LAL 103, DEN 88: Game 1 Running Diary

Below is a running diary of L.A.’s Sunday afternoon home opening playoff contest against Denver, the Lakers knowing the importance of Game 1 since they’re 33-1 when winning the first one, with some comments drawn from our @LakersReporter Twitter account, and a few more details in case you missed any of the action:

Starters
Lakers: Sessions, Bryant, Ebanks, Gasol and Bynum
Denver: T. Lawson, A. Afflalo, D. Gallinari, K. Faried, K. Koufos

FIRST QUARTER
12:00 We tried to cover about everything you need to know about the matchup through my A to Z Preview, the scouting report video featuring assistant coach Chuck Person’s knowledge and a more in depth look at Kobe Bryant and Andrew Bynum with the Orange County Register’s Kevin Ding. But after all that, we now get to watch some basketball and see for ourselves. Here we go, folks…

6:00 A sluggish, sloppy start from both teams had only 14 total points scored (8-6 Lakers) at the first time out, Denver making 3 of 12 shots and the Lakers 3 of 7. The Lakers turned the ball over four times in the opening stanza, including a miscommunication between Sessions and starting SF Devin Ebanks, who replaced the suspended Metta World Peace. Denver was only able to turn those TO’s into two points, however.

3:10 Kobe ranks third all-time in playoff scoring with 5,280 points coming into this campaign, trailing only guys named Michael Jordan and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, OK players both. He started going to work halfway through the first, scoring five straight to put L.A. up 15-9.

SECOND QUARTER
12:00 A very strong defensive first quarter from LAL had the Nuggets scoring only 14 points on 25 percent shooting (6 for 20), with no fast break points and no three-pointers. Steve Blake was the offensive story, nailing three triples to push L.A.’s lead to 27-14 after one. However, after Ebanks was blocked at the rim, Denver leaked out for its first fast break points, from Corey Brewer, not a trend L.A. wanted to see get started.

8:00 Remember all that positive LAL stuff from the previous quarter? Well, a 13-4 Nuggets run to start the 2nd was just the opposite, including leak outs for fast break points and two three-pointers, Brewer’s including a foul, cutting L.A.’s lead to four. But since it’s the playoffs, Kobe returned at the 8-minute mark, the rotation of course shortening, and the Lakers scored the next four points.

2:55 Maybe the best sign the Lakers had in the first half was to see how engaged Bynum was on defense. The best example was when he got switched out on to Ty Lawson – one of the league’s fastest players – in a pick and roll, moved his feet well and swatted Lawson easily when the PG thought he was past the 7-footer. It was the fourth block for Bynum in his 15 minutes, plus a game-high eight boards. He’d taken only two shots, a two-handed dunk from Sessions and a tip in of Bryant’s miss, and those hoops plus the fifth Ebanks field goal (he led all scorers with 12) put the home team back up 43-34.

THIRD QUARTER
6:34 The defense remained excellent to start the third, L.A. getting two more blocks from Bynum, and then a corner three from the Spaniard — from the same spot he drained two in OT against Dallas — that helped the Lakers push their lead up to 17 points at 64-47.

4:20 Moments later, the lead was pushed to 19 when Kobe scored at the rim, thanks in part to Bynum’s seventh block, which matched his career playoff high last accomplished in Game 2 of the 2010 Finals against Boston. Can’t stress enough how important Bynum’s rim protection and general D is to LAL’s playoff chances. Moments later, he threw down an alley-oop dunk off Gasol’s seventh assist.

0:00 L.A.’s lead was 13 after three, adding three points onto the halftime margin even as Denver trimmed what ballooned to as many as 19 points. Bynum added his eighth block, two short of the NBA playoff record of 10 (Hakeem Olajuwon, Mark Eaton), alongside 10 points and 12 boards, approaching an ever-so-rare playoff triple-double with swats. Kobe was up to 17 points and Sessions 14 in an effective backcourt, while Nuggs starting PG Lawson had only one point, one assist and one board, to backup Andre Miller’s eight, six and five.

FOURTH QUARTER
8:24 Leading the way in the fourth was Gasol, who scored four early points with two boards to push L.A.’s lead to 85-68. Mike Brown was running Sessions/Gasol pick and roll to good effect, with Matt Barnes (four steals) creating some havoc on defense.

3:36Mike Brown’s been a better-safe-than-sorry coach in terms of keeping starters on the floor when L.A. has big leads (even though they haven’t had a ton this season, opting for close/entertaining games), and Gasol/Bynum/Kobe were still out there with L.A. leading by 15. That said, none had played major minutes, Kobe at 36, Bynum 35 and Gasol 33 to that point. Kobe hit two free throws shortly thereafter to reach 29 points, 12 coming in the fourth quarter, putting the game on ice.

3:02 Meanwhile, Bynum went ahead and made Lakers playoff history, swatting Mozgov in the paint for his 10th of the game, surpassing the nine by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. He also tied Hakeem and Eaton for the NBA playoff high, and thanks to his 10 points and 13 boards, had the first postseason triple-double for the Lakers since Magic Johnson in the 1991 NBA Finals.

Your final from Game 1: Lakers