Lakers/Nuggets Game 4 Recap
Are the Lakers the superior TEAM here or not?
The first three games of the Los Angeles Lakers and Denver Nuggets Western Conference Finals series have all been exciting, high energy; closely contested games that have all been decided during each game’s final minute. Simply put, one team’s late-game ability to execute on offense and get stops on defense has been the key. In what appears to be a series that might go the distance, the fact that the Lakers had a 2-1 advantage does not necessarily paint a picture of a unit that has been the better team.
In both of their wins in the series, LA has been largely outplayed but able to procure a victory with key steals by Trevor Ariza and clutch shooting by Kobe Bryant. Much of the same could be said about Denver’s Game 2 victory at Staples Center last Thursday, a game in which the victor held little of neither the game’s momentum nor its scoreboard advantage until the final ticks.
So could someone build a lead, endure its opponent’s inevitable runs and hold on for victory?
Or would it just behoove a team to tank early in hopes of coming on late for the win?
While no sane individual would base their strategy on a loser’s philosophy, it would be tough to ignore the paths followed by the past three games. Aside from the last 24 minutes of Game 3, Denver’s Carmelo Anthony has been as fabulous as his Olympic compatriot on the other side of the court. Sustained excellence by either team’s superstars was sure to be integral as the Lakers looked to take a commanding 3-1 lead while the home Nuggets hoped to head back to Tinsletown with a knotted-up series.
But on this night, it wasn’t the play of Kobe or Melo, rather the performances of each star’s supporting casts.
Melo’s was great, Kobe’s was grossly outplayed.
Melo’s scored in crunch time and did the dirty work; Kobe’s made Laker fans say dirty words.
The Denver bench outscored their Laker counterpart to the tune of 42-24, and the Nuggets blew open an early fourth quarter lead to win going away, 120-101. Seven Nugget players finished in double figures (paced by Billup and Smith, each with 24) an amazing fact which helped make up for both the ailing ankle and stomach of Anthony.
In what must be a tiresome refrain for Laker faithful, not much was produced outside of #24 and his bigman, Pau Gasol. The spindly Spaniard played another splendid game in the paint, getting 21 and 10, but his touches were far too rare for the production needed. Gasol was without much assistance under the boards as his team was brutalized on the boards, giving up 20 offensive rebounds to the Nuggets and once again, little more than a whimper was put up by the Lamar Odom/Andrew Bynum combo.
As Kobe put it, they got “whooped.”
Just as in Game 3, the home team jumped out to an early lead and held an advantage for the entire first half. While the home star-tandem of Anthony and Chauncey Billups were neutralized with the former suffering from a bum ankle and a 1-11 shooting half, it was the Denver bench that provided the lift. JR Smith and Chris Anderson played their usual brilliant selves at home with Smith electrifying the raucous crowd with both feats of individual scoring and deft playmaking.
Despite owning as much as a 15-point lead during the second quarter, the Nuggets were only able to go into half, up seven. Kobe was the biggest culprit of spoiling a Pepsi Center first-half blowout, scoring 19 first-half points.
Bryant continued his sublime play in the second half, as his 34 points gave him a combined total record for the first four games of a conference final series, but alas, basketball is a team sport.
And as this series rolls on and with Denver controlling the bulk of the action, a couple questions beg answering, regarding whether or not the Lakers are actually the better TEAM in this series.
Can LA overcome its massive over-reliance on Kobe and get the two wins needed to advance to their second straight NBA Finals?
Or is the better-rounded team from Denver poised to rewrite franchise history and make their first ever NBA Finals appearance?
If the Lakers can’t find a way to be little more than just Kobe, you’d have to side with the latter.