Game three was ugly and came down to effort, plain and simple. The Denver Nuggets won game three 99-84 despite shooting just 39.8% from the field, compared to the Lakers' underwhelming 37.2%. With bricks aplenty, the Nuggets dominated the glass, out-rebounding the Lakers 54-44, with 19 offensive rebounds compared to just 13 from LA.
The Nuggets killed the Lakers with numerous offensive rebounds and putbacks. Their effort on the glass gave them extra possessions and allowed them to win the points in the paint battle for the first time in the series with a surprising 52-32 advantage. Add in the 20 points the Nuggets scored off of LA's 15 turnovers and you can easily understand why the Lakers lost. However, after a disastrous first quarter, where the Lakers were outscored 30-14, the Lakers continually fought back and were always hanging around, with the deficit anywhere from 6 to 12 points. In the end, the Lakers could not get over the hump and close out the game, despite plenty of opportunities.
The Lakers also seemed to get robbed on quite a few calls. On quite a few occasions LA would make a push and a call would go against them and thwart their momentum. In order to not be a full fledged homer, I have plenty of visual evidence gathered for you to watch. Home teams always have an advantage when it comes to the officials, but some of these calls were highly questionable.
The first quarter started out the way the Lakers wanted. The Lakers controlled the pace and made sure the Nuggets didn't turn the game into a track meet. The Lakers went into Bynum early, forcing the Nuggets to double team, and received some good looks off of the kick out and swing. The Lakers ran consecutive plays that were beautiful. Sessions dribbled up to the far wing as Kobe circled down from the far wing and up to the near elbow. Kobe set a nice backdoor pick on Pau's man at the near elbow, allowing Pau a free release to the rim. Sessions immediately noticed Pau running free and sent the lob for the alley oop dunk. They followed this with the same exact set, but with a wrinkle due to the reaction of the defense. Sessions dribbled to the far wing. Kobe circled down from the far mid block up to the near elbow to set the backpick on Pau's man. The Nuggets covered Pau, rotating behind the pick, so Kobe continued upward and popped up to the top of the key as Bynum set a downscreen for him. Bynum annihilated Afflalo on the screen, and Mozgov didn't switch, leaving Kobe wide open to catch and shoot the open 18ft jumper. Kobe swished it. That put the score at 12-12 with just over five minutes to go.
Following Kobe's jumper, Ty Lawson burst onto the scene. Lawson used a pick from Faried on the far wing to attack the baseline and finish at the rim for a layup. He then stole a bad pass in the lane from Pau to a cutting Ebanks, and he took it the distance to throw down a nice dunk. Two possessions later, Lawson gathered a McGee block, pushed up the court to the far elbow, and kicked out to Arron Afflalo for the open far wing 3, swish. The next possession Lawson was at the near wing. He avoided the pick and attacked baseline. He blew by his man and got fouled on the layup, sinking both free throws. Following that, Lawson dribbled up to the near wing, attacked baseline, got to the mid block and hit a stepback 13ft jumper. The next possession Lawson ran a high pick and roll from the top. Jordan Hill was forced to switched onto him. Lawson blew by Hill as he drove left to the near side and finished with a tough lefty layup over Hill's outstretched arms. A couple possessions later, Lawson was at the far wing. He attacked baseline, blowing by Blake, and ended up hitting a tough runner as he was fouled. He sank the free throw. Lawson's massive impact swelled the Lakers deficit to 14 points. From the 4:35 mark on, Lawson went 5-6 for 13 points, 1 rebound, 2 assists, 1 steal, and 0 turnovers. In the first 7:25, Lawson went 0-1 and did nothing else as the Lakers controlled the tempo. The Nuggets finished the quarter +11 on rebounds, +7 on fast break points, and +10 on points in the paint. Their activity was tremendous.
