Kobe Bryant had a stomach virus, had trouble keeping anything down all day, and took fluid by intravenous injection before the game. Turns out, it was the rest of the Lakers who played as if they should have been in the infirmary.
Bryant was the only Laker to provide any offense in Game 6 of the Lakers’ Western Conference first-round playoff series against the Nuggets in Denver on Thursday night. Denver won easily, 113-96, dominating play inside, shooting three-pointers as if they were playing a game of H-O-R-S-E in the driveway and thoroughly dominating every facet of play to force a Game 7 Saturday night at Staples Center.
The Nuggets have come back from a 3-1 deficit in the best-of-seven series to tie it.
Ty Lawson was as extraordinary for the Nuggets as the Lakers big men were miserable. Lawson scored a career playoff-high 32 points on 13-of-18 shooting and made five of his six three-point attempts.
When the Nuggets’ Corey Brewer scored his 11th consecutive point at the start of the fourth quarter to give Denver a 101-73 lead with 7:52 left, Lakers Coach Mike Brown called timeout and called off the horses. He pulled Bryant and effectively conceded the game. Garbage time had begun.
Of course, for the Lakers, garbage time began with the opening tip. They fell behind, 13-0, trailed by nine at the half, then were outscored 9-0 at the start of the third quarter. They got into the game at one point late in the second quarter, trimming the lead to four. From that point on, Denver went on a 16-2 run.
Bryant finished with 31 points, making 13 of 23 shots, but he might as well have been playing one-on-five all evening. He got no help from any corner.
Andrew Bynum scored 11 points, but was ineffective offensively throughout. He did have 16 rebounds, six on the offensive end. But with Nuggets defenders collapsing on him, he couldn’t convert any of those. These knockout games seem to get tougher and tougher.
Pau Gasol turned a disappearing act in the playoffs into an art form. He was a quiet one for 10 before garbage time began, with three rebounds. The Lakers almost seemed to be playing four on five for much of the game while the outcome was still in doubt.
The loss of Metta World Peace seemed to have a significant effect on the Lakers. World Peace had been averaging almost 16 points a game in the last 10 games before he received a seven-game suspension for an elbow to the head of Thunder guard James Harden in the next-to-last game of the regular season. He will be available for Game 7, though after the layoff, the question remains about how effective he will be.
Denver 90, Lakers 68 (end of third quarter)
The Lakers opened the second half with a nine-point deficit. They didn’t realize at the time how good they had it. Ty Lawson made sure of that.
Lawson had a career playoff-high 32 points after three quarters, making 13 of 18 shots, including five of six from long range, to keep the Nuggets in complete command.
Denver scored the first nine points of the half and then answered any Laker challenge thereafter.
The Nuggets scored on drives, from behind the three-point arc and with their mid-range game. Kobe Bryant kept the Lakers from falling completely out of sight, but he had virtually no help.
Scary moment early in the second half when Bryant slammed Kenneth Faried across the side of the head on a breakaway. Bryant was called for a flagrant foul and Faried, who was slow to get up, made both free throws for a 59-45 lead.
The lead grew to 61-45 on Arron Afflalo’s basket after another failed Lakers possession and 63-45 when Lawson made a seven-foot runner. That 9-0 start was enough to force a Lakers timeout.
Since the Lakers cut the lead to four late in the first half, Denver went on a 16-2 run.
The Nuggets didn’t let up. They increased the lead to 24 at 79-55 with a little more than four minutes left. By the end of the quarter, they had outscored the Lakers, 36-23.
The Lakers have not been able to get any scoring inside, and their two-for-nine shooting from three-point range has enabled the Nuggets to continue collapsing in the middle.
Denver 54, Lakers 45 (halftime)
The Lakers opened the second quarter with Kobe Bryant on the bench. He looked much more comfortable while playing than while sitting, with a towel draped over his knees and an I-can’t-believe-I-feel-like-this look on his face.
He re-entered the game after a timeout with 8:54 left in the second quarter and the Lakers trailing, 35-25. He promptly dropped a three-pointer to cut the deficit to seven, but Andre Miller, who had played so well in Game 5, came right back with another three-pointer to keep the Lakers from getting anything going.
Bryant seemed to push his illness to the side while he was on the court. When a timeout was called with 3:16 left, he had brought the Lakers back to within seven points at 45-38. The Lakers as a team were playing well in almost no category, but they were still in the game. At that point, Bryant had 19 points. No other Laker had more than five, and the inside game seemed almost like an afterthought.
Andrew Bynum scored only three points in the half, his first basket a hook with 5:38 to play in the second quarter. He did have 10 rebounds. Pau Gasol had not made his presence known. He scored two points in the first half on one-for-five shooting.
But with the Lakers shooting only 42% and featuring virtually no game inside, they still trailed by only nine.
Bryant made seven of 13 shots for his 19 points.
Ty Lawson led Denver, also with 19 points, while Danilo Gallinari added 10 for the Nuggets, who were shooting 51%.
Denver 30, Lakers 20 (end of first quarter)
Would the good Andrew Bynum show up or the bad Andrew Bynum? Would Kobe Bryant, who missed the shoot-around earlier because of a stomach virus and had an IV to hydrate himself before the game, be good to go or limited? Would Pau Gasol demonstrate any playoff intensity?
The answers came quickly and weren’t good for the Lakers. Denver jumped to an 11-0 lead. The Lakers tried to go inside to Bynum, who looked sluggish and couldn’t score. Bryant missed short on two outside shots, and when Ty Lawson went coast to coast for the 11-0 lead, the Lakers took a timeout.
Bryant finally got the Lakers on the board after another Denver bucket on a jumper to make it 13-2 with 8:25 to play in the period, but at that point, Denver had gotten every loose ball and was getting downcourt much more quickly than the Lakers.
Bryant generated some offense after that, and when a timeout was called with 2:33 left, the Nuggets held a 27-16 lead. The Lakers at that point were shooting 33%, the Nuggets 58%.
The Lakers’ star guard finished the quarter with 10 points on four-of-eight shooting and looked to be his usual self for much of the quarter. He was the Lakers’ offense.
Lawson was the early sparkplug for the Nuggets with 15 points on five-for-seven shooting; he made all four of his three-point attempts.
Bynum, double-teamed whenever he got the ball down low, was largely taken out of the offense and missed all five of his shots, though he did have nine rebounds. Three were on the offensive end but he couldn’t convert any of them. Gasol was invisible, scoreless with no rebounds.
More questions: Does Kobe Bryant have the stamina to keep it up and bring the Lakers back?