Lakers/Nuggets Game 1 Recap
The Nuggets were ready to steal home-court.
-The Nuggets came out with the kind of run that usually decided the game in the Lakers-Rockets series, getting out of the gate to the tune of a 10-2 run. But the Nuggets aren’t as good, or at least as committed, of a defensive team as the Rockets, and this is going to be much more of a series of runs than Lakers-Rockets was, where both teams were playing downhill.
The Lakers come out providing extreme help on Billups to trap him on pick-and-rolls and take their chances with the Nuggets bigs, neither of whom have any sort of discernible range. Both Nugget bigs ended up adjusting, with K-Mart employing some sort of bizarre floater-type shot from about a step inside the free throw line that somehow goes in without ever seeming to go above the rim. Nene, meanwhile, makes hard cuts for two dunks and a layup in the first quarter while the rotating defender employs a defensive strategy best described as “contemplative.” I’m going with Nene as the most underrated player in the playoffs right now-nobody really understands how important of a skill it is for big men to finish when they get the ball around the basket, and Nene does it as well as anybody.
-The Nuggets absolutely dominate the first quarter, but two quick threes from the Lakers, a missed open look from three by Chauncey Billups, and two free-throw misses from Billups allow the Lakers to finish the quarter only down by 8. Failure to close out quarters will, to put it mildly, become a theme for the Nuggets.
-Kobe doesn’t appear to have it going-the looks are better and he’s getting to his “happy spots” from 13-15 more, but it’s a lot of fadeaways he’s not able to step into. Meanwhile, Carmelo Anthony is absolutely immolating.
-Even Anthony Carter is doing a decent job on Kobe-Kobe wants to back him into the post, but Carter is keeping him far enough away so that he can’t get an easy shot. Anthony Carter must be STRONG.
-The Nuggets get a little stagnant, and a Fisher three allows the Lakers to steal the half and go in up by one even though the Nuggets executed much better.
-The second half is where things start to get physical. The Lakers, to their credit, are taking the ball to the basket, but the Nuggets are right there to meet them and the refs aren’t doing them any favors. Meanwhile, the Lakers are picking up cheap fouls left and right. The crowd is getting antsy.
-Gasol is, once again, just not getting it done when they go to him for a back-down, but he’s a monster on the offensive boards and is getting his that way, even with every rebound becoming an absolute battle.
-You know how some things look really weird at first, but over time they become completely normal and you can’t even remember how it looked before, like with Kobe wearing 24? Kenyon Martin’s “lips” tattoo is not one of those things.
-Someone tell J.R. Smith that nothing good happens when he puts the ball on the floor.
-Kobe on Billups: an absolutely amazing decision. He’s not going to beat you with his speed, so there’s no reason not to put a bigger guy on him if he can stay out of foul trouble.
-Kobe’s getting his, but he’s working for them. Then again, maybe the most amazing thing about Kobe is how you can watch him and think he doesn’t have it that night, then you look up and he’s already got 28.
-Every time the Nuggets threaten to pull away in the fourth, the Nuggets come up with an empty possession or Kobe wills in a basket. Denver fans must have their hearts in their throat.
-And then, the stretch. Everything Denver has to do to win this series and was doing for the first 3.75 quarters of the game completely breaks down for them when it matters most.
Kobe, who’s been made to work, sticks a jumper and finds a wide-open Derek Fisher for a three. 5-0 Laker run, 1-point Laker lead.
Carmelo commits the charge, his lone moment of humanity in an absolutely amazing game.
After Chauncey drills a huge three and Gasol clanks two free throws, the Nuggets fail to grab the offensive rebound and give up two more Gasol free throws, which he makes.
In a tie game with a minute left, the Birdman ends up taking the shot, and Odom forces a tie-up on the loose ball and wins an absolutely massive jump-ball.
Kobe misses the jumper-if the Nuggets grab the ball, they have the chance to get a possession off and give the Lakers 12 seconds to either win or tie. But with Martin boxing his man out 10 feet away instead of going for the board, Billups has to try and leap over Gasol for the rebound and tips the ball out of bounds.
On the second-chance, Martin gives a stupid reach-in foul to put Kobe on the line. You hate to see the refs decide things in such a crucial moment, but K-Mart had his hand in the cookie jar.
Anthony Carter throws away the inbounds pass, and then tries to make up for it by trying to pick Kobe off the dribble. Kobe blows by him, gets hammered, and drills two more free throws to put the Lakers up 4 and 2 more after a Billups three to ice it, and grabs the game-ending rebound. Free throws and rebounds aren’t the most spectacular way to close out a game, but Mamba certainly got it done.
The Nuggets definitely showed they were game, but with Phil’s track record after winning the first game and the feeling the Lakers absorbed the Nuggets’ best shot and got the win, this looks like a very bad omen for Denver. But if there’s anything we’ve learned from these playoffs, especially when the Lakers are involved, it’s not to look too deeply into one game. A lot of pressure is on Denver, but this series has all the makings of a classic based on how these teams bring out the best in each other.