Lakers – Nuggets Running Diary 4

57535188Read about the Lakers vs. Nuggets Game 4 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.

Game 1
Lakers – Nuggets Running Diary, May 19, 2009
Lakers 105, Nuggets 103: Postgame

Game 2
Lakers – Nuggets Running Diary, May 21, 2009
Lakers 103, Nuggets 106: Postgame

Game 3
Lakers – Nuggets Running Diary, May 23, 2009
Lakers 103, Nuggets 97: Postgame

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

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

Phil Jackson Pregame
Jackson’s primary message to his team, he said, was to come with a sense of urgency to match what the Nuggets promise to deliver with their collective back against the wall. He added that the coaching staff would have to watch the minutes of Trevor Ariza (hip, groin), but that you can’t really monitor Kobe Bryant’s minutes: “He wants to play all of them.” A reporter also mentioned that Ariza’s numbers are up across the board in the playoffs (51 percent from 3-point range, for example), which Jackson said was simply because some players step their games in the postseason, and Ariza appears to be one of them.

George Karl Pregame
Karl opened talking about L.A.’s weariness: “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.” Karl added that the Nuggets did a good job on Bryant with the exception of a few fouls and a few times in which Bryant got the ball back after an initial denial. Finally, Karl said that coaches have more trouble with close losses, while players feel better about them because they knew they were right in the game.

Jones Push of Kobe Changed to “Flagrant 1″
According to NBA VP of PR Tim Frank, the two-handed push that Dahntay Jones committed on Kobe Bryant with 7:13 left in the third quarter was changed from a personal foul to a flagrant 1. Bryant made both free throws at the time to bring L.A. within two at 60-58.

57535349First Quarter
11:46 Bryant immediately split a double team and drew a foul on Jones, who has to be approaching an NBA playoff record for most fouls-per-minute in a series.

10:40 Apparently free throw practice didn’t do a ton of good for the Lakers, who missed 3-of-4 to start the game, including both from Ariza.

10:09 Game plan: pound it in the paint, which worked as Gasol smartly found Bynum with a lob, and the young center converted on the baseline to make it 4-3 Nuggets (who’d gotten two hoops from Martin).

7:31 After Ariza missed his second straight open three, Bynum dunked courtesy of a pretty Pau pass to make it 8-5 Denver, who’d already grabbed three offensive boards. The hustle stats are going to be tough for L.A. especially in the first half.

3:58 Getting a tough runner to go off glass in the lane was one thing for Fish, but his pull-up didn’t look at good, and Martin hit 1-of-2 freebies at the other end to put Denver up seven. With that, Lamar Odom and Luke Walton checked in for Bynum and Ariza.

1:53 Surprise, surprise: Odom deflected a Martin inbounds pass out of bounds. Denver did collect, however, and get two more FT’s when Walton was whistled for another bump, this time on Martin, whose FT’s made it 20-13 Nuggets.

0:00 A tough, in-traffic, running bank shot from Kobe went down for his third straight make, which kept the Lakers within three (22-19) after one. Denver threw a great deal of effort at the Lakers, but didn’t execute very well (7-of-21, 33 percent) by missing a few layups and four free throws.

57535443Second Quarter
10:24 Instead of giving L.A. a boost, the bench combo of Brown-Vujacic-Powell-Odom + Gasol got run off the floor in the first moments of the quarter, as six straight points put Denver up nine.

8:48 Farmar hit a triple to stop Denver’s 8-0 run as Bryant and Bynum came back into the game. However, off-the-bench Linas Kleiza scored five straight points to put Denver up by its biggest margin, 35-22.

6:12 Anthony returned after going to the bench for a possession, appearing to have aggravated an ankle he tweaked at the end of Game 3, and Bryant responded with a 3-point play to make it a 10-point game.

5:00 Fisher hit an open three after Gasol’s offensive rebound, but Smith responded with a deep two to keep Denver’s lead at 12.

