Lakers/Nuggets Game 3 Recap
Under pressure like fat bitc…
by Myles Brown
Now certainly isn’t the time for ‘I told you so’, this series is far from over. However it is an opportune moment to tell you what I was talking about.
R.P. McMurphy was a wild man, he questioned authority and made his own rules. He was bold, clever and charismatic. People were naturally drawn to his personality and in many ways he was a born leader. But those same traits were his undoing. Instead of maintaining control during a chaotic moment and seizing an opportunity to escape towards greener pastures, his emotions ruled over any sensibilities and they cost him his life.
The Nuggets postseason play prior to this series was undeniably captivating, however the question surrounding this team was never one of talent, but maturity. Moments of tension or despair are always when our mental and emotional faculties are tested most and by relative postseason standards, Denver had yet to play any close or particularly meaningful games. Letting Game 1 slip through their fingers was understandably overlooked, as they’d proven themselves a serious threat and they proceeded to take away L.A’s home court advantage in Game 2.
Which is why winning Game 3 was a opportunity to cast aside any questions of their character and seize control of this series. Supported by a raucous home crowd, the Nuggets got off to a quick start, exploiting poor defensive rotations for quick fouls and easy buckets. Several times it appeared that the Lakers were yet again on the brink of collapse, missing free throws, arguing amongst themselves and failing to establish any rhythm. Yet time and again, Denver failed to build on any momentum and seemed nothing less than determined to undermine their own efforts.
The mental and emotional edge lost through a series of technical fouls immediately following big buckets was something in itself, but it was their shot happy nature that truly undid any previous efforts. Though there were few turnovers for such a high scoring game (11), by continually looking for back breaking three pointers instead of moving the ball properly and valuing possessions the Nuggets allowed L.A to hang around. Every miss that contributed to a paltry 39.3% from the field may as well be considered a turnover when considering they only grabbed 11 offensive rebounds. On a night where all of their stars struggled from the field, it was in their best interest to play with execution in mind rather than emotion. They didn’t.
And yes, it was deja vu all over again as Kenyon Martin committed the lone statistical turnover of the fourth quarter, but it wasn’t exactly the same. Like many foolhardy ‘analysts’ I too made a knee jerk reaction and questioned such decision making, but a second look and a bit of recollection put things back in perspective. The error in the Game 1 throwaway was having Anthony Carter-their smallest player-try to inbound the ball over the outstretched arms of 6’10 Lamar Odom. Carter’s view was blocked, the clock was ticking and instead of calling a timeout he made a bad play. No excuses all around.
But despite any claims to the contrary, Martin inbounding the ball was not a particularly poor decision. Earlier in this same game he showcased his passing ability with a deft no-look, behind the back bounce pass to a cutting Birdman for a crowd pleasing dunk. It was a pass that required an awareness of timing, spacing and positioning in addition to the requisite touch to actually put the ball in his teammates hands. There were certainly better passers available in Chauncey and Melo, but their scoring was needed more in this instance. So with 6’10 Lamar Odom looming on the sidelines again, George Karl adjusted with a larger player capable of making play, Martin just threw a poor pass. So hats off to Odom and Ariza for forcing another lob and playing the passing lanes with their length and tenacity.
Karl refers to this unit as a team of redemption, but again the very things they seek to redeem themselves for have been their undoing. This is a collection of controversial personalities who seem to thrive off of a reckless and emotional brand of basketball. Since it is their driving force, it’s difficult-if not impossible-to corral that energy during moments that require poise or patience, especially in such foreign and hostile as the Western Conference Finals. Carmelo Anthony is a remarkable talent and continues to grow into a leadership role, but there are still plenty of lessons for him to learn. Chauncey Billups on the other hand, has proven himself through a decade of postseason play and is the polar opposite of his predecessor which has clearly improved this team, but in Detroit he was part of a patchwork of similarly composed teammates (aside from one Rasheed Wallace). In Denver, he’s simply the sanest man in the room. And no one personifies the potential and pitfalls of the Nuggets more than J.R. Smith. When they’re hot, they’re hot and that emotion can push them to unimaginable heights. When they’re not, they’re not and well….watch out. No amount of Zen mysticism can ever calm this crew, it’s something they’ll have to achieve on their own.
Conversely, Phil Jackson’s mindset and mannerisms may have had an adverse effect on his roster over the years. He’s always shied away from coaching a young roster in favor of veterans who have a focus and desire to endure the road to a championship. His hands off coaching style along with the decadence and prestige L.A and their ballclub bring may be the root of the corrosive complacency that the youngsters have often displayed. But perhaps that risk was taken with a greater good in mind, specifically the travails of a high stakes game such as this one. Again, they were on the brink of collapse, missing free throws, arguing amongst themselves and failing to establish a rhythm. But they persevered where Denver didn’t and Jackson’s ability to instill a focus on execution rather than the intensity of their emotions may have been the difference.
Well, there was one other difference.
I won’t waste this space regaling us all with another tale of Kobe Bryant’s brilliance, because it’s nothing new at this point. And I suppose that is the point. My ace boon cracker, @russbengtson tweeted a number I was completely unaware of; Michael Jordan played 179 career playoff games, Kobe Bryant just played his 176th. For all the clamor surrounding the Great Debate, this is an intangible that favors Bryant. There is a mentality to be honed about momentum, specific game situations and leadership that can only be gained through experience. That experience bolsters the belief requisite of a great player based on the fact that they’ve seen and done it all before. It enables them to consider the magnitude of the moment without being crushed by it. Experience is the solution that grafts an iron will.
This Memorial Day another moment will be upon us. Will Denver implode? Can L.A finish them off? Emotions will be running high, we’ll see how both teams respond to them.