A little rest goes a long way for the Lakers
Carmelo Anthony was limping, dehydrated and ineffective, but the Lakers were somehow in worse shape.
Fatigue didn’t stop the Lakers, but the Denver Nuggets definitely did, tying up the Western Conference finals with a 120-101 pounding in Game 4 Monday night at the Pepsi Center.
Anthony’s pregame stomach illness, coupled with a sprained right ankle suffered in the second quarter, gave the Lakers hope of taking an overwhelming series lead.
But the distinction between hope and reality was as hard-hitting as the Denver altitude, the Lakers rarely challenging in the least-contested game of the series. Game 5 is Wednesday at Staples Center.
The Nuggets devastated the Lakers in the rebounding department, 58-40, and showed the Lakers how tough it can be to win an NBA playoff game if your only lead is 1-0 (a free throw by Kobe Bryant 14 seconds into the first quarter).
It was all Denver from there, the symbolic moment coming when Chris “Birdman” Andersen flapped his wings after a big blocked shot in the second quarter, the ball ricocheting hard off the backboard, kind of like the Lakers’ evening.
Indeed, the Nuggets swooped back into the series after being grounded in a Game 3 home loss.
“There was an urgency to our performance and I think the result showed in the scoreboard,” Denver Coach George Karl said.
Meanwhile, the Lakers, having reclaimed home-court advantage in Game 3, failed to fire up for Game 4.
They were outscored in the paint, 52-34, and shot only 41.5%. Bryant had 34 points, but wasn’t as efficient in Game 4, making 10 of 26 shots. Pau Gasol had 21 points and Andrew Bynum 14, but that was about it for the Lakers, whose bench was outscored, 42-24.
Kenyon Martin, Nene and Andersen combined for 42 rebounds, two more than the entire Lakers team.
“They beat us to the ball numbers of times tonight,” Lakers Coach Phil Jackson said.
Was it a cause for concern?
“It was tonight,” he said. “I hope it’s not on Wednesday night.”
That the Lakers left Denver on better terms than when they arrived was not lost on them, despite giving up 43 points in the fourth quarter, two fewer than their opponent playoff record set by Dallas in 1986.
“We did our job in terms of coming in here and getting one of these games,” Bryant said. “We would have loved to get both of them. Now it’s time to go home and see if we can’t take care of business at Staples.”
The Nuggets, known for their unpredictable, wild-eyed tendencies, were all business in Game 4.
Anthony had only 15 points on three-for-16 shooting, but all five Nuggets starters scored in double figures and reserve guard J.R. Smith scored 24 points, making four of nine three-point attempts.
Anthony rolled his ankle while guarding Bryant near the free-throw line in the second quarter. He received an IV treatment at halftime for dehydration.
Anthony had made only one of 11 shots by the time halftime rolled around, but the Lakers were shooting only 38.1% and trailed, 52-45.
Bryant was wobbly after their Game 3 victory but said he “felt fine” after Game 4. Jackson said it was “not a very good excuse” to blame fatigue for the Lakers’ woes Monday.
Instead, Jackson took aim at the referees, saying the game got out of hand. The Lakers made 24 of 35 free-throw attempts, the Nuggets 37 of 49.
Jackson was particularly unhappy with a play in which Luke Walton was called for a technical foul after complaining about getting elbowed by Nene.
“The referee gave [Walton] a technical then subsequently gave him three consecutive fouls out on the floor,” Jackson said. “That’s not equal refereeing, and those are the things that change the course of games. We want the game to be fair and evenly played.
“There’s another situation out there tonight that was unacceptable by [Denver guard] Dahntay Jones. Just unacceptable defense, tripping guys and playing unsportsmanlike basketball.”
Bryant, when asked if he was tripped by Jones, replied with sarcasm: “No, I just fell on my face for no reason. I’m a klutz.”
It was an awkward night for the Lakers, on many fronts.
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By the numbers
Rebounding differential (58-40) in Denver’s favor in Game 4.
Losses for the Lakers in 16 playoff games this season.
Lakers losses in 58 playoff games during 2000, ’01 and ’02 title runs.
Average margin in Lakers’ four playoff road defeats this spring.
Denver points from the bench in Game 4 (Lakers had 24).
Technical fouls in Game 4 (Lakers’ Luke Walton, Denver’s J.R. Smith, Carmelo Anthony and Kenyon Martin, all in fourth quarter).