Denver asked the game’s best scorer to pass, and Kobe Bryant did just that.
Maneuvering around consistent double teams and traps that the Nuggets threw his way, Bryant played willing passer throughout an intensity-filled Western Conference Finals evening, leading L.A. from a seven-point deficit late in the third quarter to a nine-point victory.
“That’s what we really asked of him,” said Phil Jackson. “He had eight assists and could have had more if we hit some shots. He was creating offensive opportunities by drawing double teams and (it) worked.”
It was fitting that Bryant’s final assist went to Lamar Odom under the hoop to seal the game with 1:02 remaining: Odom, who had been battling an injured back since falling hard in the second round against Houston, was everywhere at both ends of the floor, spreading statistical love across the box score with 19 points, 14 rebounds, four blocks and three assists.
“He’s been limited in activity, so playing the kind of minutes he did tonight he was exhausted but he gave us a really good effort at both ends of the court,” said Jackson. “He did some things that were important for us to win.”
Many of those things came during an all-important 21-3 run that began late in the third and ended halfway through the fourth as Odom and Pau Gasol (nine total blocks) protected L.A.’s rim while Bryant darted and dished. And if Odom was a spark, Shannon Brown was the match, as requested on the bench by Phil Jackson after Derek Fisher picked up his fourth foul.
Brown checked in with L.A. down seven, and moments later cut to the hoop for a layup from Bryant, which he followed with the game’s biggest momentum-changing play when he skied high into the air to hammer dunk on a charging Chris Andersen, who’d blocked four shots to that point. Brown then took his show to the other end, hounding Chauncey Billups as Denver turned the ball over twice, which led to a game-tying three from Odom. The Lakers flowed naturally from there, pushing their lead to 11 with 7:36 left in the fourth when Gasol sunk a hook shot in the lane.
Speaking of the Spaniard…
“He had a terrific game tonight,” said Jackson of his power forward that had 14 points, 10 boards and five blocks. “He was getting the ball out on double teams, rebounding and blocking shots, good game from him.”
While Gasol and Bryant led the starters, nearly each Laker that played contributed in some manner.
“I think this was one of the best games we’ve played this year as far as giving a team effort,” said Odom, who went on to name most of his teammates, citing individual contributions that included a solid all-around game from Trevor Ariza; 19 combined first half points from Fisher and Andrew Bynum; Brown’s six points, dunk and defensive energy; and four boards, two assists, a steal and a block from Luke Walton, and a buzzer-beating three from Sasha Vujacic to tie the game heading into the half.
As a team, the Lakers executed their offensive goal of getting the ball down low, scoring 54 points in the paint to just 36 from Denver, and thriving off some electric STAPLES energy to a 27-18 fourth quarter after the first three had ended in ties.
“This is playoff basketball and the energy that is created by the home crowd and the intensity of the game plays into it,” concluded Jackson. “This Lakers group is really connected, driven, and motivated to get where we were at last year to give ourselves a chance to win.”
Heading back to Colorado for Game 6, how will the Lakers give themselves that chance to close out the series in what’s sure to be a hostile environment?
“The intensity is going to be there, what we have to do is execute,” said Bryant. “Be cold blooded, go out there and execute.”
It would sure help the Lakers execute if Lamar Odom can bring what he delivered on Wednesday night … Because when he does, as Carmelo Anthony said after the game, it ain’t easy to beat L.A.
“They’re special,” he said. “Lamar, when he’s out there, he’s a mismatch, especially at the four. In that second unit, way he played tonight, hit the glass, pounded inside. When he plays like that, they’re a tough team. So we gotta look forward to that for Friday.
Until then, some numbers:
More rebound for Denver than the Lakers (43-42), who’d prefer to win that battle, but would take it after losing it by 18 in Game 4.
Three pointers hit by the Lakers on 16 attempts, only 18.8 percent. L.A. was very good from everywhere else, however, hitting 56.7 percent from two.
Fastbreak points for the Nuggets, as the Lakers’ focus on sprinting back in transition paid off.
Combined blocks from Pau Gasol (5) and Lamar Odom (4)
Field goal attempts from Kobe Bryant, his fewest in the series, towards 22 points, including 9-of-10 from the free throw line.
Lamar Odom’s +/- total, by far the highest in the game, meaning the Lakers outscored Denver by 18 points when he was on the floor. No. 2 was Shannon Brown with +13, while Denver’s Chris Andersen was a game-worst -17.
Points from Carmelo Anthony to lead the Nuggets, 12 of which came from the free throw line. No other Nugget had more than 12 points (Kenyon Martin, Chauncey Billups).
Points in the paint for the Lakers, to just 36 from Denver as L.A. dominated the lane.