Thursday, May 21, 2009

Lakers-Nuggets: Lakers led by Kobe comeback to beat Nuggets 105-103

The Lakers got off to another sluggish start, clearly functioning on tired legs against the well rested Nuggets. Denver came out on fire and almost knocked down every shot that the team put up.

Carmelo Anthony was held to 14 points per game against the Lakers all season. He sought to break out of his scoring slump against L.A. and the Nuggets followed the hot hand. Anthony had 39 points in the game; 16 points came in the first quarter.

This helped Denver take a double digit lead; the Lakers were able to cut the lead down to eight by the end of the quarter. The score at the end of the first quarter was 31-23 Denver.

The second quarter appeared to mirror the first quarter in terms of scoring, but the difference was that the momentum had shifted into the Lakers favor.

Los Angeles outscored Denver 32-23 in the quarter, capped off by a play where Kobe drove to the basket and drew two defenders and passed to Derek Fisher for a 25-foot three-point basket to give the Lakers a slim 55-54 lead at halftime.

You could sense in the second quarter that this would be an epic playoff battle that would go down to the wire. The third quarter didn’t disappoint as Denver continued to play well and knockdown shots led by Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups.

This was a match up where we saw both teams continue to fight. The Lakers used an 11-2 scoring run to take a four point lead only to see that lead vanish; the score at the end of the third quarter was 76-74 Denver.

The Nuggets maintained their lead in the fourth quarter increased said lead to as many as six points. Kobe Bryant kept the Lakers close; he finished the game with 40 points which included him dropping 18 points on Denver in the fourth quarter. Whenever Los Angeles needed a basket Kobe Bryant was the one that provided it.

The Lakers continued to chip away at the Nuggets lead and eventually took the lead on a timely Derek Fisher three point play after Kobe attacked the painted area and drew a double-team making the score 97-96.

Nuggets power forward Kenyon Martin then made the first of his two ridiculous fouls late in the quarter sending Pau Gasol to the free throw line. Denver escaped that blunder as Gasol missed both free throws.

Chauncey Billups knocked down a 27-foot three pointer to give Denver a 99-97 lead. Gasol was fouled again and given the opportunity to redeem himself at the line and this time he made both free throws to knot the score at 99-all.

There were 30 seconds on the clock and the game was on the line; Kobe made the correct decision when he decided to attack the basket. He was fouled by Kenyon Martin and calmly knocked down both free throws 101-99 Lakers.

An interesting coaching move was made by both coaches that would seal the fate of both teams. Nuggets coach George Karl made the decision to insert Anthony Carter into the game for J.R. Smith. Lakers coach Phil Jackson replaced Luke Walton with Trevor Ariza.

On the in bounds play; the 6’2” Anthony Carter attempted to lob a pass over the 6’10” Lamar Odom, Trevor Ariza who was out of the vision of Chauncey Billups, read the play shot the gap and made arguably his biggest play as a Laker stealing the ball.

He got the ball to Kobe Bryant who was fouled and sent to the free throw line where he knocked down both shots again 103-99 Lakers. On the very next play Chauncey Billups knocked down a controversial 23-foot three pointer to cut the lead to one.

It was controversial due to the fact that the replay showed that his right foot was on the line as he jab-stepped to shake free of Ariza’s defense. Kobe Bryant was fouled on the next possession and calmly knocked down another pair of free throws to secure the win for Los Angeles 105-103.

The Lakers used energy, guts and experience to come from 13 points down and literally stole this game from the Nuggets who played well enough to win. The Nuggets lead the majority of the game and their frontline destroyed the Lakers scoring 68 points.

The problem was that Denver missed 12 free throws, didn’t get the defensive stops they needed and made some bad decisions at the end of the game. Carmelo Anthony & Chauncey Billups were nothing short of spectacular and the Nuggets wasted an excellent performance by the duo.

This was an epic battle of basketball played at its highest level. Kobe refused to lose this game as evidenced by his 40 points but a point made clearer by the six clutch free throws down the stretch.

Kobe Bryant was able to will his team to victory in game one but he will need help from his teammates who were wildly inconsistent to win the series. I could say the same thing for Carmelo Anthony.

It will be difficult for the Nuggets to recover from the loss mentally but they’ve no choice but to forget about it Game Two will be on Thursday 5/21/09 at 6:00 pm PST.

Photo Credit: Robert Gauthier & Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times

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