Tonight in Denver, in a game where the home team got little from their best player, the Nuggets more or less ran the Lakers out of the building, because the Lakers are just that gutless, and didn't need the game, or much want it.
That may sound harsh, or dismissive of a great night for Kenyon Martin, Nene and Chris Anderson, but having seen this Lakers team do the same thing a few weeks ago in Houston—well, ask any Lakers Fan, and he'll tell you I'm not wrong. (He'll also tell you that Kobe isn't a blight on the face of humanity, so don't believe everything he says...)
And now, the micro-blog; there will also be Final Thoughts after the minutaie. I missed the first half of this game due to family obligations, which means I miss Carmelo Anthony's 1-for-11 half, as well as his early exit with an ankle problem.
Despite the terrible work from their best player, the home team was still up seven, mostly due to J.R. Smith, Birdman Anderson, and Kenyon Martin—in other words, three sources that aren't likely to hold up in crunch time.
Despite shooting 38 percent in the first half, and getting an incredible load of nothing from their bench—threee points on 1-of-8 shooting in 38 minutes from six players, including Lamar Odom—the Lake Show was just down seven at the half.
I didn't see the half, but I can't imagine the average Nugget Fan is geeling all that great about their chances right now, and if Anthony is incapacitated, that would make the second-straight series in which the Lakers have seen their opponent lose their best player due to injury.
The second half began with listless Nugget play and an old-school Gasol three. Anthony got away with a walk en route to a layup, and the Nuggets defense picked up with a steal. The Lemur told us that Anthony had an IV and a re-tape on the ankle, neither of which helped his three-pointer go down; he doesn't look right to me.
Anthony then made a great hustle play to start a break; Nene made a nice pass to close that. Ariza's wide open three stopped the bleeding and made it five; Billups whiffed on the answer.
Gasol made an easy hook, and after a miss, Fisher's three hit every part of the rim and stayed out; the trip back gets Nene to the rim after a Melo drive and miss to push the lead back to four.
Ariza was denied at the rim by good Nugget big work, and Billups then makes a classic drive to blow past Odom and create contact on Gasol for the old-school three. Seven-point game again, which means the first four minutes of the second were even.
Jones collects Ariza's third on a block, which given how bad the Laker bench was in the first, could be meaningful. Bryant cut it back to seven, and it's just like he's lurking in this game right now. A miss and a Billups make brings it up to 11, and that's a 10-2 Nugget run: Hmm.
Odom with just one make, and Nene volleyballed for a putback and his double-double. Odom hits a three as Jones abd Bryant got tangled up, and Kobe was irate. Another Melo miss from three, and another O-board from the Nugget bigs, their 14th, ending with a Martin make; the Denver bigs were in control.
A frantic Laker possession ended with Odom not finishing the O-board, and Ariza getting the call on a loose ball with Anthony.
At the 3:54 mark, Bryant doesn't get a technical, despite two solid minutes of chirping over the Jones call, which the Lemur cameras now show might not have been an accident. The Kobe I remember destroyed guys for cheap shots; curious to see how he reacts now, in a game the Lakers don't need.
The Lakers got into foul trouble, but Anderson missed two, and the lead stayed at 11 when it should have gone higher—but Kenyon Martin gets to 13 and 13, and then Anderson follows his miss with a slam, and you could file a missing persons report for Lamar Odom right now. Yeesh.
Chris Anderson missed his corner heat check three. Um, that's Nugget basketball, and I'm not kind in that assessment. The Lemur dwells on Jones' trip on Bryant, and in retrospect, yes, a clear flagrant.
Smith drills a triple to make it 14, and Bryant couldn't answer, but Billups can't can the necessary transition shot, and the Lake Show enters with a Vujacic corner three. Smith's heat check three missed, as did the final Lake Show shot, and the third quarter ends with the Nuggets up 11.
I got the feeling, from watching this quarter, that the Laker Run was coming, and that Bryant was just biding his time. But why it didn't come earlier, as an immediate response to the Jones trip, was curious.
Was he biding his time, disgusted with his bigs, exhausted from carrying his bench, not feeling the need since he already had home court? All of these questions. The Nuggets had 47 rebounds to the Lakers 29 in the first three quarters. Unreal.
Bynum made an easy bank off a nice Walton pass to start the fourth, then got a block at the rim. Vujacic continued his nightmare year with a miss, and Bynum ended his useful play with his third foul, this one on Smith. Smith missed both free throws, then a bad three; what an idiot this guy is.
Bynum made another to cut it back to seven, and Vujacic ties up Smith; who wins the tip. Billups gets the old-school three and gets up hobbling, and that was Bynum's fourth foul in 19 minutes. Let's just say that I'm not seeing Bynum's name in Laker big man history.
Smith steals, and Billups finally gets one of those Mr. Big Shot triples to land, an absolute rainbow out of transition, to push it back to 13. Live by the instant triple-dagger attempt, die by the instant triple-dagger attempt.
Brown got one of two on a drive. Nene feeds Smith on a flush, and the Nuggets are feeling very good about themselves right about now. Walton missed from the arc on a bad decision, but collected the O-board and Smith's fourth foul.
