Lakers/Nuggets Game 5 Live Blog
But which Lakers team will show up in Game 6?
A funny thing happened on the way to Kobe v. LeBron– we’ll be lucky if one of them is still playing in June.
Lakersland has to be beside themselves. The Western Conference playoffs was supposed to be a tune-up for the Funals, and look what’s happened. By letting the Rockets extend them to seven games, fatigue has become the Lakers’ enemy. Especially when you look at all the minutes logged by Kobe and Pau Gasol, and the leg- wearying accumulation of 11 playoff games, 82 regular season games, and the Beijing Olympics. I never saw Kobe look so whipped as he did at the end of Game 3. By the fourth quarter of Game 4, the entire team looked gassed – and banged up. Trevor Ariza (hip) Lamar Odom (back) and Andrew Bynum (knee) are playing through pain of varying degrees. Then there’s Sasha Vujacic (3ppg, 27% shooting) , who’s been playing through a different kind of pain: the head-case kind.
The Lakers may not be as good as we thought they were, but so far in these playoffs, they’ve won when they had to. If the pattern holds, they should come out with a rousing, gut-check performance that puts the Nuggets on the rink of elimination. A loss tonight would be unthhinkable. Or would it? This squad is young. To get some perspective on how young, consider this: on the last 20 NBA champions, there’ve only been four starters as young as 23. Two of those guys were Kobe and Tim Duncan.
Tonight, the Lakers will start Ariza (23) and Bynum (21).
5:45pm Not much action pre-game, with players largely absent. In the Denver locker room, K-Mart and Anthony Carter rock out on headphones, while Chauncey Billups politely declines to talk before the game. That leaves the coaches.
Phil JAckson expresses unhappiness with the $25K fine leveled on him by the league after his post-Game 4 vent, and says he tried to soft-pedal it. “There’s w hole litany of things I could’ve talked about,” he says. Asked if a $25K fine should upset a man making $11M a year, Jackson demurs. “I’d feel the same if it was $10,” he says. “Parking tickets still bother me,” he says, thoyugh when asked if he even gets parking tickets, he shakes his head. “My kids do. I refuse to pay their tickets.”
I ask Phil about the Nuggets’ physical play, and he says “We have to go get the ball. This is not about retribution, but being the aggresor.”
George Karl, meanwhile, asks rhetorically, “When did WE beome the Bad Boys? WE are aggressive – but we’re not playing to intimidate. We’re not, as Phil said, unsportsmanlike.”
Karl calls this “more than a just-win game, but not a must-win game.” He professes not to understand the maddening bi-polar- like play of J.R. Smith. “We’re patient with him cause he’s been good for us in the fourth quarter.”
During the National Anthem, Transformers star Tyrese Gibosn changes the lyric to “gave proof through the night that the LAKERS were there.”
With that – it’s game time. Live updates to follow, so check back.
Denver off to 10-4 lead. Crowd anxious. The penetration’s been a bit too easy. And what’s Kenyon Martin doinghitting a bomb from the corner?
Nasty steal by Jones, taking the ball right off the Mamba.
Melo still can’t find his groove. First time out @7:12 , Lakers leading 11-6. The Nuggets have come out aggresive; the Lakers look a bit out of sync.
Most authoritative Bynum move in a yearbangs Nene down, pumps fakes, and in for the slam – gives L.A. its first lead.
Fish also moving better than he has, curls around a Bynum screen and drops in a J. 14-11 and the Lakers are warming up.
Ariza jumper right off the backboard into the waiting hands of Gasol. You couldn’t draw that up better.
With his shot not dropping, Melo is hitting the lane., to good effect. But the Lakers look much more aggressive tonight, crashing the offensive glass with Rodma-like ferocity. Most encouraging sign: Odom taking it to the rack.
The Birdman snuffs out Lakers’ hopes of gaining end-of-quarter momentum by rejecting Odom’s dunk, then swaggering back to the bench with a gleeful smile.
25-25 after a quarter. Symbolic of just how evenly matched these teams appear to be.
A great play by Sasha to pass up a 3 and find Odom down low for what turns into a 3-point play. Just the kind of play to spark the Machine – exept on the next trip down, he misses w die-open J. As does Farmar on the next possession. Can’t anyone here shoot?
Kobe throws beautiful cross-court pass to Bynum, but he blows the layup. Got to make those, Drew. But Bynum redems himself on the next possession.
36-35 Lakers, 5:54 to go. Neither team able to estasblish dominance. Kobe’s been more than quiet, but Odom and Fish are active and moving well.
Bynum having his best first half of the series. But he can’t stop Melo’s penetration after Ariza loses him. 40-40.
Chants of “DUI” with Melo at the fre-throw line. Fortunately, they;re very high up.
Just like that, Kobe starting to make his presence felt. 5 quick points, 3 comking on an MJ-like floater and foul.
Anthony Carter left wide open in corner for a three. Defense is not the prioritytonight; the Lakers seem content to battle the Nuggets in a shootout.
Yet another careless inbounds, this time from JR Smth. Gives Kobe time to hold for the last shot of the half, and I mean – hold it. Stands near center court for 10p seconds, then drives and finds Sasha in the corner. It’s possible Sasha’s psychological well-being rests on making this shot. Bang! He does, and we go into the half the same way we went out at the quarter– tied. Since the Nuggets shot out to that early 6-point lead, no one’s been ahead by more than 3. Good basketball, ragged in spots, but clean and so far, at least, lacking the chippiness and hard fouls of the games in Denver.
