Introducing Playoff JaVale.
I learned three things from tonight's game:
1. Pamela McGee would be the scariest mom ever.
3. This series is nowhere near over.
The Nuggets finally got their first lead of the series and never looked back.
It was great to see such an explosive first quarter when the Nuggets built a huge lead, spurred on by Ty Lawson's 13 points on a 21-2 run. He had another gear tonight and put the Nuggets on his back in the first half, leading all scorers with 18 of his 25 total points. I was so sick of watching Ty wait until later in the game to remember that this is his team, and that he needs to step up early. McGee had a - dare I say it - transcendent - basketball game alongside Kenneth Faried and Ty and showed a level of big man play perhaps not seen in the Mile High City since the era of Mutumbo. Ty was quieted in the second half, but the damage was done as the Nuggets bruised the Lakers in the paint all night, outscoring them under the hoop 52-32.
There was a bizarre series late in the third in which an "inadvertent elbow" from Bynum (hmm, that sounds familiar) broke Al Harrington's nose on what definitely appeared to be an over-the-back foul. He bled all over the court while McGee managed to run down the court and score, and the Lakers brought the ball back up the court AGAIN, with Al still bleeding everywhere. He was finally substituted out of the game after a foul on Ramon Sessions. It was incredibly unprofessional of the referees to not be more mindful of a clearly injured player who was bleeding on the court, creating a playing hazard for not only himself but for everyone on the floor.
Despite losing Harrington and a stretch when the Lakers decided that no, Kobe was not out of bounds, and no, Kobe did not commit a clear path foul on Ty, the Nuggets managed to regain control with a seven point lead heading into the 4th. It was touch and go for a while when the Nuggets fell in love with the long ball that's betrayed them all year, but some excellent defense let the Nuggets lock down the Lakers with a seven minute stretch where they were unable to make a shot from the floor.
I was so pleased to see a Nuggets team playing with purpose tonight. Everyone seemed to be highly focused and full of energy despite the number of Laker fanroaches to come out of the woodwork in the Pepsi Center, seemingly spurred on by an especially raucous Can crowd. If the Nuggets can keep this level of intensity through into game 4, they have a real shot to head back to Los Angeles all tied up at 2-2.
- Pamela McGee's not fooling around. Maybe the Nuggets should think about hiring her as an assistant bigman coach.
- The Lakers were held 13 points below their regular season average of 97.3 and shot just 37% from the floor. However, the Nuggets didn't shoot much better at 39% and have to make better shooting decisions on Sunday.
- Between McGee and Faried, they collected 28 points and thirty rebounds. I'm not sure a Nuggets frontcourt combination has done that in the last decade.
- Kobe Bryant scored 22 points, but on just 7-23 shooting and 6 turnovers. Afflalo and Brewer stepped up their D tonight and really made Kobe work for every shot he missed. Gallinari also took some time in guarding Kobe and at times Kobe appeared supremely frustrated. Ha.
- The Nuggets bench wrecked the Lakers', outscoring them 39-9. Although neither of them had a great shooting night, Andre Miller and Corey Brewer provided some much needed calming influence and rangy defense (respectively). Steve Blake and Matt Barnes shot 3-13 - and nobody else on the Lakers bench scored a single point.
- Late in the fourth, Pau Gasol came charging down the floor only to be stopped completely with a monstrous block by Faried and McGee. I loved seeing that duo instill some fear in the Lakers and they were clearly hesitant to take it inside on them. Karl may finally have found the combination he needs to get the appropriate rebounding and scoring punch.
- Timofey Mozgov did what he does best, pick up terrible fouls and fumble basketballs out of bounds. I guess his defense was okay on Bynum en route to an 0-3 shooting night with 3 turnovers. Yuck.
- JaVale McGee has more playoff wins than Carmelo Anthony in the last two years. Ha ha.
- The Nuggets outrebounded the Lakers 54-44 and forced them into an uncharacteristic 15 turnovers.
Nuggets of the Night:
JaVale McGee: 28 Min., 16 points (8-12), 15 rebounds, 4 blocks, 2 assists, 2 steals, 1 turnover (+30)
McGee had the best game of his young career tonight. His energy was infectious and from the moment he was inserted into the game with 5:15 to play in the first, he took the Nuggets to another level. He patrolled the paint all game, hit on a variety of nifty post moves - including some sweeping hook shots and up-and-unders that looked like they had no chance of going in, resulting in one of the two double doubles the Nuggets recorded tonight. His defense is getting better and better, and if our favorite lanky golem can just play like this more often the Nuggets might just surprise the Lakers and win this series. There's still some growing pains, as we witnessed with an awkward, galumphing fast break resulting in a turnover, but McGee is, incredibly, playing intelligently in the minutes he's on the floor. That is going to become a very dangerous thing for opposing teams.
Ty Lawson: 38 Min., 25 points (9-19, 1-3 3p), 7 assists, 4 rebounds, 2 steals, 0 turnovers (+23)
Ty shifted into 7th gear tonight. On several plays he was simply unstoppable. He may not have been wearing the Crimson Bands of Cyttorak, but he may as well have been. He pounded the ball inside and off the dribble, connecting on a variety of layups and reverses against Ramon Sessions and Steve Blake, who couldn't check the speedster at all. He was also incredibly patient and careful with the ball (zero turns), making smart passes and setting up Faried and McGee on excellent entries to the post multiple times. We're finally starting to see the Nuggets most favorable positional matchup work in their favor and it's wonderful.
Kenneth Faried: 36 Min., 12 points (6-16), 15 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal, 0 turnovers (+5)
Okay, with both Ty and Faried playing like they have, can we finally say that the Nuggets may have ended their decades of futility in the draft? Yes, I know that Lawson was technically a member of the Minnesota Timberwolves, but the Nuggets made the moves to acquire both him and Faried in their respective drafts and both are going to be a part of this team for a long time to come. It's great to watch excellent young players mature and know that they'll be here and that they are committed to making this their team.
Tonight, Faried shot poorly, but had a monstrous dunk off a cut (assisted by Andre Miller) and a huge block to go with a critical free-throw line jumper in crunch time. I still have to remind myself that the guy is just a rookie. Unbelievable.
The Nuggets play again on Sunday, where they will attempt to even the series at 2-2 before heading back to LA. Any confidence the team may have lost in their first two efforts at Los Angeles seems to be regained with this win. Danilo Gallinari and Arron Afflalo continue to struggle - where they were once again an ugly 9-25 from the floor - but they are contributing in other ways and still being productive. It seems as though the Nuggets can't seem to get truly consistent production out either of them, but I know that they won't continue to shoot below 40% for the series. When they finally come out of their slump, it will finally unpack the paint and let Faried and McGee beast even more than they have.
And I'm still undefeated. 6-0, baby.