Lakers/Nuggets Game 2 Recap
Denver takes home court advantage with a win in L.A.
by John Krolik
Not a whole lot of players talking, but the Nuggets’ locker room is noticeable for the tags above the players’ lockers- “Rookie #13,” “Tay #30,” “JR Swish #1,” “Suite 200 #43″ (Easily the most enigmatic locker tag; later we learn that this is the name of a Denver nightclub, which Kleiza frequents.) “Infamous #45,” “Birdmann #11.” Definitely reinforces the “Why not us?” feeling of this Nuggets team.
In the media room, while making rounds and grabbing dinner, Shane McMahon and John Cena randomly show up, with Cena in a Kobe Bryant jersey. This is just plain fascinating to me for a number of reasons:
-I did, in fact, love professional wrestling as a kid and continue to have a passing fascination with it now. -Any time the WWE just shows up randomly at a legitimate sporting event IN THE MEDIA ROOM and try to make themselves into a story, it’s interesting to me.
-I remember Shane McMahon as the brat kid of the WWE who would get fed as a heel to bigger wrestlers and occasionally perform ridiculous stunts. Say what you will about being born into money, most heirs never have to jump off of a jumbotron. Now he’s a 39-year old man in the media room.
-I deal with NBA players on a fairly regular basis. They are absolutely gigantic. John Cena is different. He looks like a cartoon character. There’s no other way to put it. He’s just a completely different sort of human being.
-Eventually, with a “well, why not?” sort of energy, I decide to go up and ask John Cena some questions. I ask him about wearing a Laker jersey despite his Boston roots. (It’s embarrassing that I know this. Of this I am aware.) He responds that while he is from Boston and a big Celtics fan, the recent situation means you have to recognize the hospitality of the Staples Center and the city of Los Angeles. This is now three jersey’s he’s worn courtside this playoffs, Celtics, Magic, and Lakers. If I didn’t know better, I’d say he might be altering his actual opinions and feelings in order to better serve what the WWE wants.
Completely flustered, the best question I can come up with is which player from this series he’d be most afraid of in the ring. He says that while Gasol is a big guy, he has to go with Dwight Howard overall, he’s so big and an extremely imposing presence. Shane McMahon then comes over and tells me he saw me staring them down when they walked into the room. Getting caught staring by professional wrestlers in a media room is about as awkward of a social situation as I can imagine.
I am extremely disappointed in retrospect that this is the best I was able to do. In my defense, John Cena’s arms are literally the size of my head. Questions I should have asked: “Which player from this series would make the best heel?” (I’d be interested to see it between K-Mart and Vujacic. Although Kobe could definitely have a Chris Jericho-like career in his turns.) “A lot of fans believe the NBA is fixed by referees and the league. How would you respond to the rarer assertions that wrestling matches are affected by outside factors?”
In warmups, Kobe’s running simulated post-ups with Ariza. I think he knows he’s getting smaller guys on him in this game.
Dhantay “please stop saying I have any sort of prayer of guarding Kobe” Jones pick up 4 fouls in 6 minutes. That’s impressive.
LA has definitely come out hotter, but Denver is getting layups inside on the other end-10 points in the first 9 minutes from K-Mart is keeping them in the game.
23-16 LAL- Lakers have 3 offensive boards to 4 Denver defensive boards. That’s just not going to fly.
6:08 2nd quarter- 43-35 Lakers, LA wants to pull away, Denver looks dead and uninterested, but Carmelo is keeping Denver in it by hitting 4 straight jumpers. He seems to be the only person in the building who knows that LA is well on their way to putting themselves 2 games up in the conference finals-Denver is uninterested, LA is executing with little passion, and the building is…vaguely interested.
And Andrew Bynum catches Nene sleeping and gets a dunk on a Fisher 50-foot pass before the defense sets itself after an out-of-bounds play. Pathetic effort by Denver. 51-38 LAL.
And then, a run. As much as everyone would like to say this was LA checking out, sometimes a run is just a run, especially by a team as good as Denver. Kobe misses two fairly makeable shots. Good interior passing gets K-Mart a dunk. Denver hits two threes in rapid succession. Lamar makes a beautiful move and misses the layup. (This is also known as “pulling a Lamar.”) Chauncey and Lineas draw fouls and Shannon Brown gets enticed into taking a floater.
Then, with Denver down three and inbounding under LA’s basket, Chauncey Billups pulls the off-the-back play on Kobe to get the Layup, and Denver enters the locker room only down one. Your luck can change just that fast in the NBA. (Full disclosure-I was sitting next to Tom Friend, who wrote an outstanding piece on Chauncey that at one point vividly describes an off-the-back play he made in high school. It’s safe to say that nobody found this play cooler than Tom Friend. Fuller disclosure-Tom was getting a pretzel when the play happened in the game.)
