North of the 400

North of Toronto, South of a championship

Lakers share the wealth in game five win over Nuggets

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When Nene fouled out late in the fourth quarter of game five of the Western Conference Finals on Wednesday night, he lay on the court, shaking his head as if in disbelief.

He wasn’t alone, as the Nuggets let another one slip away, losing 103-94 to the Lakers, ceding them a 3-2 series lead.

The Nuggets had every reason to be confident they could steal a win in LA. They had survived a close call in game four, when the team nearly self-destructed in a succession of fouls, yet hung on to win. Carmelo Anthony looked good and shot good early on, while their bench had been outplaying the Lakers throughout the series.

Besides, they had won game two and nearly won game one, both played at the Staples Center.

But the Lakers were just as determined and met them head on; this game was a lot closer then it’s score shows.

It was a defencive kind of game, but not in the recent Knicks/Heat or Pistons/Spurs styles. Both sides were throwing themselves to the floor – Odon made a wild lunge at a loose ball in the fourth that’s completely illustrative of this. Both sides were making the other take it strong to the hoop – witness Chris Anderson, the Birdman, stuffing Odon early in the game, deadening his attempted dunk. Both sides were playing pressure-packed D – Carmelo wasn’t just double teamed, but had three defenders on him late in the fourth.

Bouncing back from a lackluster game four, Anthony had a good night – he shot 9-23 for 31 points and grabbed four boards in the process. From the charity stripe, he was nearly perfect, hitting 12 of 13.

He was alone in his play tonight.

Most of the Nuggets finished the game in the negative, with only Nene and Dahntay Jones having a +/- in the positive. JR Smith cooled off considerably from his game four hot streak, hitting only 3 of 13 shots (including 9 missed threes). Chauncy Billups took only seven shots, six of them threes, and hit four for 12 points – tying him with Kenyon Martin for second highest scorer on the Nuggets.

It was indicative of Denver’s shot selection, which faltered and withered late in the game. Too many quick, ill-advised long shots, plays that either took too long to develop or didn’t at all… it felt at times like if they were going to pull off the win, it was in spite of how their shots weren’t dropping.

A neat stat from the fourth: at one point, the Nuggets had a streak where they hit only three of 21 shots.

The Lakers, on the other hand, played like Denver had on Monday night. They spread the ball around, with five players scoring 12 or more points. Odom played his best game of the series and probably the playoffs, scoring 19 and grabbing 18 rebounds – and had four blocks, too.

Kobe Bryant had a similarly good game, scoring 22 on 6-of-13 shooting. He was a big reason why the Lakers were able to win: because he wasn’t forcing his shots and because he shared the load, getting eight assists. For the best example, look to one of them, from late in the fourth:

Kobe’s on the perimeter, looking for a long shot. He goes up, the Nuggets defence turns and pulls towards him… but it’s not a shot, it’s a quick pass to Odon, camped in the low post, who grabs the pass and stuffs it home. It’s either an expertly designed play, one the Nuggets completely fell for.

Or maybe it was a shot, or at least it was going to be until Kobe saw how the defence shifted, saw where Odon was and made a quick decision to go for the easy two rather then risk an iffy three.

Was it a one-off play? Or was that the turning point of this series, where Kobe realizes that no, he doesn’t have to do this alone.

One more fact: Carmelo outscored Kobe tonight, but for the first time it resulted in a loss.

Maybe this is less of a duel then a chess match after all.

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Written by M.

May 28, 2009 at 12:53 am

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