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Denver Nuggets and George Karl Gift Wrap Game One

Ronald ManbaumCorrespondent IMay 20, 2009

LOS ANGELES, CA - MAY 19:  Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers points as he stands with J.R. Smith #1 of the Denver Nuggets in the second half of Game One of the Western Conference Finals during the 2009 NBA Playoffs at Staples Center on May 19, 2009 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

The Lakers pulled off a big victory in Game One on Tuesday, and the Denver Nuggets gave away a game that could easily have ended with a very different result.

Outside of a phenomenal effort by Carmelo Anthony, the Nuggets seemed to struggle the entire game. Chauncey Billups had an uncharacteristically poor performance, struggling to make shots, and missing three early free throws that matched the total number he had missed in the first two rounds. The Nuggets missed 12 overall, finishing Game One at 23-35 from the line.

Nene and Kenyon Martin both had better performances than the back-court for Denver, scoring 14 and 15 points, respectively. Although they played well inside, they did struggle to keep the Lakers off the glass on the defensive end. Martin also had a costly foul late in the game on Kobe Bryant, that resulted in two free throws and a two point lead for the Lakers. In the end though, it wasn't Nene, Martin, or Billups' sub-par game that cost Denver Game One, it was George Karl's decision to keep Anthony Carter in the game that snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.

Carter's miscues late in the game were numerous, yet Karl stuck with him to the bitter (at least for Denver fans) end. He missed an open jumper late, committed a horrible turnover, seemed completely unable to bother Bryant defensively, and although all those things hurt Denver late, perhaps the biggest problem was the shift in momentum that followed after J.R. Smith was removed in favor of Carter, with about five minutes remaining.

Simply put, when Carter entered the game, the Lakers were able to focus more on containing Anthony and Billups, and they were able to create match up problems on the defensive end as well. Carter isn't big enough to bother Bryant's shot, and he offered almost nothing on offense. In the end, Karl's decision to go with Carter over the sometimes erratic J.R. Smith was the safe play, but not the smart one against the Lakers; it may have cost the Nuggets Game One.

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