All Balls Don’t Bounce

Completely Random Sports Non Sequiturs From A Completely Random Hip Hop Head

Posts Tagged ‘kenyon martin’

Still On Track For Seven

Posted by hiphopmama on May 25, 2009

Lakers Nuggets
LA Lakers 101, Denver 120
     Series tied 2-2

Another predictable, if still disappointing, result. We were all hoping game 3 would be a sign of things to come, but the pragmatists (and historians) among us must have secretly known it was too tall an order. How many times have we written the storyline that supposedly ends with the Lakers turning a corner, only to watch it disintegrate in a crushing away loss? We only have to go back one series to witness this exact same scenario playing out, so it’s not surprising to see the same thing happening again. Doesn’t make it suck any less, though.

It was just a struggle all night for the team. In the first half, they were getting after it, but they just weren’t hitting their shots. Denver played like a proper home team and made a more concerted effort to take it to the rim and control the game that way. It also helped the Nuggets that they hit a fair few shots in this game, something they were completely unable to do in game 3. Melo had a bad game, suffering through some ailment or other, but the rest of the team showed up and played to its full potential. Billups was a true floor general; Martin and Nene attacked the glass with force; and JR Smith finally emerged from his hibernation to score 24 points and energize his team. It was the kind of performance I expected to see from them in game 3, when I was quasi-predicting a Denver win. It came one game late but was still plenty powerful.

It wouldn’t be particularly disheartening if we seemed capable of getting this kind of a result on our own home floor, but we have given no indication of being able to take a game over even at Staples. If there was ever a time for it, it was now, as the team could use it to galvanize itself and hopefully propel themselves forward just enough to take the series, even if it requires seven games (and really, who isn’t counting on that anyway?). We all just have to come to grips with the fact that there is no corner to be turned, no lesson to be learned, and that this Lakers team is who it is at this point. It hurts to admit it, but it’s true that our team has a weak, or at the very least variable, mental fortitude that is entirely undependable and liable to completely disappear on any given night. They can dig deep for a win some days, but on others it is outside the realm of possibility. Tonight was one of those nights, so we lost, and by a lot. I just keep repeating the mantra other Laker fans have espoused: you don’t necessarily have to be good to win it all, just good enough. In the end, we may still be good enough. But only just.

Posted in nba | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Home Court Advantage, Part Deux

Posted by hiphopmama on May 23, 2009

Threeeeee!!!

Threeeeee!!!

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.

Recap:

Posted in nba | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

It Had To Be

Posted by hiphopmama on May 21, 2009

Nuggets Lakers
Denver 106, LA Lakers 103
     Series tied 1-1

Did anyone really expect this series to go any other way?  After watching game 1? Please. We Laker fans may have harbored dreams of taking a commanding 2-0 lead and picking them off in 5 or 6, but this series screams “seven games” loud and clear. If it weren’t for the Bulls-Celtics first round series, I would not hesitate to dub this one a classic in the making, but as it stands it is likely to play second fiddle after that stunner. Yet while that match-up yielded more purely fantastic results, game after game, the stakes in this series are so much higher that, even without a single overtime game, this one might trump it. 

With that build-up, you just knew we were going to be heading back to Denver at 1-1. The frustrating part was how it happened. Tonight’s script was a reverse image of game 1, with the Lakers jumping out to the big first half lead – as high as 14 points – only to watch it dwindle and then disappear in the fourth quarter. Somehow, even with that big lead, we were the ones playing catch-up late in the game after Denver roared back to claim a 7-point lead at the 9-minute mark of the fourth. Our almost savior tonight was the three-point line, as big shots kept us in the running on numerous occasions. Back-to-back threes by Kobe and Brown cut that 7-point lead to 1, and a tough pull-up from distance by Kobe evened the score at 99. This time, though, the Nuggets were the ones who performed down the stretch, making free throw after free throw and executing (just) effectively enough to stave off a cataclysmic 2-0 series deficit. 

Carmelo had another stellar game despite a slow start, finishing with 34 points and 9 rebounds, including some incredible displays of strength on the offensive glass in crunch time. The way he effortlessly muscles defenders out of the way is a sight to behold, although it’s one I wouldn’t mind never witnessing again this season. He has officially shed the “chokes in big situations” tag he earned early in his career. He has stepped up marvelously in this series, going head to head with Kobe and coming up essentially even with one of the best to ever do it. Win, lose, or draw, I have gained a lot of respect for him, especially in his evident maturation as a person and player. Rather than engaging in Kenyon Martin style demonstrations after the play, he now simply jogs back up court and gets his job done. It doesn’t preempt him from being incredibly intense or maintaining his focus at all times, but it does prevent the occasional self-destruction he was prone to in the past. It’s nice to see that players can indeed develop in this way, and he is currently reaping the benefits.

On the (very small) plus side, our bigs played better in this game, looking less like the Swiss cheese they resembled in game 1. Pau had a strong night on the boards (17 rebounds plus 17 points), but two consecutive missed free throws late in the fourth put a damper on his rejuvenated performance. Odom played capably as well, as did Bynum, but Andrew was somewhat MIA as a result of Phil’s resorting to a smaller line-up, with Shannon Brown picking up a lot of those minutes. He played well in them too, scoring 8 points and hitting a big three in the fourth quarter. What was extra impressive was his willingness to take and make the big shot in an important situation. His worth just keeps going up and up.