3:43 Smith continued to give the Nuggets a big boost off the bench with a driving layup, getting him to nine points with three assists in 12 minutes. Meanwhile, Gasol made a very difficult shot-clock-beating runner to keep L.A. within 10. In other news, the creators of South Park – Trey Parker and Matt Stone – are both from Denver, which explains all the SP characters that show up on the Jumbotron. My favorite cartoon of all-time … “Voltron,” with honorable mention to “He-Man”, “TMNT” and “Transformers.”

2:47 Bryant’s three from the corner over Smith looked a lot like his massive Game 3 effort, only it came from the baseline, and got L.A. within seven.

0:28.3 In Game 3, Anthony tried to execute a 2-for-1, but shot the ball too late and conceded the final shot to L.A. In Game 4 (that’d be tonight), Bryant showed how to get it done, pulling up for a jumper that made the score 52-45 and allowed a Fisher heave at the end of the half … which missed. All things considered, the Lakers could be happy with a 7-point deficit to a Nuggets team that left everything on the court.

57535369Third Quarter
11:22 Gasol showed his ridiculous steal level on offense with an up-and-under reverse finish, plus the foul, though ‘Melo answered with his second field goal. In related news, Gasol can do approximately 1,456 things with the basketball.

9:51 Ariza’s three was early in the third, but a big momentum helper since Denver had just turned a hustle play into a dunk. Gasol then glided across the lane to stick a running left-hander to get within three.

7:55 Odom, after checking in for Bynum, immediately made a poor play in trying to drive past Martin, throwing the ball up rather wildly. He just couldn’t seem to find any semblance of rhythm. Meanwhile, Denver went on a 6-0 run to push the lead back to nine.

6:57 Billups got the lead back into double-digits with a pull-up in the lane, following two free throws, before Odom finally got something going by drawing a foul on Martin, but hit just 1-of-2 charity tosses.

5:18 The fourteenth offensive board for the Nuggets garnered a Martin leaner to counter Odom’s triple.

3:54 Pretty early for the “Kobe Sucks” chant from Denver’s arena … That’s never a good idea, even with a 72-59 lead. Bryant was getting upset with how physical Jones was playing him, leading to some Jones trash talk and the crowd’s verbiage.

2:37 Andersen’s energy has been big for the Nuggets all night, most recently in a put-back dunk that gave him four points and eight boards with two blocks in 13 minutes. By comparison, Odom had four points and four boards with two turnovers in 21 minutes.

1:36 Vujacic missed another open look from three immediately after checking in. J.R. Smith didn’t miss his three…

0:38.1 …But Vujacic answered from the corner in a shot L.A. really needed, cutting the lead from 14 to 11 heading into the final quarter. The Lakers would certainly have their work cut out for them trying to outscore the home team by double digits in the fourth as they did in Game 3 (by 14).

Fourth Quarter
11:45 A good start to the quarter came as Bynum converted from the left block, and then blocked Smith at the cup to retain possession. Vujacic, however, missed a three that would have cut the lead quickly to six.

10:43 After Smith missed two free throws, Bynum hit again in the paint, and the lead was seven. Vujacic then tied Smith up for a jump ball, but Billups acquired possession, then scored after taking a bump from Bynum. His free throw put Denver back up by double digits, ending L.A.’s early edge.

10:01 Huge triple from Billups swells the lead to 13, delivering precisely what the Nuggs needed.

9:02 Bynum then gave L.A. exactly the kind of play it wants all the time from him, as he bullied Andersen into the paint, turned and dropped one in to get to 14 points with five boards and two blocks. Still, the Lakers trailed by 13.

6:58 Vujacic’s triple cut what had been a 16-point lead to 10, which was a small enough deficit to bring Bryant back off the bench even as Anthony hit two free throws. Nuggets 91, Lakers 79.

5:17 Bryant hit back-to-back tough, deep jumpers, but L.A. still trailed by 13 with a line up Farmar, Kobe, Walton, Odom and Gasol.

2:50 If it hadn’t already happened, Billups’ transition layup off an inbounds steal was the dagger, giving Denver a 107-94 lead.

The good news for the Lakers is that Denver had to coerce maximum energy out of its tank to hold L.A. at bay, which will certainly be hard to duplicate 48 hours later in Game 5.