Lakers – Nuggets Running Diary 1

57487534Read about the Lakers vs. Nuggets Game 1 as it unfolds. As always, feel free to refresh your browser for live updates throughout the game … On second thought, I guess they wouldn’t technically be “live” updates since you have to press refresh. But whatever.

Inactives
Lakers: Adam Morrison, Sun Yue
Nuggets: Sonny Weems, Steven Hunter

Starters
Lakers: Fisher, Bryant, Ariza, Gasol and Bynum
Nuggets: Chauncey Billups, Dahntay Jones, Carmelo Anthony, Kenyon Martin, Nene

Matchups the Key
In the NBA playoffs, it’s often a matchup game … Who’s got more advantages? We took a look at each of the position-by-position contests that will play out on the floor in our complete Western Conference Finals preview, but here’s a hint: Denver, like most teams, will have trouble with the Bynum – Gasol combination.

Pregame Video Scouting Report
Lakers assistant coach Frank Hamblen sat down with us to preview Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals, explaining why Denver’s improved defensively, talking about George Karl’s 30-30-30 formula and the importance of Chauncey Billups. To watch the video, CLICK HERE.

Layoff Warning
It’s been six days since the Nuggets last played (Wed., May 13), the same number of days L.A. had off before the Houston series. The Lakers struggled to get it going early in that Game 1 loss to Houston … Will Denver be ready to play?

57487501First Quarter
12:00 STAPLES off to a strong start with a Dick Van Dyke National Anthem and an Elgin Baylor ball delivery.

11:45 Billups opened the game with a jumper off a screen, which preceded a Jones’ FT and ‘Melo layup off Ariza’s bad pass to start 5-0.

10:20 L.A.’s first bucket came in a fortunate way, with Ariza’s rainbow baseline J swishing through after spending a good three seconds in the air. I’ll say this … The 6 p.m. local start is a bit deflating for L.A. since many fans have yet to arrive (not that it’s anyone’s fault for having to stay at work, get stuck in traffic and deal with the American Idol craziness).

8:06 Bryant’s put-back layup followed back-to-back jumpers from Anthony, one a top-of-the-key three, that had L.A. down 10-4.

7:08 An open dunk from Nene countered Bynum’s hoop in the paint, and the Lakers trailed by eight heading into the first time out. I’d questioned if the long layoff would affect Denver’s early energy, and boy was that off base. Even if the Lakers missed some wide open looks and Denver made 6-of-8, the Nuggets certainly controlled the tempo. Also, Gasol barely touched the ball on offense.

6:33 Everything going Denver’s way as Martin made his second straight line drive from 15 feet.

4:03 Bynum scored on the baseline for his second hoop, but the bigger story was the ease with which Denver was getting open looks and scoring, as proven by another easy layup from Nene. Many, including myself, thought the Lakers would come out with the same defensive intensity that stifled the Rockets to 12 first quarter points in Sunday’s Game 7, but we’d certainly yet to see that in the opening minutes.

3:18 Down 20-12, Jackson inserted Lamar Odom, Sasha Vujacic and Luke Walton. In related news, CLICK HERE for a pregame story on Odom’s back. Some interesting matchups: Bryant on Billups; Walton on Anthony and Vujacic on also-checked in J.R. Smith.

2:32 Martin ran uncontested through the lane for Denver’s third dunk.

1:50 Anthony nailed a three for his 14th point, looking completely locked in. Almost shocking how easily the Nuggets were scoring, though Gasol mercifully answered with an and-1 to make it a 27-17 game.

0:40.0 Two big momentum plays from Vujacic, who hustled to poke a defensive board out of Billups’ reach, then nailed a corner three at the other end. Denver continued to make everything (Martin on the baseline), but Shannon Brown hit L.A.’s second three in 25 seconds to cut the lead to eight.

0:02.2 Billups missed two free throws that allowed L.A. to stay within eight at 31-23, which really didn’t reflect Denver’s domination of the first quarter.

Leading the way? Carmelo Anthony, who averaged 14.5 points against the Lakers in the regular season, but in the first quarter went for 16 on 7-of-8 shooting.

