Generally after a playoff game, the losing team has the benefit of looking at the tape and making adjustments that could benefit their cause in the second game.
But after breaking down the pluses and minuses of both teams in Game 1, it appears that the Lakers, not the Nuggets, are the team that will be making the greater number of adjustments before Thursday’s Game 2, which can only be seen as a positive going forward. This shouldn’t come as a major surprise, however, since the Nuggets had days longer to prepare for the matchup than did L.A. (come on, you know the Nuggets weren’t prepping for Houston).
Take out the final two minutes, and Denver couldn’t have executed their game plan any better, while the Lakers could hardly have seemed more out of sorts. Let’s take a look:
- Attacked the rim with luster, getting 46 points in the paint and several layups/dunks as L.A. was slow to react particularly on the weak side. Clearly, the Nuggets had planned on exploiting L.A.’s strong side push, and they executed very well.
- Got Andrew Bynum in foul trouble and pushed Pau Gasol around, allowing the Nuggs to control the lane at both ends. Essentially, they pushed the Lakers out of their preferred spots and forced offensive freelancing.
- Made Kobe Bryant work (very) hard for nearly everything he got at both ends of the floor.
- Got a transcendent 14-of-20 shooting performance from Carmelo Anthony.
- Controlled the tempo.
- Had the benefit of Chauncey Billups’ floor game, which helped expose that strong side trap, not to mention his two clutch threes.
- Saw Kenyon Martin go for 15 points, including some ugly line drives in the paint.
- Got a solid defensive effort off the bench from Chris Anderson, who also pitched in eight points.
- Missed 12 free throws, which really hurt. Billups missed three and J.R. Smith four.
- Conceded 17 offensive rebounds to the Lakers in part because of L.A.’s length, and in part because Denver’s bigs routinely leave their rebounding position to attempt blocked shots (of which they had eight).
- Made three critical mistakes in crunch time, including Anthony Carter’s turnover on the inbound pass that Ariza sniped, and two untimely Kenyon Martin fouls.
- Lack of a bench contribution from J.R. Smith* in particular, who made only 2-of-7 shots, took two terrible threes, missed four free throws and turned it over three times while committing five fouls.
*Smith, who hyper-extended his knee on Sunday, is expected to play in Game 2.
Los Angeles Positives
- Kobe Bryant, who was comprehensively fantastic.
- Got bench scoring, particularly in the first half (20-3 edge).
- Attacked the offensive glass, including by six boards from Pau Gasol.
- Nailed 11 threes on 25 attempts (44 percent), which masked L.A.’s 41 percent from the field.
- Made 20-of-24 free throws, including 9-of-9 from Bryant in the fourth quarter.
- Performed extremely well in the clutch.
Los Angeles Negatives
- Lacked early energy from players not named Kobe Bryant, contributing to Denver’s 13-point first quarter lead.
- Got into foul trouble early and often (26 personal fouls), keyed by Andrew Bynum, who drew a few really questionable calls that limited him to 15:50 of playing time and hurt L.A. considerably in the paint.
- Didn’t get what’s expected from Pau Gasol for the first 44 minutes; he was pushed around by Nene before making three huge plays down the stretch.
- Received really poor shooting games from some of its best shooters, including Derek Fisher (5-of-13), Trevor Ariza (2-of-8), Sasha Vujacic (1-of-5), Luke Walton (2-of-6) and Lamar Odom (3-of-7).
- Failure to execute on offense, instead relying on Kobe Bryant to score on his own or create open looks off penetration.
- Lack of low post defense until the final three minutes, which allowed Denver to expose L.A.’s weak side with a series of layups and dunks.
What It Means
Surely you could think of some more pluses and minuses on both sides, but clearly the Nuggets were the aggressor, the team that seemed to know exactly what L.A. wanted to do in Game 1, giving them the big edge in execution. Yet the Lakers battled just enough to win, taking the execution battle for two minutes.
With that said, what exactly can Denver do better aside from not throw the ball away late, commit fewer cheap fouls down the stretch and make free throws? Are those adjustable points from a planning perspective, or simply elements of execution? The Lakers, on the other hand, can do several major things differently and better, including the way they fundamentally approach executing out of their offense and how to prevent Denver’s abuse of their weak side defense.
After L.A.’s practice on Tuesday, we turned the camera on Phil Jackson, Bryant, Ariza and Gasol to get their take: CLICK HERE to watch.