I think the only take-home lesson from these first two games is that this is going to be a tight, tight series with little breathing room. I wouldn’t be surprised if, at the end of the series, the total point differential over a full seven games was under 25 or 30 points. Right now, we’re on pace for more like 20 points of differential between these two teams, a testament to how well constructed and well coached they both are. 

Highlights:

Hi ho, hi ho, it’s off to game 3 we go…

Posted in nba | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Off to a Better Start

Posted by hiphopmama on May 20, 2009

Play of the game

 

Play of the game

 

Denver 103, LA Lakers 105
     Lakers lead series 1-0

Sorry for the delay. This write-up was preempted by my attendance of the No Doubt concert, which was great, better even than this gripping game. I was lucky enough to get updates throughout (thanks, Diana), so my friends and I were biting our nails as it went down to the wire, and we let out a big “Lakers!” cheer when the final score came through. Poor Paramore probably thought it was for them. Oh well.

The best word I can think of to describe this game is EVEN. These are two quite evenly-matched teams, at least when the Lakers are somewhat off their game as they have been, and it was reflected in the tight scoreline in the final three quarters. It reminded me of a heavyweight boxing match, with each team punching, then counter-punching, then responding with a slightly reworked strategy. The Lakers came out flat, allowing the Nuggets to build as much as a 13-point lead in the first quarter, but after their second quarter spurt it was close the rest of the way. Around the seven-minute mark of the fourth quarter, Denver had a seven point lead, but other than that it was always around a one to four point margin. 

And then we closed on them. Our front line had been battered and bruised by the shorter and, frankly, lesser pairing of Nene and Kenyon Martin, but Pau kept on battling and eventually got something going by crashing the glass, specifically on the offensive end. More importantly, though, Kobe took over. He scored 18 points in the fourth, with nine straight free throws, including four to ice the game. He got a big assist from Ariza, who made two key plays in our come-from-behind effort. The first was a three-pointer when we were down 94-89 with 4:16 remaining, at a key moment when you felt we could either make or break our comeback. A Kobe jumper and a Fisher three put us in front 97-96 with 2:30 on the clock. Ariza’s other game-saving play was his steal of Denver’s inbounds pass after two Kobe free throws put us up 101-99 with 30 seconds remaining. Kobe was guarding Melo, but Ariza came out of nowhere and closed on the ball like a cornerback reading a quarterback’s eyes, just in time to snatch the ball off Anthony’s back shoulder and race down court. Anthony Carter’s pass, presumably obstructed by Lamar Odom’s lank, had just enough loft on it to give Ariza that extra split second, and that was all he needed. Two more Kobe free throws later, and it was a done deal. 

Actually, Chauncey Billups did his best in the midst of all that to steal the game back, hitting two ridiculous, highly contested three-pointers, but it wasn’t quite enough for the Nuggets, who had to settle for second-best on a night when they were the better team for most of the game. 

I can’t yet decide on an interpretation of this one. There are two non-mutually exclusive ways to go. The first is this: Championship clubs close games. It doesn’t matter how you play the first 47 minutes, only who is ahead when 48 are completed. In the end, the “better” team doesn’t always win, just the team that performs better when it matters most. The Lakers have the game’s best closer and arguably its best coach, along with last year’s playoff experience, so they have the natural advantage when it comes to late-game situations. This win is just a sign that we have the right ingredients to get the job done even when we’re not playing our best. The other interpretation is slightly less favorable: The Lakers are scraping by and will soon meet up with a team or a situation that with catch them out. Sure, they escaped by the skin of their teeth in this one, but one of these days they won’t be so lucky. They continue to underperform, even in this most crucial of games, and if they can’t get their act together they will soon be shown the exit so they can retreat to their Hollywood homes and watch the Finals from comfier confines.

I sit somewhere in between these two extremes. Yes, they were at a notch below their best, but, aside from the opening six minutes or so, they were not exhibiting the lack of effort that characterized those two catastrophic losses in Houston. They weren’t phoning it in, they were just being matched, move for move, by a very good team that has found its groove. They slugged it out, with some brave performances thrown in there (Kobe’s defending, Ariza’s hanging in there). Carmelo had an exceptional game, one which I doubt he can repeat too many times in this series, and our bigs were outworked by a pluckier twosome, all of which helped account for the close nature of the game. The Lakers have the ability to play much better than this, while the Nuggets have much more limited room for improvement. J.R. Smith was far from his best, and Chris Andersen will play a much bigger role in front of the home fans, but I doubt they can defend much better than they did in game one and of the starters, only Billups has the potential to show much more than he did last time out. And when all the chips were on the table, the Lakers were the ones who found a way to win, which is what it all comes down to. That doesn’t mean that they won’t make it interesting, but if they can continue to perform with the kind of heart we saw over the last three quarters of this one, they should still make it through. So we can start this whole process over again with Cleveland. Or Orlando, apparently.

Game recap:

Highlights:

Posted in nba | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »