Below is a running diary of L.A.’s Saturday evening home playoff game against Denver, with absolutely all the marbles on the line in Game 7, 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, World Peace*, Gasol and Bynum
Denver: T. Lawson, A. Afflalo, D. Gallinari, K. Faried, T. Mozgov
*Metta was starting for the first time since an April 22 contest vs. OKC, after which he was suspended for seven games due to an elbow on James Harden.
12:00 Well, folks, here we are. Game 7. Is there anything better? The story lines are plentiful, from the return of Metta World Peace to both Mike Brown and Kobe Bryant asking Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol for more than they offered in the previous two games in particular. But more than anything else, Game 7 is a street fight, a battle, a war of attrition in which the importance of each possession is magnified so far beyond anything you get in even another playoff game. Who’s ready*?
*You know Kobe is.
4:11 It was indeed a great start from Gasol in particular (and solid one from Bynum as well), the Spaniard hitting 3 of 4 shots for six points and grabbing three boards (plus two assists), matching his board total and doubling his point total in Game 6. However, the Nuggets started out hot from the field despite having to take several tough shots, including three floaters, to take a 19-18 lead into the first time out.
1:43 Steve Blake, who as you recall hit the big dagger three in LAL’s last win in this series (Game 4), came in and provided an immediate spark by hitting a contested, end-of-clock triple, then gathering a steal before feeding Bryant for a transition layup to cap a 7-0 run that produced a 25-22 lead. Blake, a real tough-minded, feisty guy, has the right personality for a winner-take-all Game 7. The lead was cut to one at the break, but another key – aside from Gasol’s energetic start – was Bynum’s defensive presence. He blocked three shots, on pace for 12, after his 10-block Game 1 was so critical.
9:13 Despite cooling from the field (hitting 4 of 13 after starting 9 of 12), Denver continued to trail by just a point as Harrington hit an open three (Jordan Hill making a defensive mistake in not staying with him) to reach eight bench points, but Blake countered with two jumpers on the other end, including his second triple, to match Harrington’s output and make it 30-29.
6:23 To reiterate a first quarter note, you like having Blake in tight games because of his toughness. He’s not scared of anything, and showed it by draining his third triple, an open one from the corner thanks to Kobe’s feed, to cap an 8-0 run that put LAL up 38-31. Gasol had the other five points to reach 11, plus three boards and three assists.
0:00 The Spaniard was the story in the first half, capping a fantastic individual effort with a tip in of Bynum’s miss, reaching 13 points, seven boards and five assists to lead L.A. to a 48-42 lead. Denver managed to stick around by hitting some tough shots and hanging tough despite strong pressure D from the Lakers, who were playing the game very much at their pace. Strong overall half.
8:53 The biggest lead of the game to this point came as Metta World Peace drained a wide-open 3 created by Bryant (five assists), and Gasol hit a jumper to push the lead to 13. Moments later, World Peace connected on another triple (he was only 1 for 5 from three before going back-to-back) and Bryant followed with a tough left-handed finger roll to make it a 16-point margin at 60-46. The crowd was going nuts at this point, and MWP making Denver’s over-helping defense pay deeply. Meanwhile, Denver had managed only 10 of 40 field goals since starting 9 for 12 (38% overall).
4:08 Give the Nuggets credit for battling, as they have all series, a 6-0 Ty Lawson run (including back-to-back layups) cutting the lead back to nine, forcing L.A.’s time out. Bynum had been terrific contesting everything up to that point (both buckets coming in transition), but he was missing his shots at the other end, including a bunny in the paint that dropped him to 3 for 11. Nonetheless, LAL had to love that he wasn’t letting his struggles on O affecting his defense, which can happen to the 7-footer (and really many players) at times.
0:52.0 It seemed a long time ago that LAL was rolling easily up 16 points, when two Harrington free throws capped a big Nuggets run to tie the game at 68. Lawson was the trigger man, scoring 13 of his 24 points, while Bryant inexplicably missed 3 of 4 free throws (LAL 6 of 13 in the game), the one make getting us to 69-68 heading into the final quarter.
10:39 Five straight points from Harrington to start the fourth had the Nuggets suddenly up four, but World Peace countered with a huge three, his fourth of the game in nine attempts (starting 1 for 5), to get a quieted crowd back involved. The Nuggets had made nine of their last 11 shots.
6:51 Gasol literally tipped the ball four times at the rim before his final attempt went home, putting L.A. up three, then tipped home Bynum’s miss after Miller answered with an and-1. Tense, fun, wild … just Game 7.
5:51 STEVE BLAKE. Just ridiculous. He nailed his 5th three in as many attempts, this the most important, putting LAL up five, when they’d trailed by four moments earlier. Gasol, meanwhile, was an absolute monster on the glass, reaching 17 total and 11 offensive boards, including two down the stretch.
2:53 Two Gasol free throws were countered by another Harrington make (22 points off Denver’s bench, all huge), so the lead stayed at five. And while Gasol had been tipping home misses all game, this time it was Bynum who put home his 7-foot ‘mate’s miss, then hit 2 FT’s on the next trip to make it an 89-80 margin with 1:51 to play.
0:48.0 Black Mamba, dagger three-pointer. He rose from the right wing and drained a contested triple, cutting off the final Denver push that included an Afflalo transition three to cut the lead to five. Kobe had taken only one other shot in the fourth, passing to teammates with confidence out of swift Nuggets double teams, reaching eight assists. But he wasn’t missing that triple.
0:00 Final: LAL 96, DEN 87. The Lakers showed their mettle when it most mattered, fighting their way through an intense fourth quarter, riding outstanding games from Gasol (23 points, 17 rebounds, six assists and four blocks), Bynum (16 points, 18 rebounds, six blocks), World Peace (15 points, four steals) and Blake (19 points, 5 of 6 three-pointers), with Kobe (17 points, 8 assists) calmly taking what the defense gave him. See you in Oklahoma City, everybody.