57487515Second Quarter
11:42 Bynum grabbed an offensive board off Odom’s miss, and continued to hit his free throws to pull the Lakers within six. That became four on Walton’s make in the lane, and after that first quarter, you have to take a 4-point deficit and be very, very happy about it.

9:49 Bynum had the right to be upset after being called for a over-the-back foul when he didn’t even breath on Anderson, but J.R. Smith gave the ball back after a good play from Farmar … Who then stuck a jumper at the other end.

8:47 Well, credit L.A.’s bench with completely changing the flow of the game, completing an 18-8 run to decrease a 13-point lead to just 3 when Luke Walton buried a three. It was Walton, Vujacic, Brown and Odom doing all the damage that caused a Denver timeout, sent Anthony to the bench for the first time and brought Gasol and Bryant back into the game.

8:15 A thunderous dunk from Nene (Gasol had left him to help and didn’t recover in time) was countered with Odom’s triple. Odom had been huge, grabbing six boards, dishing three assists and providing some solid help defense to cut the lead to 37-35.

5:49 With L.A. down 40-37 after two Kobe free throws, look at the shooting percentages: 36.8 for the Lakers; 53.3 for Denver. Good sign for the home team. It also helped the Lakers that the Nuggs had missed six free throws to that point, including three from the normally terrific Billups.

4:43 L.A. certainly felt like it was having trouble getting calls, and Odom was called for his third going up for a rebound. The call also put the Nuggets into the bonus with a lot of burn left in the period, though Nene missed 1-of-2. Bynum replaced Odom, and Bryant immediately got to the rim with a thunder dunk that made it a 1-point game.

4:14 Another foul on L.A., this time Bynum’s third, brought Josh Powell into the game. And guess what? He stuck a jumper immediately. That’s tough to do when unexpectedly checking into a game. Meanwhile, Justin Timberlake continued to bring sexy back from his courtside seat.

3:06 Gasol was really struggling to keep up with Nene in transition and in the halfcourt, getting caught looking as the Brazilian dunked for the third time (6-of-7 from the field). But Bryant erased the pain with a 4-point possession including a triple and a tech (on Anthony).

0:44.5 After offering four points and an assist in three solid minutes, Powell made his first mistake by reaching after Fisher’s sixth miss (0-for-6). Smith, however, missed Denver’s ninth free throw.

0:00 After Bryant stuck a jumper and Martin answered with a dunk, Fisher responded to his very poor shooting half with a big, big make from three. Bryant had attracted three defenders in the lane and kicked to the open Fisher in the corner, and the veteran stuck it to not only give L.A. the lead, but create a very positive vibe heading into the locker room (the bench mobbed him).

Key Halftime Stat
The shooting percentages offered quite the discrepancy, with L.A. hitting only 38.5 percent to Denver’s 52.6 percent, but nine offensive rebounds allowed the Lakers to take 14 more shots than the Nuggets. Also, Bryant countered Anthony’s 20 points, but the biggest stat came from the bench. L.A.’s pine unit outscored the Nuggets 20-3.

57487630Third Quarter
11:24 Bynum got his fourth foul immediately when ‘Melo went to the hoop, but Bryant responded with his second two-handed dunk.

9:39 Boy, can ‘Melo score, this time with a slick pull-up from 22 feet (24 points).

8:21 Anthony can’t miss … Another triple made him 10-of-14 from the field and put Denver up 63-59. Perhaps the biggest thing we haven’t talked much about is how Nene really bothers Gasol, who was only 3-of-5 for seven points with six boards.

6:15 An impressive defensive play from Ariza – who’s guaranteed to create a turnover and bucket all by himself at least once a game – resulted in Fisher’s lay in as the Nuggets didn’t get back in transition. Ariza had picked the pocket of Salma-Hayek-in-”Desperado” hot Anthony by slipping a pick.

4:38 Derek Fisher, stepping up big. First a tough, contested, baseline layup off glass, second a corner triple to put L.A. up by four in capping a 9-0 run.

2:47 Billups capped a 5-0 Nuggets run in response to take a 1-point lead, and meanwhile, Bryant earned his fifth technical foul of the playoffs for angrily slamming the ball down after a dead ball. He was upset that the refs didn’t award a foul on the previous possession when J.R. Smith appeared to reach in, but the slamming wasn’t the brightest thing ever, since he has only two techs to go until a mandatory 1-game suspension.

