Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Denver Outplays LA But Falls Short In Game 1

If the Denver Nuggets were going to steal a game in LA, last night was a golden opportunity. The Nuggets outplayed the Lakers for nearly the entire game. Denver looked like the hungrier, better team as they played suffocating defense not allowing the Lakers to get easy shots.

Carmelo Anthony was superb! Melo had 39 points, shooting 14-20 from the field and 4-5 from downtown. He carried his team by having arguably the best game of his career and reminded us of his championship run as a freshmen at Syracuse.

Melo had 16 in the first quarter as Denver built a 13 point lead. I was actually thinking the Nuggets would beat the Lakers in 6.

But a funny thing happened. For the entire playoffs, we've heard nothing but how great Denver's bench is. Well, it was the Lakers' bench that wiped away the 13 point lead and helped carry the team to the Game 1 victory.

LA's bench outscored Denver's 27-16. Lakers' bench outscored the Nuggets 20-3 in the first half.

Chris "Birdman" Anderson brought his usual energetic play off the bench, scoring 8 points with 5 boards and 2 blocks. His presence in the paint is dominant on both sides of the ball. But the Nuggets needed a little more from J.R. Smith, who some considered the best 6th man in the league.

Denver did a great job of defending in the paint. Where was Andrew Bynum, who many say was the missing ingredient for Lakers last year. Bynum had only 6 points and was in foul trouble most of the game. Lamar Odom only had 7 points. And Pau Gasol was quiet until Nene fouled out late in the game. Gasol had a huge block and then on LA's next defensive possession drew a charge on Carmelo. Gasol then went to the line and missed two free throws. He did redeem himself moments later by sinking his next 2 foul shots.

What really worries me about the Lakers is there defense. They can be way too soft. Denver had no problem driving the basketball and getting easy looks. Kenyon Martin had 15 and Nene had 14 just owning Gasol all night. One thing, K-Mart has the ugliest one handed shot. It looks like he just pushes the ball to the basket with no arc. I don't know how he makes that shot.

And Denver took 35 trips to the line compared to 24 by the Lakers. That right there tells you who was the more aggressive team. But the Nuggets struggled from the free throw line hitting just 65.7%. That killed them, especially in the first half when they shot 12-21 from the line and allowed the Lakers to get back into the game.

In the entire playoffs, Chauncey Billups was 66-69 from the line. He missed his first 3 free throws last night!

The Lakers finally had a Derek Fisher sighting last night. Fisher hit a huge 3 at the buzzer at the end of the first half to give the Lakers a 55-54 lead at half. Fisher finished with 13 points and 6 dimes.

Chauncey Billups had another solid night with 18 points, 8 assists and 5 rebounds, but Denver basically got nothing from its 2 guard spot in Dahntay Jones who only had 1 point.

And of course, the games greatest closer was just that last night. Kobe Bryant took the game over in the fourth quarter and willed his team to victory. Mamba had 18 4th quarter points and hit 6 consecutive free throws in the final 30 seconds. Bryant won the scoring duel against Melo finishing with 40.

Kobe was right on his points per shot with 40 points and 41 total shots.

After outplaying the Lakers and failing to win Game 1, I think this really is going to hurt the Nuggets mentally. This is a team that has played the best basketball in the NBA the last two months. And after giving a superb effort only to fall short may really hurt their confidence. I think the Lakers will steal one in Denver and win this series in 5.

One thing's for certain, Melo vs. Kobe is gonna be real fun to watch for the next couple of weeks.

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