Lakers-Nuggets: Kobe Bryant Leads Los Angeles to 3-0 Series Lead

Clublakers.comAnalyst IApril 26, 2008

In came Game 3 and the Lakers looked more than ready for the challenge. The intensity the Lakers showed from the very first tip was exactly what they needed to show. Having a team down 2-0 is no big deal, but the way the Lakers played this entire Game 3 was a big deal. This was one of the best all around team oriented playoff games since the 3-peat days.

This was a game that should show everyone (despite it being “just the Nuggets”) that the Lakers are ready, poised and dialed in for a good long playoff run.

As the 1st quarter started I was kind of looking for the Lakers to attack the middle quickly via cuts and dives. The first couple of possessions though were a little soft in both play and motion. With a quick attack especially against a team as good at home as the Nuggets are, you want to get them on their heels immediately. You have to make them think even harder (if possible) about every defensive motion they make.

But as the game hit about the 10 minute mark in the 1st, you could see the Lakers shaking themselves loose of the soft play and attacking the way they have in the last 2 to 3 months. This is why this Laker team gets people excited. They are showing the signs of a team that not only can win in a big way, but a team that knows how to win in a big way.

Here’s a shocker - Kobe played real well - again. You could see the Nuggets in almost a panic mode when Kobe jabbed into the paint. As the Nuggets collapsed in or around Kobe, Pau did great in simply holding position. The way that Kobe came into the game looking to set people up without ignoring opportunities for himself was awesome – again. As the season keeps on, Kobe’s ability to see his teammates and read opposing defenses seems to grow exponentially.

The best part, Kobe had to do very little in the way of the scoring column for the Lakers to dominate from end to end.

Because of Kobe, Pau was open virtually every possession early in the game. For that reason alone, the Lakers need to keep their eyes aware of where the Nuggets are sagging on defense. Due to their generally inept play on the defensive, the Nuggets play a big scrambling game and with Kobe and Gasol on the floor at once, it sends them into a headless chicken kind of defensive mode, where they can’t cover the ground as fast as the ball can.

So when the Lakers continue to pass and move, Denver falls apart easily. Then due to exhaustion and not having enough defensive fuel to tap into to, they get exhausted quickly.

Sasha came in and had a great impact right away, getting the turnover on JR Smith and hitting a really nicely spaced 3 in the opening minutes of the 2nd quarter. As Najera (who should’ve been kicked out of the game) got added to Sasha’s list, it was good to see Sasha get right back up, knock down the 2 free throws and continue to hustle off the ball to option spots without losing a step.

I love that Mbenga was ready for that great behind the back pass from Farmar in traffic. He had some decent hustle on defense, but most of all DJ played a good footwork game while he was in. The post-whistle block he had on Smith in the 4th was great. You have to like seeing him hustle even after the whistle to clean up the inside.

This game felt like a ramping up kind of game for Lamar. He wasn’t outstanding but elements of what has made him so valuable started to peek out again. He had a couple real good rips on the defensive end and made great decision when driving the ball to the rack. His defense alongside of Pau in the middle was on target though. He didn’t allow any room for Martin or Camby to operate inside.

This is so key in this series – keeping Camby out of rhythm. Between the activity of Lamar in positioning and the good spacing of Gasol, the Denver big men were kept under tight control.

While I’m on this, you probably won’t read or hear much about Pau’s defense on Camby. For that matter Pau’s overall inside defense was amazing to watch. The blocked shots on anyone getting near him or trying to get cute under the hoop was an unexpected plus. He has effectively shut out Camby for 3 games in a row now. He’s given absolutely zero room for him to move to, around or under the rim. All of those lobs to the back door, all of that weak defense on the second rebounder has completely disappeared. A big, giant, massive chunk of that credit goes to Pau.

Luke was absolutely stupendous today. Again, all hustle, with very little wasted motion. Luke moved with purpose on every play, getting himself into the post, using it to absolute perfection and just playing with serious playoff energy. When he did get an inside shot he did well in keeping the ball protected with his body and not forcing heavily contested shots.

Defensively he was playing with sharp lateral movement, which for Luke is something he’s struggled with for a while. But when he was stepping out on Anthony his spacing on him was real good. He wasn’t allowing easy outside shots or any clear drives around him. That right there is good value for your buck. Throw the quick-minded offense he played all game and you have a heck of an unexpected and strong role player. His crisp motion off the ball (especially after giving the ball up and diving back down into the paint for the pass) in the 4th quarter when the game all but over was astounding. He didn’t let up the entire game.

Just another fine performance from Luke in what has become the best playoff series he’s played by far.

Farmar was just flat-out on his game today. He did a fantastic job of getting the ball into the Denver defense without settling for distance jumpers too soon in sets. His decision-making in traffic is what was really impressive. The pass to Mbenga in the 2nd quarter, the protected lay-up and his general awareness on all spots of the court had Farmar looking sharper than he had in the series. He was beginning to wake up in Game 2, but he truly came into the series today.

What was real good to see was crisp motion coming from the side into the paint either along the baseline or straight through the middle. Radmanovic had a couple nice hard cuts (one for the bucket and one for a decent range shot).

The help defense on the baseline runs was right on the money. If Iverson or Anthony tried to post up and turn to the baseline for an easy lay-in there was always someone rotating down. More often than not that someone was Radmanovic. Valid played real good help defense in an often crowded lane.

Speaking of help defense, everyone did a lot better with Derek’s shading of Iverson to the baseline. There wasn’t a giant gap between the help and open space behind Fisher. There was one defensive set in the beginning of the 3rd quarter where Derek spaced himself perfectly between a trapped Anthony on the outside and a running Iverson along the baseline. Suddenly in this series Derek has seriously stepped up his defensive awareness. More importantly, his defensive chops in general just seem to be smarter and more in tune with where his help is coming from.

WTF Of The Game: Playing the Nuggets is like playing a team of Shawn Bradley’s with the amount of elbows being thrown out there.

The thing with Denver is playing through everything. At some point the Nuggets will let you back into the game or let you blow the lead up. They don’t have the wherewithal to hold a positive pace in a game against a quality team. So as the Lakers move through this hopefully short series, they have got to play with consistency. They have to have an eye towards sticking to what works for them and let that break Denver down naturally.

In fact, they need to be playing with that in mind every game in every series.

So they’re up 3-0 but everyone has to expect a knock-down drag out overly physical game in Game 4. The Nuggets won’t go quietly, but its up to the Lakers to make sure that they do go in 4.