The final seconds of the first quarter provided one of the numerous dubious calls against the Lakers. Hoping to end the quarter on a high note, Kobe caught the ball at the far top key. Kobe stood at an angle with his back facing the camera. With Brewer crowding him, Kobe waited for Brewer to reach in. As Brewer reached across his arms, Kobe immediately went up for the jumper through Brewer's reach. The refs called the foul, but they ruled it a foul on the floor. The reach-in-swing-through-jumper almost always gets rewarded free throws, but not this time. Instead of a trip to the line, Kobe ended up getting doubled and turning the ball over to end the quarter down 30-14. Kobe went 3-5 for 6 points, 1 assist, and 2 turnovers. Bynum went 0-2 for 0 points, 2 rebounds, 1 assist, and 1 block. Pau went 2-5 for 4 points, 1 rebound, 1 assist, 1 block, and 1 turnover.
To start the second quarter, Andre Miller did something I have never seen before in an NBA game. Miller brought the ball up to the far top and used a McGee pick to drive the lane on the far side. Once Miller got to the far mid block, he threw a pass high off the glass to the rolling McGee. McGee gathered the ball at the near block, attacked baseline, and kicked the ball out to an open Brewer at the far wing 3, swish. Many guys have thrown the ball off the glass for their trailing teammate to dunk during fast breaks. Some guys have thrown the ball off the glass to pass to themselves, notably Kobe. But I have never seen someone throw it off the glass while running a pick and roll. Simply put, the play was impressive.
Early in the second, the lead swelled to 24 points, with LA down 41-17. Kobe checked in at the 7:33 mark and was able to cut the lead down from 17 to 11 within two minutes. Blake attacked baseline from the far wing, circled under the basket like a hockey player, and kicked out to Kobe at the near top 3. Kobe swished the open look. Then Pau and Blake made a nice defensive play to tip a pass from Andre Miller down to Gallinari at the rim. Kobe gathered the ball, went behind his back from right to left in order to avoid Miller, who tried to take the foul and prevent the break, and then pushed up the far side. Once Kobe got to the far wing, he started sizing up Al Harrington, who was pedaling back towards the rim. Kobe attacked the rim with aggression, as he jumped off of two feet and went up with both hands on the ball. Al hammered Kobe in the air with a hard foul, but Kobe was able to land safely due to his strong take off. Kobe sank the free throws. Two possessions later, Kobe caught the inbound pass at the far corner. With 6 on the shot clock, Kobe jabbed right to create just enough space to launch a 3. Kobe swished the 3 in Gallinari's face.
With the momentum going their way, the Lakers looked to get the deficit down to single digits. With Al Harrington in the game, LA looked to get Bynum the ball in the post. However, Bynum was passive with the ball and seemed more interested in kicking the ball out rather than abusing the much smaller defender. Barnes sent the entry from the far corner to Bynum at the far block. Bynum could have quickly turned baseline and attacked the rim, but instead he waited and allowed Barnes' man to come down and double him. Bynum promptly kicked the ball out to Blake at the far wing as Barnes curled to the top 3. Blake immediately sent the re-entry and cut through. Bynum once again passively worked with the ball, as he stood up straight and allowed Barnes' man to come down and double him. Bynum kicked the ball out to Barnes at the top, and Barnes bricked the 3. Following this, JaVale McGee pulled off an All-Star caliber move. JaVale caught the ball at the far block in an iso set. McGee took one dribble with his back to the basket, turned middle, and finished with a lefty scoop shot under Bynum's arms on the near side.
Following JaVale's scoop shot, which put the Nuggets up 13, and moved JaVale's mom into an adrenaline rush, the refs made another interesting call. With Blake at the far wing, Bynum set a nice downscreen on Gallinari at the near elbow. As Kobe popped up to the near wing and caught the pass, Gallinari fought through the screen and recovered. Kobe then sent the entry pass to Bynum at the near mid block. After hitting Bynum, Kobe cut into the lane, bumped Gallinari, and watched as Gallinari flew back, fell down, and slid on his butt. Gallo pulled off a perfect flop, and the refs rewarded him for it by calling an offensive foul on Kobe. Kobe glared and talked to the refs the entire way down the court. The incredulous call really ticked him off. The fact that Gallo fought through the tough Bynum screen, and then flew back like he was shot out of a cannon, provided an annoying, yet hilarious, disparity.
