Home Court Advantage, Part Deux
Posted by hiphopmama on May 23, 2009
LA Lakers 103, Denver 97
Lakers lead series 2-1
Are you kidding me? Six points?? Someone won a game in this series by more than one possession? Don’t be fooled, though – this one was just as close as the others and could easily have gone either way. The difference tonight was as expected, as it came down to Kobe vs. Melo. Tonight, for the first time in the series, Kobe won by a landslide.
Carmelo came out on fire again, scoring 14 in the first quarter and helping Denver get off to a quick start, but foul trouble kept him on the bench and disrupted his rhythm enough to throw him off after that. He only had three points and no field goals in the second half, partly because of improved defense by the Lakers. They were quicker to throw an extra defender or two at him when he drove to the basket, cutting him off and forcing decisions from him. And, to be honest, we were helped out by the Nuggets’ failure to hit their shots tonight, which helped us hang around even when we weren’t playing particularly well. The lead was rarely, if ever, as high as 10, and for most of the night it hovered between four and eight. The Lakers countered each Denver run effectively, keeping the home crowd from really getting involved and allowing them to stay close enough to swoop in and steal it at the end.
And we did steal this one, make no mistake. It wasn’t as criminal a theft as game 1, when we were vastly outplayed for three quarters, but it was definitely Denver’s game to win, especially in their own building. Kobe just wasn’t having it. He put up 41 points, bringing his three-game tally to 113 and willing us to a 2-1 series lead. Props to Pau Gasol, who, despite looking tired and decrepit at times, dug deep enough to carry us for a while in the fourth quarter. He had a couple tough turn-arounds while we were in the midst of five or six consecutive stops, allowing us to pull even with the Nuggets and set the stage for another Kobe clinic in the final minutes. Winded and exhausted, he still had the wherewithal at 93-95 to pull up and drain a three-pointer while heavily guarded to give us the lead with 38 seconds left. It was a truly ridiculous shot. Not quite as dramatic as Lebron’s but equally effective and more tightly contested. He brought the ball up in a strange arc to avoid the swiping hands of JR Smith, hung in the air a split second longer than usual, pumped his legs once, and fired it up to give the Lakers a lead they would not relinquish.
The rest of the game was a replay of game 1 for Denver, only sadder. After K-Mart missed a lay-up and Kobe converted on one of two free throws, the Nuggets once again threw the ball away on the inbounds, once again as a result of a Trevor Ariza steal. Perhaps in an attempt to learn from his game 1 mistake, Karl used a bigger man to inbound the ball. Unfortunately, the man he chose was Kenyon Martin, a man certainly not known for his passing ability. Odom’s length forced him to lob it to a streak Carmelo, but Melo appeared to cut his run off a bit and Ariza streaked in, this time on his outside shoulder, and snatched the ball away. Again. As he took off for the other end, Anthony grabbed him to pick up his sixth foul and sentence himself to the bench for the final seconds.
Ariza made both free throws, Kobe made four more, and that was that. Not even Chauncey Billups could come up with any heroics to save his team tonight, as his two free throws were all Denver could muster after the Ariza steal. Carmelo was clearly devastated on the sideline, watching in resigned agony as his team waded through those horrible final seconds, and even I felt bad for him given how incredibly he’s played in this series. Not that bad, though, but a little, I suppose.
As with any other Lakers game, there is no real take-home lesson here. A win like this for any other team would probably mean a turning point and an opportunity to get their minds right and blaze through the rest of the series. This Lakers team? Not so fast. The optimist in me wants to say they will put the clamps down and thoroughly destroy a demoralized Nuggets team in game four, especially now that they have adjusted somewhat to the altitude. The realist in me knows better. Game four will more than likely be exactly like the first three – punches and counterpunches in the first half, then a dogfight to the finish line. In my mind, the odds of us prevailing in close games are about two in three, which is borne out by the series thus far, so Denver may have as much as one more miracle win in them. That won’t be enough, though, and I still see this one going no further than six games. We’ll pretend that was the realist and not the optimist talking.