Denver will face their first elimination game Friday
Nuggets Nation, you can all sit back, relax, and take a deep breath ... because I was wrong! You never want a guy who tried to correlate the similarities between his school test scores and his favorite baseball players' batting averages telling you what is what.
(A 34% ... well gee if I was Todd Helton and hit .340 I'd be an all-star!)
I said that Denver would win this series in 6 games and that can't happen now. However, Denver can still win this series and will get another shot at the Lakers Friday night (May 29th.)
A lot of the talk before Game 5 centered around Kobe Bryant. Local talk radio in Denver said they could see Kobe trying to go for 45+ in last night's game. The Nuggets had been doing a good job of making their playoff series ... Chris Paul vs. the Nuggets, Dirk Nowitzki vs. the Nuggets, and Kobe Bryant vs. the Nuggets.
But if you watch the Lakers ... they are at their best when Kobe is acting as a facilitator and not trying to carry the team. It's been a role that has taken him some getting used to, but when he trusts his teammates and they play how they are capable then the Lakers are very tough to beat.
Tonight Denver played Kobe like he was going to try to beat them himself ... in a way he did. Denver looked to double Kobe quite a bit and to double the ball quite a bit and the Lakers made Denver pay for that strategy.
The Lakers racked up 25 team assists and Kobe turned in a series high with 8 assists himself. He did a great job of passing the ball out of the double team all night and of passing up shots to get the ball to teammates open in the paint.
In an email exchange earlier in the game-day I said that if Kobe went for 22 points that Denver would be in great shape. I said this thinking that if Kobe only got 22 points that it would mean he was missing a lot of shots. Well, Kobe did only score 22 points (his series low), but he did so on 6-13 shooting. Those 13 shots were also a series low for Kobe as he averaged 20+ shot attempts in the first four games of the series.
I thought Kobe played a very smart game by getting his teammates involved and letting them win the game for the Lakers in the box score. Kobe's unselfishness on the offensive end won this game for the Lakers ... he created opportunities for guys to get into the paint and even got himself into the lane throughout the game.
On the flip side ... the Nuggets played more of a selfish brand of basketball as they only collected 17 total team assists with no player recording over 5 (Billups.) The Nuggets will often get themselves into trouble on the road by turning into a jump shooting team and tonight was no different.
For more on the Nuggets woes, follow the jump ...
Denver had another miserable shooting game going 38.6% from the field, including 7-24 from three-point land (29.2%.) The Nuggets had some open looks and took some contested outside shots, but they need to realize that getting to the paint is how they find success.
The Lakers showed it tonight and the Nuggets did it in Game 4. Being aggressive does so many things for your team. It'll usually get you more foul calls and it'll open up your outside shooting. Shooting from deep rarely leads to things opening up on the inside.
Crucial Stretches in Game 5:
- In the 2nd Quarter the Nuggets' Anthony Carter hit a three in the corner to give Denver a 54-49 lead with just 1:00 minute left in the half. Instead of going into the half with a 3 or 5 point lead, the Nuggets surrendered a layup to Pau Gasol, (Nene) committed an offensive foul, gave up an offensive rebound and put back lay in, turned the ball over instead of getting the last shot (on another bad inbounds play), and gave up a three-pointer to a wide open The Machine. Just like that L.A. goes on a 1:00 minute 7-2 scoring run and we have a tied game at the half 56-56. OUCH!
- In the 3rd Quarter Dahntay Jones missed his second free throw attempt (made the first) and Birdman gobbled up the offensive rebound ... dished it to Melo where he made the shot and drew a foul ... Melo completed the And-1 play to give Denver a 71-64 lead and what looked like a bit of control in a game that had been even all night ...
But that's when the wheels fell off. The Lakers went on a 23-7 run and were up 87-78 with 7:52 left in the game after Melo's free throws provided Denver's first points of the fourth quarter. The Nugget offense seemed rattled and refused to take the ball strong to the rack.
- Linas Kleiza though (in the fourth quarter), went on a one-man mission (typically reserved for J.R. Smith) scoring Denver's next seven points (after being down 87-78) with fearless shooting and drives. It was nice to see that LK had some confidence going and he helped the Nuggets cut the Laker lead to 4 points at 91-87.
The Nuggets would never get closer as L.A. closed the game on a 12-7 run.
- With things knotted up at 76-76 heading into the final 12 minutes the Nuggets needed an early spark. They had none. During Denver's 4+ minute scoring drought to start the final period ... the Lakers had 5 guys score the ball and ran up an 11 point lead. You just knew that which ever team got that early 4th Quarter spark would win the game and once again it was the Lakers winning the final period and the game.
Each team that has won the fourth quarter has won the game. L.A. won the fourth 27-18 and now has the upperhand heading into Game 6. This series has been a see-saw battle and Denver will have a chance to push this thing to the limit.
It'll be very interesting to see how Denver is able to respond in Game 6 ... the crowd will be ready and Carmelo Anthony sounded confident in his post-game interview.
Is NBA officiating good? No. Is it deciding games? No.
In the game thread and in George Karl's post-game interviews there was a lot of talk about the officiating. Carmelo Anthony said it best in his interview stating that, the Nuggets can't worry about the calls that happen. Nothing is going to change what happened and you must focus on the road ahead.
Going into the 4th Quarter the personal fouls sat at 19 for Denver and 18 for the Lakers. Denver was whistled for 11 fouls in the final period and the Lakers were whistled for 4 bringing the totals to 30 for Denver and 22 for the Lakers.
Los Angeles finished the game just +3 in makes at the foul line (25-36 for L.A. compared to 23-30 for Denver.)
The bottom line is that the refs did not cost Denver the game. Did L.A. get away with some physical play in the paint? You bet. Did Denver get away with some physical play in the paint? You bet.
The Nuggets should not have taken so many long shots and gone away from aggressively attacking the rim. Too often did I see Nuggets go into the paint and not attack the rim. You are never going to get calls when you double-clutch or turn down a dunk for a lay in attempt. There is a difference between getting into the paint and attacking the rim and Denver must get back to knowing that difference in Game 6 at The Can.
You want more calls? Go get them. Attack the rim and force your opponent to foul the crap out of you. We saw Trevor Ariza make a beautiful dunk in this series and when he went for another one a few minutes later KMart put him on his backside with a hard foul. Denver understood this in Game 4 and attacked the rim relentlessly. In Game 5 Denver went away from really attacking the rim. Had Denver used the same strategy as they did in Game 4 ... they would have won the free throw battle and probably had a chance to win the game as well.