The final score of last night’s Lakers-Nuggets game was 102-99 and the only reason the game didn’t go into overtime was because the two good looks LA got at the end of the game didn’t fall.
But the game wasn’t really as close as the score seems to indicate.
Going into the fourth quarter, Denver was in the lead 76-65 and, were it not for a barrage of 3′s and some pinpoint shooting by Kobe Bryant, the game would never have come down to the last shot.
Here’s the shot chart for the fourth quarter from the Lakers:
Notice how they shot 7-12 from behind the arc, which accounted for 21 of their 34 points in the quarter. Not to take away from the Lakers, but that type of game isn’t sustainable and isn’t going to win them this series. It wasn’t even enough to win last night, as when the shots mattered most when the finals seconds ticked off, the Lakers missed back to back 3′s.
Compare that to the Nuggets fourth quarter shooting:
We discussed last week how the Lakers have championship potential, but if they are giving up that many points in the paint and relying on their 3 point shooting, where they ranked in the bottom five in the league this season, they won’t have a shot to make it past the likes of San Antonio or Oklahoma City.
A lot of the defensive issues last night come back to poor and, at times, immature play from their star center, Andrew Bynum. Bynum missed easy rotations and was not nearly as effective as he should be on offense.
He may be facing some of the issues that have plagued Memphis center Marc Gasol this post season, in that he doesn’t seem to be getting the amount of touches he should with how dominant he can be, but it’s hard to blame his teammates when he makes silly plays like shoving Denver’s Kenneth Faried after a minimal contact play that clearly didn’t warrant the reaction Bynum had.
Maturity plays a big part in confidence and with Bynum acting out at times, it’s hard to feel sorry for him.
Bryant did play an excellent game, going off for a game-high 43 points on 14-32 shooting for a 43% field goal percentage, slightly higher than his season shooting percentage. Denver, like many other teams in this league, aren’t going to have an answer for Bryant, so someone else on the Lakers is going to have to put them over the edge. Whether that be Bynum or Pau Gasol, who scored a measly 9 points in Game 5, someone has to step up.
It still doesn’t seem likely the Lakers will lose this series and dropping this game may actually benefit them in the long run. Metta World Peace, famously suspended for his elbow to Thunder guard James Harden, returns from his suspension in either Game 7 of this series (if it gets there) or in Game 1 of the Conference Semi Finals. You can bet the Lakers are going to need World Peace’s stout perimeter defense to help keep Kevin Durant in check.
But the Lakers still need to find a working offensive game plan and stick to it. As great as Kobe Bryant is, he isn’t going to walk them into the NBA Finals by himself.