3, steals a pass from Kobe and takes it the length of the court drawing the foul and giving the Nuggets a mere one-point lead with just over three minutes remaining.  Kobe promptly nails another deep-2 setting the stage for Luke Walton’s baseline 3-ball that gave the Lakers a four-point lead they would not relinquish.

For a moment, it was great basketball (Still my favorite playoff game was that Hawks v. Celtics Game 7 in 1988 where Bird and Nique scored at will.)  Both Smith and Bryant were phenomenal in the game’s key and deciding stretch, one that was ultimately seized, not surprisingly, by Kobe and the Lakers.

From there, Kobe literally began eliminating his enemies, single-handedly fouling out Kenyon Martin and Anthony on back-to-back whistles and subsequent dismissals with the game still in the balance.

No one is getting blown out.

The Lakers, like Kobe mentioned after Game 3, are a team that is learning how to win games in different ways.  However, other than Game 2 where Bryant jumped on the Nuggets early and often on his way to 49 and 10 assists (that’s 70 points accounted for) the Lakers won the other three in remarkably similar fashion.  Kobe played a patient first half, getting easy looks inside for his new center, and ratcheting things up a notch when the situation dictated.  Something that he did quite beautifully I might add in Games 1, 2, and 4.  The MVP argument (which I have argued only emphasizes the sometimes negative individual nature of what should be a team game) should not contain two or three sides; it’s a landslide.

Well maybe no one got blown out tonight, but it’s over.  It just took four-days and 182-minutes of action.

NOTES:
Rest assured, my Nuggets’ season ending manifesto is in the works.  While I should probably wait until the dog days of summer when Sam is clawing for material, it might come out sooner. For this reason, I shall resist using this forum to rant about what I think ails this franchise.  I might need multiple prescription pads.

Before the tip, I was watching the end of Atlanta/Boston’s Game 4 and was shocked by the Hawks successful reliance on a pick-n-roll play involving the wing and a point-guard.  But the Hawks had flipped the switch by using Mike Bibby as the screener, which forced Celtics’ point, Rajon Rondo to switch out onto Joe Johnson.  Three late trips in a row, the play bore fruit.

A few former and current Denver Broncos made their way downtown for the game.  Denver native, tight end Daniel Graham was in his usual spot by the visitors’ bench, while All-Pro cornerback Champ Bailey took in the game with one of Hugh Heffner’s three girlfriends (the sporty, energetic one.)  Lastly, and most importantly, local icon, John Elway was on a double-date with his new squeeze.  Kinda surprised to see #7 drinking a clear-booze cocktail, always took him for a Coors man.

Seems a few Nugget fans had given up hope even before tip, as the Laker contingency swelled beyond even Saturday afternoon, pointing to some pre-game scalping.

On a few possessions, the Nuggets showed flashes of a potential two-man game, as Smith and Nene (bravo for your gallant return!) worked a couple pick-n-rolls bucking the Nuggets usual distain for the idea of half-court basketball.

This game must contain the most bi-partisan crowd in the postseason.  At one point, Nuggets’ mascot, Rocky was trying to get a GO NUGGETS chant going from mid-court.  Unfortunately for the best mascot in the league, it became an amalgamation of the two teams…..GOOOOOOO……. NNNUUAAKKKKERS!

In my estimation Coach Karl’s true failure this series was his refusal to work the referees.  During both games in Denver, questionable calls were prevalent through out the first half, resulting in a player outburst during the second half.  Melo got a technical on Saturday; Iverson got his last night, obvious frustration that was valid.  However, it’s the coach’s job to ride the officials and Karl did little in that department.  At one point in the fourth, another close call prompted three of the Nugget players to throw up their hands and look over at their bench, blatantly looking for help.  Karl said nary a word towards Dick Bavetta and his crew.

The Lakers can now sit back and wait for what looks to be an eventual meeting with the Utah Jazz, with New Orleans and San Antonio looming down the road.