A couple possessions later, JaVale unleashed the scoop shot again. McGee caught the ball at the near mid wing. He attacked middle, and finished with a righty scoop under Bynum's arm on the far side. The next possession, Lawson dribbled at the top 3 and used a McGee pick to attack right. Bynum didn't hedge the screen, Sessions could only recover to ride the back of Lawson's left hip, and Lawson finished with an uncontested layup at the rim to put the Nuggets up 55-38. Sessions sank one free throw after getting fouled on a dive to the rim, and the Lakers finished the half down 55-39. Kobe went 2-7, 2-4 from deep, for 8 points, 1 rebound, 1 assist, and another turnover. All of Kobe's misses in the quarter came from the perimeter, 19, 16, 26, 13, and 26ft. After struggling with his shot in game one, Kobe decided to attack the rim. In game three, this did not happen. Bynum finished 0-1 for 0 points and 3 rebounds. Pau went 2-2 for 4 points, 2 rebounds, and 1 assist. Lawson went 2-4 for 5 points, 1 rebound, and 2 assists. With Lawson bottled up, the Lakers played the Nuggets even in the quarter, as both teams scored 25 points. The Nuggets finished the half +10 on points in the paint, +13 on rebounds, and +7 on points off of turnovers.
Entering the third quarter, Ric Bucher reported, "I talked to coach Mike Brown coming out of the locker room about how do they get Andrew Bynum going, and he said, 'You know what, he's gotta get himself going. He has the ability to effect the game at both ends of the floor, and right now he's not doing it at either end.' He said, 'You know what, we talked to him specifically about making JaVale McGee shoot over the top.'" Bynum finished the first half 0-3 for 0 points, with just 5 rebounds, 1 assist, and 1 block. His disappearance was clearly felt. Kobe attempted to compensate, but his jumper wasn't falling. Bynum's lack of attempts can be attributed to the hard double teams sent to him nearly every time he touched the ball, however, Bynum was passive. An aggressive Bynum should have no problem splitting any double team the Nuggets throw at him. Bynum seemed much more intent on kicking the ball out and watching brick after brick. The fact that the coaching staff had to remind Bynum to make McGee actually shoot the ball instead of relying on his greatest strength, athleticism, is troubling. McGee's scoop shot and activity on the glass burned Drew on numerous occasions. Mike Brown recognized Bynum's lack of activity and he essentially blasted him publicly. Brown's disappointment was clearly expressed in that statement.
In the third quarter, Bynum finally got going. Kobe force fed him the ball and tried to get the big fella involved. On the first play, Kobe was at the near wing. He sent the entry to Bynum at the near block. Bynum kicked the ball back out to Kobe at the near wing once Afflalo left Kobe to double down. Kobe immediately sent the re-entry. Then Gallinari came over from the far side to double Bynum. Bynum kicked the ball out to Kobe at the top 3. With little time left on the clock, Kobe jabbed right, pumped, which got Afflalo in the air, and drove left to attack the basket. Kobe missed the layup, but he got his offensive rebound and got fouled on the putback. Kobe sank both free throws. The next possession, Bynum was put in an iso on the far block with 6 on the clock. As he attempted to turn middle, Bynum dribbled into Mozgov's chest and went up with a fading jumper. Bynum air balled the shot. Two possession later, Bynum scored his first basket of the game. Kobe stood at the near wing and sent the entry to Bynum at the near mid block. Bynum backed down with two dribbles and turned baseline to hit the lefty turnaround from 7ft. This put the score at 55-43 with 9:00 left in the third. Following an explosive Ramon Sesssions dunk, Kobe pulled off a play that only Kobe pulls off. Sessions stood at the far top and swung the ball to Kobe at the near wing. Kobe avoided a pick from Pau to attack the baseline. Kobe geared up for the rim and went up strong with two hands. Kobe took a lot of contact from Mozgov on the body and he also took a hit on the arms. The refs called a jump ball. Kobe then won the jump ball versus the 7'1" Mozgov and tapped the ball out toward the near side half court. Sessions tracked down the ball and hit Kobe at the far wing. Kobe nailed the deep 27ft 3 to put the score at 59-50 with 7:20 left. Following that, Bynum utilized another iso set at the near block to turn baseline and hit an 11ft turnaround jumper.
