About 5,280 feet above sea level on Saturday night in Denver, yet another Kobe Bryant performance for the ages culminated in a come-from-behind win that reclaimed home court advantage for the Lakers in what’s turning out to be quite the Western Conference Finals.
Bryant matched his brilliant effort in L.A.’s 105-103 Game 1 victory when he put up 40 points, four assists and six boards with 41 points, five assists, six boards and two steals in Colorado. His 3-pointer with 1:10 remaining and L.A. down two over J.R. Smith was by far the biggest shot of the series, and preceded five of his six final quarter free throws that clinched the game.
What was different is that Bryant had a whole lot of second half help from Pau Gasol and Trevor Ariza. Gasol nailed back-to-back turnaround jumpers over the outstretched hands of Nene and grabbed four fourth quarter rebounds en route to 20 and 11 for the game, while Ariza not only made two three-pointers and the game-clinching steal (eerily similar to his steal that clinched Game 1), but he helped hold Carmelo Anthony to only seven points after the first quarter, and no field goals in the second half. The steal of the inbound pass again came with Lamar Odom flailing his long limbs at Kenyon Martin this time and Ariza stepping in front of Anthony.
“The effort tonight by Kobe and Trevor and Gasol chipped in with solid basketball game,” said Phil Jackson. “We had a little momentum there down the stretch and outscored them in the fourth quarter.”
That they did, by 14 points actually (32-18), to salvage the game and with it, ensure they’d be at worst dead even heading back to Los Angeles after Monday’s Game 4.
“We worked really hard,” said a winded Pau Gasol, who played nearly 43 minutes while Bryant went for 41. “I’m really proud of our guys. They really competed. That was the big difference the way we finished off the game.”
Bryant’s 5-of-6 free throws came as Denver missed three different attempts at 3-pointers while trailing by at least four in the final minute, though it was an 11-2 run to start the quarter – keyed by Odom, Gasol and Ariza – that set L.A. on its way.
Andrew Bynum chipped in seven points, four boards and three blocks in 20 minutes that allowed Gasol to save a bit of his legs in the first half, while Lamar Odom scored eight points with seven rebounds in 29 minutes off the bench. Anthony finished with 21 points, 14 of which came in the first quarter, to lead Denver, while Chris Andersen added 15 points – 13 in the first half – off the bench.
The Lakers will attempt to regenerate some energy on Sunday, and take the Denver floor once again looking to win for the eighth straight time in a postseason road game against the Nuggets.
If Game 4′s anything like the first three, make sure you’re watching.
Until then, some numbers:
Second half points for Carmelo Anthony, all on free throws, as he went 0-for-4 from the field.
Field goals made by the Nuggets in the fourth quarter on 22 attempts (22.7 percent). Chauncey Billups and J.R. Smith combined to go just 3-for-11, while Anthony was 0-for-2.
Straight road playoff wins for the Lakers in Denver.
Free throws missed by the Lakers. All seven players who attempted a free throw missed at least once for the Lakers, though the team made 11-of-14 in the fourth quarter.
Free throws made by Kobe Bryant in 17 attempts, who took – and gave – all kinds of contact throughout the game.
Second half points for Bryant en route to his 41.
Shooting percentage for the game by the Nuggets.
Field goal percentage by the Lakers in the fourth quarter on 9-of-15 shots, highlighted by two threes from Trevor Ariza and the big dagger from Bryant.