A 27-point victory over what had been the toughest and grittiest of opponents for five Western Conference Finals games was quite an emphatic way for L.A. to get back to the NBA Finals for the 30th time in franchise history.
Indeed, this one was never close.
The Lakers followed up a fantastic Game 5 fourth quarter by playing terrific basketball in all four Game 6 quarters despite a hostile Pepsi Center in Denver, executing with precision on offense and bringing constant energy on defense that left the Nuggets searching for answers.
“Tonight was a game where we played at the highest level, shooting the ball well from all spots on the floor,” said Phil Jackson. “I thought our collective energy was good. I thought our collective intelligence was good, and that seemed the most important thing at this time is being able to read the defenses, move the ball, get the ball in places where people can operate.”
With Kobe Bryant leading the way in focused assassin mode, the purple and gold were on from the jump, taking a five-point lead into the second quarter and using a 20-7 run to close the first half with a 13-point lead that they almost immediately pushed to 20 in the third quarter. Bryant was everywhere, orchestrating L.A.’s attack on both ends as if he knew what Denver was going to do.
“It was very controlled, excellent game from him,” Jackson said in summation.
“We just got a read for what they were doing,” added Bryant. “I think that was the key. We just got ‘em beat … It was the defense. And, like I said, we did a great job of reading that and finding the open man.”
The lead would swell to 29 points late in the fourth as L.A. assisted on 28 of its 43 field goals, led by 10 dimes from Bryant that underscored his 35-point performance on 12-of-20 shooting and 9-of-9 from the free throw line.
While Bryant was, well, Bryant, it was a complete team effort that produced L.A.’s finest all-around effort of the season, particularly in the given circumstances: five Lakers hit double figures; the bench scored 40 points; the Lakers turned the ball over just three times in the second half to build on the lead; L.A. shot 57.3 percent from the field, and made a perfect 24-of-24 free throws; and the team defense held Denver to 43.8 percent shooting.
Simply put, L.A. did whatever it wanted.
As it’s been all season, Pau Gasol was 1A to Bryant’s numero uno, the Spaniard going for 20 points, 12 rebounds, six assists, three steals and a block in nearly 43 minutes on 8-of-12 shooting. Not far behind was Lamar Odom, who put up 20 points (14 in the second half) and eight boards, while Trevor Ariza and Luke Walton proved a very productive small forward duo, combining for 27 points, five boards, three assists and two steals.
“Last two games, I mean, we really proved to ourselves and to everybody else that we can be an extremely high quality team, a team that deserves to be in the NBA Finals and is going for the NBA championship.,” said Gasol. “So that really, really felt good out there and we have to do more of that.”
With the victory, the Lakers earned themselves six full days to rest, with the Finals set to take place on Thursday, June 4, against the winner of the Orlando-Cleveland Eastern Conference Finals that’s currently led 3-2 by the homeward-bound Magic.
Stay tuned for extensive coverage of what was simply a fantastic Lakers’ performance that had the team just four wins away from its one and only goal.
Until then, some numbers:
Free throws missed by the Lakers on 24 attempts.
Second half turnovers for a Lakers’ team that had coughed the ball up 11 times in the first half, helping L.A. preserve the 13-point lead they’d built at the half.
Lakers in double-digit points in a game marked by terrific ball movement, including three players at the 20-point margin (Bryant, Gasol and Odom).
Minute mark of the second quarter when Denver would hold its last lead at 33-32; they’d cede the lead on a Lamar Odom baby hook in the lane and never get it back.
First quarter points from Trevor Ariza, including two three pointers from opposite wings as he took advantage of double teams on Bryant and Gasol to get L.A. off to a good offensive start.
Combined assists from Bryant (10) and Gasol (6), whom Denver double-teamed constantly to their detriment. Both seemed to make the ideal pass out of the trap throughout the game.
Bench points in the second half from the Lakers, thanks primarily to 14 from Lamar Odom and eight from Luke Walton. The bench finished with 40 points on the evening to counter 34 from the Nuggets.
L.A.’s shooting percentage in a terrific first half that produced a 13-point lead.
Second half points from the Lakers to 52 from the Nuggets, a 14-point difference that was one more than the 53-40 halftime margin.