With Bynum reengaged, Kobe then directed traffic on the next possession to get Bynum the ball. Kobe swung his arms and pointed his finger to direct the other Lakers where to go. Kobe then began hollering at Bynum, pretty much telling him to do work in the post. Kobe swung the ball to Ebanks at the far wing and Ebanks sent a perfect entry to Bynum toward the baseline. McGee overplayed Bynum's top side, giving Bynum space toward the baseline. Instead of finishing with a strong dunk or reverse, Bynum inexplicably spun back to the middle and shot a turnaround contested fade. Bynum missed and Ty Lawson raced down the far side for a reverse layup in transition. Not to be discouraged, Kobe went right back to Bynum on the next possession. Kobe held the ball at the top 3, jabbed right, and attacked right. As he dribbled into Afflallo's chest, Kobe hesitated for a second and then spun back to the middle. Kobe picked up his dribble and took two steps. As he elevated, Kobe thought about shooting the floater, but instead he doubled clutched and dumped the ball off to Bynum at the near block. Bynum went up strong and finished an and one as he threw the ball over his shoulder and off the glass. Bynum sank the free throw to put the score at 63-55. Three possessions later, Bynum finished another and one. Kobe gathered his own miss, dribbled out to the far corner, and hit Bynum in good position at the far block. Bynum caught the ball, took one dribble, shook middle and turned baseline. As he turned, McGee came down on Bynum's shoulders to wrap him up. Bynum went up strong and finished with a righty bank off the glass. Bynum sank the free throw, 67-60, with 3:53 remaining in the third.
Following a Barnes turnover, Andrew Bynum had a moment that should serve as a lesson for later on. Sessions pushed up the far side and got into the lane. He elevated and then hit a trailing Bynum in the lane. Bynum went up for the shot, and JaVale McGee swatted it. The call should have been a goaltend. As the ball flew out to the far mid wing, Bynum threw a tantrum. He began barking at the refs and throwing his arms down in disgust. All this happened as Sessions gathered the ball and hit the jumper. Doris Burke, ESPN color analyst, commented, "Kobe, coming up the floor, is barking at Andrew Bynum to stop worrying about it, next play." After Lawson got fouled on a reach from Sessions, Mike Brown called timeout. As the teams went to their benches, Bynum began walking over to the ref and yelling at him. Kobe and Barnes intervened and restrained Bynum. Bynum let his emotions get the best of him and he was very fortunate not to receive a technical. His emotional outburst took him completely out of the frame of the game, as Ramon gathered the ball and Bynum turned to yell at the ref. Following that, Bynum finished a putback off of an offensive rebound on the near block to put the Lakers the closest they would get, 68-64.
With the Lakers gaining momentum, the refs once again made a questionable call. After Kobe saved a pass on the near sideline, Hill was able to catch it at the free throw line. Hill quickly hit Barnes at the far block. Barnes went up strong and banged bodies with JaVale McGee. Barnes did not get a foul called, and instead he threw up a contested heave that got nowhere close to the rim. Barnes immediately jumped to gather the ball and he regained possession. The refs called him for passing to himself, a traveling violation. Barnes immediately went to complain to a ref, only to be passed off to the ref that made the call. Mike Brown and Barnes were steamed. If anything, Barnes deserved free throws. Following an open Faried jumper, the Lakers went into the fourth down 72-65. Kobe struggled, shooting 1-7 for 5 points, 4 rebounds (3 offensive), 3 assists, and 2 turnovers. However, he did succeed in getting Bynum back in the flow. Bynum went 5-8 for 12 points, 4 rebounds, and 1 assist. Pau went 2-3 for 4 points, 2 rebounds, 1 assist, and 2 blocks. Lawson was once again held in check, going 2-6 for 5 points, 1 rebound, 1 assist, and 1 steal. The Lakers rode an assertive Bynum to win the quarter 26-17.
