To say that April 20th was not the Nuggets’ day would be an understatement.
The day started off badly when the team bus caught on fire on the 10 Freeway, a major freeway in Los Angeles, en route to the Staples Center. Members of the team were seen standing on the side of the road for 30 minutes.
It was reported by a team spokesman that “there was a pop, black smoke” and they rushed off the bus. Most teams use two team buses and the problem was with the first of the two buses. The Nuggets were not phased by the mishap and laughed it off.
What couldn’t be laughed off was Pau Gasol, the player of the game, and his effect on game one.
The Lakers were 3-0 during the regular season against the Denver Nuggets, but all three games were without the 7'0'' Spaniard who was acquired from the Memphis Grizzlies the first week of February.
The Nuggets hadn’t yet played the Lakers with Gasol, and it showed as Denver had no way to deal with him today.
Paul Gasol put on a tremendous performance and established playoff highs in his first Laker playoff game. He finished with 36 points, 16 rebounds, and eight assists, going 14-20 and shooting an amazing 70 percent from the field.
In the process of erasing the bad taste in his mouth from going 0-12 in the postseason prior to today, he also knocked down 8-8 from the free throw line and had three blocked shots.
The Nuggets came out and used the length of 6’9” Kenyon Martin on Kobe, which caused him to struggle. His struggles were mainly due to him missing the open jump shots made available to him.
Kobe would not be deterred by this and proceeded to get his teammates involved. He scored 18 of his 32 points in the final eight minutes of the fourth quarter to close the show on game one of the series.
Both teams have explosive offenses that can score. The question was which team would play better defense.
The Lakers answered that question by holding the Nuggets to 22 points in the first and third quarters.
The Nuggets aren’t known for their defense. This fact was on display in the first quarter, as the Lakers shot 10-16 to begin the game and raced out to a 21-11 first quarter lead.
The score was 26-16 when the Lakers seemed to cool off. Suddenly the Nuggets got hot and reeled off a 25-7 run that gave the Nuggets a 41-33 lead.
Two of the Nuggets bench players, Linas Kleiza and JR Smith, combined for 20 points in the second quarter.
Gasol and Luke Walton led the way during an 18-9 run for the Lakers, who led 58-56 at halftime.
As expected, Lamar Odom was a huge factor in this game and will be in this series. He finished with 17 points, 14 rebounds, and six assists, plus the label "hard to handle."
Pau Gasol and Kobe Bryant combined for 13 points on a 15-4 Laker run to start the third quarter, giving the Lakers a 73-60 lead. Gasol added six more points during a 14-5 run to end the third quarter.
The Lakers led 97-78 entering the fourth quarter, but an 11-2 run by the Nuggets made it 101-91 with 8:17 remaining.
The Nuggets drew within nine twice down the stretch, but Kobe wouldn’t allow the Lakers to lose.
Carmelo Anthony and Allen Iverson scored 30 points a piece and Linas Kleiza chipped in a career-playoff high 23 points. JR Smith pumped in 15 points before fouling out.
The Lakers took game one 128-114. Plan on a repeat performance on Wednesday for game two.
We knew the Nuggets could score, and getting 98 points from four players is nice. But the team’s lack of defense will continue to be the cause of their demise.
The game did start to get physical when the outcome was no longer in doubt. I expect the Nuggets to be a lot more physical in game two than they were in game one.
There was no stage diving, crowd surfing, or punk rock concert going on, but it appeared that the Nuggets coaches in their pre-game locker room moshing were more physical than their team.
The Lakers showed the Nuggets that they intend to win this series.
In my opinion, it's not a series until the team with home court advantage loses, and that didn't happen today.
I expect the Nuggets to make some adjustments, including better defense and more scoring contributions from players not named Carmelo Anthony, Allen Iverson, Linas Kleiza, or JR Smith.