5 things to take from Lakers’ 104-100 Game 2 win vs. Nuggets
Below are five things to take away from the Lakers’ 104-100 Game 2 win Tuesday over the Denver Nuggets.
1. Kobe Bryant made Denver pay for single coverage. With the unenviable task of choosing whether to throw all of its resources at Bryant or Andrew Bynum, the Nuggets believed that leaving Bryant alone was worth the risk. So Bryant embarrassed them by posting 38 points on 15-of-29 shooting, but there was logic behind Denver’s strategy. Bryant had shot only 27.5% through four regular-season games and started Game 1 with a two-for-10 clip. The Nuggets take Bryant’s presence seriously, but they were willing to risk Bryant’s going off on a scoring tear so long as no one else did.
The strategy didn’t work even if many of Bryant’s field goals came on deep jumpers. But they were good looks for Bryant because, well, he’s Kobe, and he created enough space off efficient jabs and pump fakes. One time, Bryant stepped back with a Dirk Nowitzki-like one-legged fade-away. On another play, Bryant pump-faked, drew a foul on Arron Afflalo and sank a 16-footer that bounced off the rim and dropped through the net. Bryant also attacked aggressively in the post.
Bryant struck a great balance in punishing Denver while making sure others got involved. As soon as a double-team formed in one third-quarter play, he kicked the ball out to Ramon Sessions, who swung toward Devin Ebanks for an open 20-footer. Bryant even chased down Nuggets forward Al Harrington on a fastbreak and stuffed him at the rim. Bryant then chased him down late in the fourth quarter, stole the ball and set Bynum up on the other end. Clearly, the rest he accumulated in the past month and the procedures he had on his right knee and left ankle in the off-season paid off. And with the Nuggets not throwing everything at him, Bryant made them pay.
2. The Lakers had a mixed effort in controlling the tempo. The Nuggets’ strategy wasn’t unfounded. In exchange for allowing Bryant to get his points, they had a better chance at playing at a quicker rate. This isn’t exactly Bryant’s fault. It’s just that the offense runs differently when it relies more on going inside. Too often, Sessions (five of 15) ran the offense at a quick pace, leading to rushed shots. That, in turn, led to Denver’s scoring points in transition (30) and the Lakers’ becoming more disorganized on defense. Combine the Nuggets’ 26 second-chance points and Ty Lawson’s increased aggressiveness (25 points, seven assists), and the Lakers allowed Denver to make the game closer than necessary.
3. Bynum and Pau Gasol were an unstoppable one-two punch. No, neither provided the same relentless defensive presence that they exhibited in Game 1. But even the Nuggets’ swarming double teams did little to stop them once they got the ball. When they weren’t kicking out of double teams, Gasol was setting Bynum up for lobs. When Bryant wasn’t scoring, Bynum either was throwing hooks and turnaround shots on the low block and Gasol was hitting jumpers and facilitating. All in all, the two combined for 40 points on 17-of-30 shooting.
4. The Lakers’ “Wild Card” award goes to Jordan Hill. Nuggets Coach George Karl rightly remained more concerned with Hill’s energy than with Steve Blake’s possibly hitting three-pointers or Devin Ebanks’ hitting open jumpers. His fears turned out to be correct. Hill grabbed 10 rebounds in 20 minutes, giving the Lakers an extra cushion in controlling the pace.
5. Sessions had an aggressive fourth quarter. He had struggled most of the game in either playing at the right tempo and playing with enough aggressiveness. Then suddenly, things clicked. His 10 points on four-of-eight shooting featured him throwing down a fast-break dunk, shooting two running floaters, converting on a layup and an And1. For someone who has struggled finding the right balance between playing aggressively and playing at a proper pace, this game marked a huge step for Sessions’ growth.
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