With the score in striking distance, the Lakers did not come out strong. The deficit swelled to 11 by the 8:57 mark. Sessions had an open 3 go in and out. Bynum gave up an offensive rebound and putback to McGee. Faried hustled down the court after Bynum free throws to beat everyone for an open reverse layup. Faried hustled from the far block during the free throw to under his own rim. Miller sent the outlet, and Faried finished. Following that, Bynum was doubled at the near block and ended up turning the ball over as McGee and Gallinari trapped him. Bynum pivoted toward the near corner, turned his back on any available teammates, and fell over as Miller crashed into him and knocked the ball out. Then the refs blew another call that would have favored the Lakers. After robbing Kobe of free throws on the swing through move to end the first, the refs robbed Sessions. Sessions used a Bynum pick at the far top to attack to his right. Sessions got to the far block and shot a floater. As the ball was in the air, the whistle blew. Sessions missed the shot, but he figured he had a trip to the line coming. Instead the refs insisted the foul was on the ground. Contact was made on the body as Sessions shot the floater, and the whistle blew after he released the ball. For the call to have been on the ground, that sure was a real late whistle. Faried followed this with an awesome two handed slam down the lane as the red sea parted for him. Then Bynum had an iso on the near block. Bynum backed down with two dribbles, but McGee was able to use his hand to poke the ball away, and Miller finished a layup in transition. LA called timeout to stop the bleeding at 11.
Coming out of the timeout, Kobe hit Pau for a corner 3. Pau swished it, but Andre Miller answered with a floating 12ft bank shot from the near mid block. Following a forced 3 from Kobe that missed, Bynum established great position on the far block for an early offense opportunity. With Faried on his back and almost under the rim, Blake sent the entry to Bynum. However, Bynum failed to seal Faried as the ball was in the air, and Faried slipped around and poked the ball away for a steal. McGee followed this with a nice reverse over Pau on the near side to put the score at 84-74 with 5:52 remaining. Bynum once again established good post position in an early offense opportunity. With Lawson fronting him, Kobe wisely lobbed a pass nice and high over the top. Bynum caught the ball and was fouled on the shot. He sank both free throws. With the deficit closing, the refs once again made another momentum swinging call. Gallinari got away with a push off to catch an inbound pass at the top. He then attacked to his left, and with Kobe hounding him, he went behind his back to move the ball to his right hand. Then the refs bailed him out as he threw up an ugly shot that didn't draw iron from the far elbow with under 2 seconds on the shot clock. Kobe went and talked to the ref, shook his head, made numerous faces, and just stood there appalled with the call. Gallo sank both and put the deficit back to 10.
Following bricks from both teams for the next two minutes, Kobe made one of two free throws to put the score at 86-79. This was Kobe's first point since the 7:22 mark of the third. With a 7 point deficit, and just under two minutes remaining, the refs made their final back breaking call. Gallinari caught the ball at the far wing and drove baseline past Blake. Blake reached in from behind and poked the ball away as Gallo got into the paint. The ball popped up and Gallo flailed his arms up to the rim. While there probably was a foul on the reach, the call should have been called on the floor, especially considering what happened to Kobe and Sessions. Instead, Gallo was awarded a shooting foul, and he sank both of the free throws to put the score at 90-81 with 1:45 left. Following this, Kobe hit Pau on a roll to the rim. Pau went strong but Faried went into beast mode and swatted Pau at the rim. Miller then hit an open 3 as Blake sagged off him to help on Lawson and that was that. The Lakers fired up some desperation 3's and bricked them all.
