Lakers/Nuggets Game 6 Recap
The Lakers ARE the better TEAM
Let’s get to the fourth quarter of Game 7, already!
These were the sentiments that many around the Mile High City of Denver (myself completely included) felt as the Denver Nuggets walked off the Staples Center court this past Wednesday night. The team, losers of that Game 5, had played admirably in every game of the series (and postseason for that matter) and now faced an elimination game, down 3-2 in the series. Denver’s first of its kind since Game 4 of last year’s first-round series against the very same Los Angeles Laker side they have faced in this year’s Western Conference Final.
Much has changed in the Nuggets locker room since that early-exit of a year ago. The broken record of the “Chauncey effect” bears repeating as rarely has one single individual had such a comprehensively positive effect on a team, in any sport, as Billups has for his hometown cagers. That underacheiving-Nugget team of a year ago was suddenly on the foot-step of the franchise’s first-ever NBA Finals appearance.
“It’s been a pretty darn good series,” pondered Nuggets’ Head Coach George Karl about an hour before Game 6’s tip.
A series, to this point, that has been highlighted by close, hard-fought, 4th-quarter decided contests, chocked full of masterful on-court performances by Kobe Bryant, Carmelo Anthony and when given the ball, Pau Gasol.
With luminous, sunrise-bright light, however, follows eventual darkness and clouds have been omnipresent through out, as well: major officiating debates, hoards of technical fouls and general team-to-team distain. If you like high-end basketball partnered with drama of equivalent value, this has been the NBA’s best postseason series this side of Chicago v. Boston.
Tonight, that cloud hanging over Colorado’s capital was not in dispute, rather a blowout. For the majority of the 20,053 in attendance, the home team reverted to their undisciplined former selves; firmly trounced on their home court, losing 119-92. The Lakers played a majestic combination of a stifling brand of defense and sublime offense to take advantage of a seemingly lost Nugget team and clinch a spot in the Finals.
Bryant was arguably at his best of this postseason in an almost flawless 35 point, 10 assist, 6 rebound performance while Gasol was at his efficiently brilliant peak, going for 20 points and 12 boards (6 assists?) on 8-12 shooting. As a team, the Lakers were astonishing, hitting 57% from the field, 56% from 3 and were a perfect 24-24 from the free-throw line.
Denver was led by Anthony’s 25 and JR Smith’s 24, but as a whole, the team struggled to find any consistent offensive flow for most of the night. The game’s first half was an equally sloppy, choppy affair which saw neither team assert control until the Lakers took advantage of the Nuggets’ poor shooting and surprisingly brittle defensive resistance. Timely long-range Laker shooting and a trademarked-Kobe explosion helped the visitors finished the half on a 21-7 run to grab a commanding 53-40 advantage.
Going almost five minutes without a point in the second, the Nuggets were exclusively powered by the tandem of Anthony and JR Smith, who combined to score each Nugget 2nd quarter point (a combined 13) before Billups hit two free throws with under three minutes to play in the half.
In addition to the patient and utterly effective play of Bryant, the Lakers got great first-half production from Trevor Ariza, who finished the first 24 minutes with 13 on 3-4 shooting from behind the arc.
As things lay right now, the Lakers just might have asserted themselves as the class of American professional basketball. The league and David Stern has just what they wanted from those in the west. Kobe is in, as the Nuggets got a tough, but necessary schooling by a more seasoned and battle-tested Laker team. With the Nuggets’ combination of experience and youth in the fold for the foreseeable future, this might not be the last time we see these two squaring off in late May.
As Kobe put it neither before the series nor during, but after it was decided, “This Denver Nuggets team is a problem.”