L.A. knew the recipe for success heading into Game 4 in Denver: try to sustain the home team’s inevitable early energy, stay close on the scoreboard and out-execute the Nuggets in the fourth to try and steal a second-straight road win.
Yet what the Lakers had no answer for, even if assistant coach Frank Hamblen warned of it before the game, was a terrific bench effort from Denver, who got 42 points from its pine to overwhelm the Lakers and even the series at two heading back to Los Angeles.
Without question, it’s a tough task to take two consecutive home games from a good playoff team, particularly when fatigue was thought to be an issue for the purple and gold heading into the contest. That Denver had to work its collective behind off against a tired purple and gold squad in staving off a 3-1 series deficit was well-defined by its 58-40 edge on the glass, including 20 offensive rebounds that produced 23 second-chance points.
Throughout the game, the Nuggets sustained their effort to open up leads only to see the Lakers hang a few buckets at the other end to stay in the game. The Lakers trailed by three after one and seven after two, but ultimately, the visitors couldn’t keep up, and the Nuggets were able to protect an 11-point lead they’d built into the fourth.
Before the game, George Karl had this to say about L.A.’s legs and his bench: “Fatigue is a part of a playoff series if it goes for a long time … I hope that does become a factor, because I think right now our bench has a little more confidence.”
That certainly proved true, particularly from Chris Andersen – who grabbed 14 boards and blocked two shots in 24 minutes – and J.R. Smith, who put in 24 points with four assists. The Lakers, on the other hand, got little from their bench, relying instead on Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol to carry the day on some tired All-Star legs. Though both were terrific – Bryant scored 34 points with seven boards and five assists while Gasol put up 21 points, 10 boards, four assists and three blocks – their lack of support ultimately doomed the Lakers.
Still, there was no panic in the postgame locker room, as the Lakers knew Denver had to completely empty its tank on Monday before taking a flight to L.A. for Wednesday’s Game 5 at STAPLES Center. There, the Lakers feel like they’ll be the team with the extra skip in their step.
Until then, some numbers:
Missed shot in seven attempts for Andrew Bynum, for whom Denver didn’t have an answer in the paint. Bynum scored 14 points, grabbed five boards and blocked a shot, though he did get caught behind the play a few times en route to five personal fouls.
Fourth quarter technicals called on the Nuggets (J.R. Smith, Carmelo Anthony and Kenyon Martin drew one each). Also the number of days it rained in Denver during L.A.’s stay.
Turnovers for the Nuggets, which helped keep the Lakers to just five fastbreak points.
Denver’s advantage in the paint, from where it outscored the Lakers 52-34.
Offensive boards from the Nuggets, to just nine from the Lakers. This stat as much as any showed Denver’s energy level.
Three-pointers attempted by the Lakers, who converted on nine (29 percent).
Bench points for the Nuggets, compared to 22 for L.A.
Free throws taken by the Nuggets, including 31 in the second half. L.A. attempted 35 from the charity stripe.
Times Denver’s Detroit-style PA announcer annoyed the band of Lakers fans who made the trip from Los Angeles. Swiping the “Chauncey Buh Buh Buh Billups” line from the Pistons probably wasn’t a California favorite.