Below is a running diary of L.A.’s Sunday evening Game 4 road game, the Lakers holding a 2-1 series lead, with some comments drawn from our @LakersReporter Twitter account, and a few more details in case you missed any of the action:
Lakers: Sessions, Bryant, Ebanks, Gasol and Bynum
Denver: T. Lawson, A. Afflalo, D. Gallinari, K. Faried, T. Mozgov
5:45 Denver got three rare buckets from Mozgov to start the game with a 14-11 edge, but Bryant’s first three-pointer tied things up on the next trip down. Much of the pregame focus was on Bynum, who admitted that he “wasn’t ready” to play in the first half of Game 4. But his teammates trusted that he’d come out the right way in Game 4, and he did early, getting to the rim twice for easy buckets, and later swatting JaVale McGee in the paint.
4:00 Kobe was taking the early scoring lead, hitting a tough turnaround jumper off Bynum’s offensive board to match his center’s seven points, but Denver was scoring too in a 20-all game.
0:36.0 L.A.’s D continued to have trouble stopping the Nuggets from scoring inside, with Andre Miller repeatedly posting up smaller guards to score eight of his 10 points to lead all scorers, but Bynum returned the favor with a pretty spin move to his left that McGee could do nothing with to get L.A. within two at 28-26 to close the period.
8:10 A strong start to the second from L.A. produced a 35-32 lead after Barnes split the Nuggets middle for a dunk, capping two Gasol hoops through traffic. During the ensuing time out, Mike Brown pointed out that his players “must be strong with the basketball,” because they were lettin’ ‘em play.
4:58 L.A. continued to get scoring from Kobe (nine points after a tough bank shot off some gorgeous footwork) and Bynum (a short jumper while fading away), but a clear path foul on Barnes after his turnover got Denver two FT’s (Miller made one) and the ball, which resulted in a Faried put-back layup to put Denver up 41-39.
0:00 It was not a strong close to the half for the Lakers, who conceded a 6-0 run before Sessions scored in transition that helped Denver take a 51-45 lead into the half. The two players hurting L.A. for the second straight game were rookie Faried and sub McGee, the former tipping in misses and generally flying around and the latter clogging the paint defensively, influencing or blocking many Lakers attempts.
9:30 L.A. started to do what it does when most effective, getting Bryant and then Bynum touches in the paint, both of which were converted to cut the lead to two. They had combined for 29 points to that point, and were building steam.
7:09 The lead went back to the Lakers thanks to their controlling tempo in the first five minutes, which was helped on by two Gasol jumpers and Bynum free throws as L.A. began to assert its will. However, Denver was getting a hot shooting Italian as Gallinari sank his eighth bucket in 13 attempts, for 16 points to match Bryant.
3:05 Just when L.A. was starting to really control tempo and force Denver into tough shots, the Nuggets got a bail-out three as the shot clock expired, and then an Afflalo layup in transition off a long miss from Steve Blake. The backup PG did, however, respond with a jumper on the next trip, tying it up at 63.
11:00 Blake’s three-pointer immediately put the Lakers on top to start the fourth, and two Gasol jumpers in the following minutes helped open a three-point lead, actually the biggest of the night. Crunch time coming for the whole quarter, folks.
5:46 Blake hit his second key shot of the quarter, putting LAL up 82-78, with the Nuggets focusing so much on Bryant and the bigs. Kobe was not off to a good start in the fourth, missing his first three shots plus a turnover. But L.A. would manage to get control, Bynum and Bryant hitting their first shots of the period to put keep the Lakers up.
0:18.9 Did we mention Steve Blake? Well, he hit his biggest shot as a Laker, dropping a corner three that came off Kobe’s penetration and drawing of a second defender, putting the Lakers up six and sealing a 92-88 win. Bryant told me after the game on KCAL that he has full trust in his teammates, and knew Blake could knock down such a pressure shot, and was thrilled to see him prove it. And, by the way, Ramon Sessions added a huge shot of his own, breaking an 86-all tie with a three of his own on the previous possession, thanks to a screen and dish from Gasol.
With that, LAL took a 3-1 series lead, which they’ll take home to try and close Denver out on Tuesday evening. We’ll see you there.