It looks Rocky
Those close-out games are apparently a little harder than Andrew Bynum expected.
The only players that folded Tuesday were the Lakers, under the pressure of their own awful shooting until the final few minutes against the Denver Nuggets.
The boos started early in the third quarter at Staples Center, receded with a late Lakers run, and were replaced by silence at the end of a 102-99 Nuggets victory in Game 5 of the first round.
The Lakers must now make another trip to Denver for Game 6 on Thursday. If they’re lucky enough to win, they’ll go right to Oklahoma City for the start of the next round.
But if they lose on Thursday, they’re back at Staples Center for, gulp, a Game 7. In the first round. While Oklahoma City sits and waits for the winner.
The Lakers made a late push, biting into a 15-point lead that Denver held with 6:16 to play.
Kobe Bryant made four of five three-point attempts in the fourth quarter until his attempt from the right side rimmed out with 20.9 seconds left and the Lakers down three.
Bryant had another chance to tie the score but missed a three-point try from the left side. Steve Blake took the rebound and found Ramon Sessions alone on the right side. Sessions missed as time expired and the Lakers earned an unexpected trip to Denver.
Bryant had 43 points, Bynum had 16 and no other Lakers starter hit double figures.
“I almost bailed us out,” Bryant said. “That’s not something we can use to rely on to win a championship. We all have to play with energy...and a sense of urgency.
Pau Gasol had nine points on four-of-11 shooting. Sessions had nine points on three-for-12 shooting. Matt Barnes made five of 14 shots.
Bynum said the previous day that elimination games were “actually kind of easy” and that “teams tend to fold if you come out and play hard in the beginning.”
The Nuggets used the quote to their advantage, even including it in a pregame video session.
“We threw that everywhere,” guard Ty Lawson said. “I mean, that was a little bit of fuel, saying that close-out games are the easiest, but obviously they are not.”
Asked about the quote after Game 5, Bynum said he didn’t regret saying anything.
“We didn’t get off to a good start,” he said. “So I guess the saying holds true.”
The Lakers were so interested in closing out the Nuggets, they shot 33% in the first half and trailed, 49-43.
There were even some boos in the third quarter after JaVale McGee dunked and Bynum and Gasol shrugged at each other.
A reserve center, McGee finished with 21 points and 14 rebounds. Reserve guard Andre Miller had 24 points and eight assists, scoring two late baskets as Blake watched helplessly.
The only thing the Lakers could celebrate was the pending return of Metta World Peace. He will either be back in the first game against Oklahoma City or Game 7 against Denver.
No champagne corks popped over that news. Not that the Lakers ever celebrate getting out of the first round, though it’s getting harder for them.
They needed six games to get rid of seventh-seeded New Orleans last season, and everybody knows what happened after that. (Hint: Dallas, Jose Barea, sweep, Bynum suspension.)
The Lakers were privately seething after seeing the Nuggets use a laptop computer in their huddle during a 20-second timeout with 19.9 seconds left to play.
The computer apparently belonged to an assistant coach sitting behind the bench with it. NBA rules forbid the use of such devices in the huddle, which won’t change the final score but can carry a hefty fine of up to $250,000.
The Lakers planned to win this game, despite conspiracy theories they should lose to ensure World Peace’s return in the next round.
“I thought it was funny,” Coach Mike Brown said of such speculation before the game.
Not many people laughed at Staples Center after Tuesday’s game. Only if they wore a Nuggets jersey.