The fouls so far tonight are 20-13, and have most notably limited Bynum to only 14 minutes while putting Denver at the line for 26 free throws, while L.A. had shot only 11.

1:12 That’s what Luke Walton does … “That” being beautifully finding a cutting Gasol for a dunk that gave L.A. a 74-73 lead after grabbing an offensive board.

0:31.3 After struggling all game, Smith pulled up from waaay downtown and stuck it to give Denver a two-point edge heading into the fourth quarter.

57487548Fourth Quarter
11:39 Martin hit yet another runner to get to 13 points (he averaged nine in the first two rounds), but at the other end appeared to get the wind knocked out of him by Bryant, forcing a Denver timeout.

10:09 L.A. needed the three it got from Bryant, but Smith answered right back … Before Farmar answered that one with his first triple. Nuggets 84, Lakers 82.

8:32 Anthony got around Odom and Bryant in the paint to stick back a Nene miss, and put Denver up 87-82. Anderson had blocked Vujacic on the previous possession, and the Lakers were really feeling the absence of Bynum in the lane. But after a timeout, Bynum checked back in, alongside Farmar, Bryant, Vujacic and Odom.

6:48 Again, L.A. really needed a bucket after falling down by seven, and Bryant delivered, plus the foul at the rim, to make it 89-85 Denver. Furthermore, it was Nene’s fifth foul, which sent him to the bench. A possession later, Bryant’s two free throws gave him 30 points, four behind Anthony.

5:57 Bynum chose to wrap up Anthony instead of let him take a contested shot at the rim, earning him a fifth foul and a spot on the bench as Gasol returned.

4:16 Huge three from Ariza with the game looking dicey. Ensue crowd explosion, especially after Martin missed a J. L.A. down 94-92.

3:25 Anthony’s second offensive board and stick-back of the quarter came at a crucial moment, as L.A. had been fighting hard to get some momentum, and Jackson took a timeout with a 4-point deficit. And out of the timeout, Bryant answered with a elbow jumper.

2:27 Wow, what a massive three from Derek Fisher. Lakers by one, 5-0 run out of the timeout. Kobe set him up with a great pass.

2:07 Gasol, after struggling defensively all game, swatted Nene prior to the Fisher three, then took a charge on ‘Melo on the next defensive possession. Back at the offensive end, he drew a foul on Martin in the paint, but missed both free throws.

1:42 What a shot from Billups. Tremendous, from three, despite the 7-foot Gasol in his face.

1:14 Gasol, having just missed two from the line, went right back after grabbing an offensive board on Nene’s sixth foul. This time, he made both. Tie game.

0:57.3 After tying up Anderson, Odom won the jump ball over the taller player, setting up the exact same shot that Bryant nailed on Phoenix in the “Amazing” commercial, but he missed. Nothing hurt for L.A., however, as Gasol contested the rebound that Billups knocked out of bounds. Fresh shot clock for the Lakers with 35.5 on the game clock.

0:30.5 Not what Denver wanted, as Martin bumped Bryant on the pick and roll, putting the guy you want at the free throw line late in the game. Of course, he hit both, and L.A. led 101-99.

The Nuggets called a timeout, and here are the two things L.A. doesn’t want to do: Concede a three; foul.

0:29.1 Ariza stole the ball!!! That is the only thing, the absolute only thing, that Denver couldn’t have done in that situation was throw the ball away, but Ariza leaped in front of Billups, grabbed Anthony Carter’s pass, and raced ahead. Eventually, the Nuggets fouled a going-to-the-hole-hard Bryant…

0:10.0 … Who made both.

0:06.0 Billups, again! What a game. That triple* cut L.A.’s lead to one, though Bryant caught the inbounds pass and was immediately fouled. He made both, and L.A. had to decide whether or not to foul…
*Billups actually stepped out of bounds, as ESPN’s replay showed.

0:03.2 Foul they would, with Fisher getting J.R. Smith (1-of-4 from the line). Smith made the first … Then missed the second, perhaps on purpose, but Bryant grabbed the defensive board, and L.A. had the toughest of wins.