GAME 1: at Lakers 105, Nuggets 103
GAME 2: Nuggets 106, at Lakers 103
GAME 3: Lakers 103, at Nuggets 97
GAME 4: at Nuggets 120, Lakers 101
GAME 5: at Lakers 103, Nuggets 94
GAME 6: Lakers 119, at Nuggets 92
Ebb and flow
Here we go again. So much for taking care of business early. In Game 1, the Lakers overcame another slow start behind Kobe Bryant’s 40 points and Trevor Ariza’s key steal of an inbounds pass with 30.5 seconds to play.
Then in Game 2, the Lakers let a 14-point lead in the second quarter slip away, and the Nuggets made 17 consecutive free throws late in the game as the Lakers lost home-court advantage again.
Derek Fisher’s “This is your moment” speech in Game 3 demonstrated the on-court leadership he had exhibited all season. Except for Andrew Bynum’s complaining about lack of minutes, the Lakers answered the call. Bryant scored 41 and Ariza made another late inbounds steal to secure the win.
The focus was short-lived. The Nuggets dominated on the glass (58-40), in the paint (52 points to 34), in fastbreak points (15-5) and bench production (42-24) in the Game 4 rout.
Tied through three quarters of Game 5, the Lakers scored 11 unanswered points to start the fourth period -- a performance players said was the turning point in the playoffs. The momentum carried through in Game 6 in Denver with the series-clinching victory.
Former Lakers general manager Jerry West said LeBron James had surpassed Bryant as the league’s best player. Bryant responded in Game 1 with his 40 points, including 15 of the Lakers’ final 23.
Carmelo Anthony had averaged only 14.5 points and shot 32.8% against the Lakers in the regular season. He scored 16 points in the first quarter of Game 1 and finished with 39.
The clutch performances between the two Olympic teammates lasted throughout the series.
Lakers forward Pau Gasol and Nuggets guard Chauncey Billups played with consistency. Billups was an effective scorer and Gasol a crucial rebounder, particularly important considering Bynum’s disappearing act.
Curiously, World Wrestling Entertainment fit into the conversation during the series.
Kroenke Sports, apparently not counting on a Western Conference finals in Denver, had booked WWE’s “Monday Night Raw” the same night Game 4 was scheduled at the Pepsi Center, much to the dismay of WWE Chairman Vince McMahon.
Preference was given to the Nuggets-Lakers, and WWE relocated “Monday Night Raw” to Staples Center. Part of the event’s plan for the relocated program in L.A. included an impersonator of Nuggets/Pepsi Center owner Stan Kroenke.
By the numbers
Kobe Bryant: 34 points
Pau Gasol: 17.5 points
Carmelo Anthony: 27.5 points
Chauncey Billups: 18.2 points
After clinching the series, most of the Lakers didn’t spend much time wearing T-shirts and caps that proclaimed them Western Conference champions.
What was there to celebrate? The only mark of a successful season for these Lakers would be an NBA championship, and they remembered well the six-game loss to Boston in the 2008 Finals.
The Lakers said they felt ready this time.
They had one more year of experience and had been tested: They needed to play 18 games to advance to the Finals, three more than in 2008.
Lakers Coach Phil Jackson said, “We saved our best game for last here,” on the Game 6 victory.
With their subdued attitude, the Lakers were only four wins from the franchise’s 15th NBA championship.