Halftime stats: The Lkers owned the paint, outscoring Denver 32-22. Denver went to the free throw line 18 times; the Lakers 16. Only a 1-point differential in 2nd chance points.
Ariza pulls a Kobe, drawing a foul on a pump-fake thre-point prayer.
7:25 to go, a bravura drive by Melo and foul gives Nuggets their largest lead of the game.
Having some Internet probloems here, due to my spot in a new press box sandwiched upstairs, just below the top deck, and apparently, in a no-man’s Wi-Fi land. Lost a bunch of third quarter postings, but we;re past that now. Lamar Odom just hit a thunderous left-handed jam off a silky Bryant feed, and the Nuggets are starting to become unglued. Birdman Anderson screamed that Odom pushed him. ThenNene picks up a T.
Pressure defense and opportunistic shoting have Lakers up 9 with 8:40 to go, Stuning turnaround – Lakers on a 23-5 run as Brown beats the shot clock. Absolute bedlam here.
Kiss Cam moment of the night: Hugh Hefner canoodling with two bodacious blondes.
Lakers shooting is up to 51%, while the Nuggets are down at 40. An 11-0 run to open the quarter, with the Nuggets held scoreless for over four minutes, has probably sealed this game.
Odom and Brown are a combined +35 for the Lakers. On the other side, the Birdman is -15.
Did I sy something about the game being sealed? Just trying to get a rise out of the Laker haters. The Nuggets gt it down to 4, but Nene can’t handle Gasol’s quickness in the post, and fouls out, much to fans’ delight.
Odom with a great block on K-Mart. Typifies the kind of swarming D the Lakers can play when they want to. Tonight, that moment cane midway third quarter, when the Nuggets seemingly could not get open looks and had every drive contested. Lakers doing what they were supposed to do, 96-89 lead, 2:24 to go. See you post-game.
As playoffs advance into deeper rounds, the intimacy of the locker-room interview is lost. Coaches and players are trotted out into a large press room where all questions are communal, and reporters compete for microphone time. Chances are you’ve seen some of these comments on ESPN or have already read them somewhere else, but if you haven’t, here’s a little recap.
(Some of you may have also noticed the site looked weird all evening. I was unable to log on from Staples and was thus unable to see how the live updating looked as I posted it. Plus a lot of my posts got lost. (Not that anyone noticed). For anyone who didn’t get the full SLAM experience on this one - apologies for the technical glitches, though I had nothing to do with them. Seriously.)
Phil Jackson is first up. “Even though we made mistakes, both offensively and defensively, our young players continued to work at it,” he says. Asked about the 11 straight points to open the fourth, Jackson confessed to being “amazed” by some of the defensive stops. “This Lakers group is really connected,” he said. “They’re driven and they’re motivated to get to where we were last year to give us a chance to win.”
He revealed that the game plan was to have Kobe be the facilitator from the opening tip, generating double teams and looking for screen-and-rolls with Gasol. After Game 4, Gasol had complained publicly about not getting enough touches, and Jackson admitted that he berated the team in the third quarter for not going inside to Pau.
As for Gasol, who only had 8 shots for the evening, he was happy to see Bynum more active in the post early on, and said that Kobe should be facilitating every night. “Denver is a team that loads up on the strong side,” he said. “If they trap me in the post, all we have to do is move the ball and swing it.”
“One of our best games of the year,” Lamar Odom calls it. And one of Lamar’s as well, tying a career high with 4 blocked shots, and being the Lakers’ difference-maker in the paint. “I was just trying to make moves, get two hands on the ball, and play a complete game,” he says afterwards. Speaking about the pivotal 23-5 run that bridged the end of the third quarter into the fourth, he said: “We kept them off the fast break and the free-throw line in the fourth quarter.”
Finally, there was Kobe. “We stretched the floor out and made them commit defensively,” he said. He conceded that the Nuggets are “unlike any team we’ve seen, with lots of scorers plus an inside presence.” He shook his head impatiently when someone asked if he was concerned about logging another 44 minutes tonight: “I can get plenty of rest on a beach in Cabo.” The resolved look on his face suggested he wasn’t planning on taking that vacation any time soon.
Most of us wanted to know how the Lakers could carry the intensity with which they took over Game 5 into Game 6. “We have to be cold-blooded, and we have to execute,” said Bryant.
On the Denver side, a dejected George Karl lamented the foul calls on his big guys and declared that “I’m not going to get fined; Phil is so much better at this than I am.”
But he admitted they didn’t play well enough to win on the road, took pains to point out that he didn’t want to blame the loss on bad calls. ”This is too good of a series. It’s too good of teams competing that we’re sitting here just confused by the whistle.” He o vowed to be back here for Game 7. “I like my team,” he said plaintively. It was hard not to feel sorry for the guy. He wears his heart on his sleeve andcomes across as a regular Everyman.
The final interview is Carmelo. “The games that we’ve lost, they had an advantage on the inside,” he said. “The games that we’ve won, we had an advantage. We had to go to a smaller lineup tonight and they kept their big lineup on the court. That kind of hurt us a little bit. We’ve got to do a better job of keeping our big men out of foul trouble.”
Melo said the Lakers throwing 2-3 guys at him was “a sign of respect, the Lakers ain’t gonna let me beat them.” Like his coach, he projected a cool confidence that the Nuggets would take the next two games. “We’re excited about this,” he said. ” We got a chance to win at home and see what happens in Game 7.”