Overheard walking the concourse during the half- “When did the whole team become Lamar Odom?” Lamar is absolutely my favorite Laker to watch and the best human being I’ve had the pleasure to meet in a locker room, but that was funny. If the Lakers lose this series, they might succumb to the pressure and let Odom walk. If that happens, championship runs over. Period.
Denver still hasn’t had a lead in this game, but ‘Melo hits a jumper to tie the score at 56. You could hear a pin drop in Staples.
Denver keeps getting it back to ties, but can’t seem to get a lead-then Trevor Ariza goes on a run. For reference, Trevor Ariza is an average three-point shooter and a great athlete. And you’re not going to believe this, but when he started driving to the basket past the rotating defender instead of settling for threes, really good things started happening. Massive slam, two free throws, and And-1. That’s 7 straight points for Trevor Ariza.
Denver could’ve let the game escape here, but they countered with the Birdman-Anderson changed Fisher’s layup and Denver got an ensuing fast-break layup for Kleiza, made a layup off a beautiful curl, and got a block on Fisher that led to a fast-break three for Chauncey. 7 straight points created by the birdman on one end of the floor or another.
Kobe responds with a dunk. The crowd’s awake now. Very much so.
Carmelo and Chauncey work the Nuggets back to a tie with free throws, and Kleiza, who has been massive, hits a three to finally get the Nuggets the lead with 11 minutes to go. Whoa boy.
With the Nuggets up 7 and threatening to pull away, Kobe and Shannon Brown get threes to cut it to one-the dreaded 6-point mini-run the Lakers were on the wrong side of in the 2nd quarter. Huge shots from the most and least likely candidates headed into the playoffs.
From this point, it more or less became a free-throw shooting contest, but a few notable plays:
After a massive Carmelo offensive board and layup to put the Nuggets up three, Kobe responds with a massive pull-up three over J.R. Smith. He’s good. Not sure if you’ve heard. Although I am protesting absolutely everything about that Vitamin Water campaign.
Chauncey draws contact and hits the free throws, Fisher misses a three, and J.R. “Nothing good ever, ever, happens when I put the ball on the floor, and why am I playing instead of Kleiza?” Smith puts the ball on the floor and flings the ball to Trevor Ariza. Kobe comes down, gets to his free-throw line extended happy spot, and drains the pull-up. Tie game. I find Gatorade delicious and hydrating, and the best way to get vitamins is Orange Juice.
I’m still not sure what happened on the next Denver possession. Chauncey drove the lane, went into a malestrom, didn’t get a whistle, flung the ball around his head or something to Nene, who was somehow at the top of the key, who somehow passed straight down to K-Mart, who corralled in some type of layup. Absolute chaos that ended with the ball in the basket.
Next LA possession-Kobe’s working a screen, Nene picks his pocket, loose-ball, Chauncey, Nene, and Gasol all dive on it, jump-ball gets called between Gasol and Billups, Gasol tips it, Ariza grabs it, something happens, ball squirts out, ball gets to Chauncey, 4-point game. Ridiculous. And jump-ball calls deciding two straight games! How about that?
Gasol hits two quick freebies, Chauncey SPLITS A PAIR, and Fisher, not Kobe, gets the final look at the three, but Nene makes a brilliant pop from Gasol (great defensive play #2 down the stretch from him), and contests the three. It has no chance. Game over. Wow. Nothing in the final minute remotely resembled a basketball play.
So, after three conference final games, the team with the first run loses, it comes down to the final possessions, and the best player on the floor loses. Amazing.
Kobe sums it up pretty nicely: a bounce of the ball here, a bounce of the ball there, and we could be up 2-0, or they could have won game 1.
On the last play: I always want the ball, I want the ball every play. (With humility, no apparent anger.)
Carmelo on if he was trying to galvanize his team in the 2nd quarter: “Yeah, I think coming down at the beginning of the game, we was trying to hard. We wasn’t even playing the way we know how to play. We haven’t played like that the whole playoffs. George took me out in that first quarter and gave me a chance to sit back and see what was going on out there and compose myself. And coming back into the game in the second quarter, I just wanted to take advantage, just try to get some momentum going, I started making some shots. And that big run we made in the second quarter, you know, it was crucial in our winning.”
So after two games, you’ve had two close finishes that went both ways, no clear better team after two games, the team winning at the beginning ultimately losing to late runs, and referee decisions that people are going to question. Wherever he was sitting, Shane McMahon must’ve been thinking he couldn’t have scripted it better himself if he tried.