After a Miller free throw, the Lakers provided a play to serve as the microcosm of the game. Kobe looked to inbound the ball. Sessions and Blake failed to come back and receive the pass, so Kobe inbounded to Pau at the free throw line. Instead of moving toward the ball to secure the pass, Pau kept fading away, looking to move up the court. Gallinari came from nowhere, stepped in front of Pau, and finished the layup over Kobe. Then Kobe took the ball up the court and hit the toughest shot of the game. On a night where he struggled to make just about everything, Kobe was able to drive baseline from the far wing, split the defense, attack the rim, and elevate while holding the ball up high in his right hand. While elevating with the ball up high, McGee rotated from the near block and jumped to block the shot. Kobe then did a 180 spin while in the air, and he brought the ball down to throw the no look shot over his shoulder and off the glass. The shot was ridiculously impressive, the consequence was meaningless. Kobe shot 1-4 for 3 points, 1 rebound, 1 assist, and 1 turnover. Bynum went 0-0 for 6 points, 3 rebounds, and had 3 (only 2 were official because Blake was assessed the turnover on the entry pass) turnovers in a two minute span to start the fourth. Pau went 1-3 for 4 points, 2 rebounds, 1 block, and also had 1 turnover during the Bynum turnover stretch. The Lakers contained Lawson, as he went 0-2 for 2 points, 1 rebound, and 1 assist, but Andre Miller stepped up and went 3-4 for 9 points, and 3 assists. The Lakers lost the quarter 27-19.
Overall, Bynum's no show in the first half, and Kobe's misfires from the perimeter, doomed the Lakers. If either one had played well for the entire game, it wouldn't have mattered what calls the refs made. The Lakers failed to take care of business. No Laker shot particularly well other than Pau and Bynum. Kobe went 7-23, 3-10 from deep, for only 22 points, along with 6 rebounds, 6 assists, and an unforgivable 6 turnovers. Kobe has not had a high turnover game like this in a long time. Kobe's infatuation with the three ball was also disappointing. He shot many in hopes of cutting into the deficit, but on a night where he really struggled with his jumper, shooting from deep, even when open, may have been a bad decision. I expect Kobe to come back in game four and live in the paint with just about everything coming from 15ft and in. Kobe stated after the game, "I wasn't on my sweet spots. They tried to keep me more on the perimeter. I wasn't in the post a lot. I lived at the elbow the first two games and we got away from that a little bit." Pau went 7-13 for 16 points, 7 rebounds, 3 assists, 4 blocks, and only 1 turnover. Bynum went 5-11 for 18 points, with all 18 coming in the second half, along with 12 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 blocks, and 3 (2 official) turnovers. The rest of the Lakers combined to shoot 10-31 for 28 points.
Following the game, Bynum admitted that he wasn't ready for the game. He stated, "I got there a little late. So I probably didn't have as much time as I needed." He continued, "I took myself out [of it]. I was just not, I guess I don't know, maybe just not ready to play." Bynum's transparency may be admirable, but I'm sure Lakers nation, and more importantly, the organization, is not too excited to hear that their starting center was not ready for a playoff game! Kobe commended Bynum for his honesty, stating, "The first step to improving as a player is admitting to yourself you've done something wrong and how to correct that. I do the same thing too, I just don't tell." Mike Brown was not as supportive of Bynum, stating, "You hope at this time of the season everybody who steps on the floor is ready." Kobe and Brown are both correct. Bynum needs to realize his mistakes and improve, but those mistakes should come from effort and in game performance, not from a lack of effort and stepping on the court unprepared. Kobe may make mistakes on the court, but he is always prepared come game time. There is no excuse for stepping on the court, for a playoff game no less, and not being prepared to play hard and do work.
As long as the Lakers come out and play hard in game four, they should steal Denver's home court advantage. I'm sure Bynum won't allow JaVale McGee to look like the better player. JaVale shot 8-12 for 16 points, along with 15 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals, 4 blocks, and only 1 turnover. Yes, the same JaVale McGee who is infamous for plays featured in TNT's segment, Shaqtin' a Fool. Bynum finished his statements with this, "For what it's worth, I'll be ready for the next game."
We sure hope you are Andrew.
Maybe dropping one game against the Nuggets, and cutting down one more suspension game that Metta World Peace won't be able to play against the Thunder in round two isn't such a bad thing anyways.
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