For some reason, Luke Walton picks up a technical after more or less ordinary contact with Nene, which Billups drains, and that's a 15-point game. Bynum picked up Anderson's second, but can't finish the old-school three.
A Kleiza triple makes it 16 with 8:40 left, and the bus is leaving for the airport after Walton's loose ball foul on the other end. With 8:30 left and down 16, time is running out on that Laker run I was expecting; this is the largest lead of the series for Denver, and Bryant is still on the bench.
Hey, if you're not going to try to win the game, Coach Philip, why not make it obvious and send Bryant home early?
Billips missed from the corner. Odom finally shows his height, and picked up a foul on Kleiza; he got it to 15 at the line. After a bad Smith miss, Farmer makes over Billups, but missed the free throw.
Gasol sat next to Bryant, and Smith picked up a technical because he's just that kind of dumb and the refs are that kind of scared; Vujacic blows it badly to keep it at 13, but hits his three to make it 10 with seven minutes left.
Finally, Jackson decides the game is worth Bryant's time, just in time to watch Anthony make two from the line. It was 12 with 6:43 left.
Bryant's three missed, and so did his bank shot two after an Odom O-board. Anthony feeds Anderson down low, who picks up a flagrant from Bynum, who's about as subtle as a wrestling heel with his two-handed hammer job.
I think if I were a Laker Fan, I'd welcome any new Bynum injury right about now; it really does seem that the team is better off with Josh Powell or even DJ Mbenge.
The intent might not have been flagrant, but the body language was, and Anderson's made both to push it back to 14. Billups missed, and Bryant answers, but doesn't get the extra foul call, and lobbies for it afterward. I guess when Kobe says he's not going to get his sixth technical this year, he must be referring to an NBA memo to the refs.
Anthony answers with an old-school three, but Bryant makes a ridiculous jumper. Anthony goes iso on Walton for an ugly possession, but it ended well for him with Walton's fifth foul, but only one make. Bryant drains another three to make it 11, and he's starting to glow with nuclear power, but Anthony fed Smith for a straight up three to answer.
Bryant continues to fire from distance and finally missed, but Gasol collected the board and got to the line on an Anderson foul, and two makes cuts it to 12 with 4:05 left. It's antsy time in Denver.
Anthony ends Walton's night easily, with six fouls in 13 minutes. Jackson pulled a jerk move by delaying to substitute Brown for Walton. Anthony made two to push it back to 14.
The Laker offense now is Have Bryant Do It, and Anthony gets his fourth foul and a technical, because it's Everyone Gets A Technical Night in Denver, and this is the second-straight night that the Association is going to see over 70 free throws in a 48-minute game.
Martin picks up a technical next, and just laughs as Gasol didn't get one as well; Bryant makes it to cut it to 10.
Smith missed a three, but another O-board, this one by Melo, burns more clock, and Odom fouled Billups, who made both. The Nuggets are up by 17 boards and 13 free throws.
Anthony collects his fifth foul trying to guard Bryant, which means that someone else will be getting whistled the next time down the floor. Bryant makes both and this game may last four hours. The Lakers almost turn Billups but can't, and Smith goes to the line on Brown; he made just one.
Billups on Bryant this time down, and a deflection lets us go to commercial with 2:51 left and an 11-point Nugget lead.
It's eight minutes to midnight on the East Coast, and as much as I love hoop, I don't love this game; it's just 100 percent Flow Free, and while I'd like to credit the Nuggets for being morons, the simple fact of the matter is that when you have four technicals in a half and 52 fouls and counting, you have bad officiating.
An awful turnover off the inbounds—and hey, the Lakers can do that, too!—results in a Billups layup. Bryant misses another quick three, but the Laker bigs collect the board, and Brown scores it. Denver solved the Laker trap, ran clock, and got a Smith three with two minutes left.
Bryant misses a drive, and Smith cans another three to end all suspense, then proceeds to walk like a doofus back up the floor, because that's just Nugget Basketball. It takes work to be the second-most likable team in a series with Kobe Bryant, especially when you get here on hard work, but the Nuggets do what they can.
Brown with a three to make it closer, but it's 14 points with 79 seconds to go, which is to say, Impossible. After the timeout, Nene off a dish from Billups, and Karl pulls out Billups and Anthony, wisely. The last minute was garbage time, punctuated by a Jones slam and general Nugget happiness. The final was Denver 120, LA 101.
A few final thoughts on this:
1) If J.R. Smith shows up like this in Los Angeles, the Nuggets can win this series. He won't.
2) If the refs want to make us forget how good this playoff year has been, just keep calling every possible touch foul and technical.
3) Andrew Bynum is cursed.
4) Phil Jackson knows when his team is quitting, and quits first.
5) The next two days, you will hear nothing but how bad the Laker bigs played. Then, they'll play well enough to win Game Five.... and fail to show again in Game Six.
6) Post-game, Karl talked about how J.R. Smith drove him crazy. Um, George? That's because his coach enables him to do all of that nonsense. Why don't you just make Billups the coach already?
7) Kenyon Martin is Lamar Odom's Kryptonite. That, and any serious amount of adversity.
8) As bad as the Lakers played tonight, they were close late—and Jackson had Bryant and Gasol on the pine. Game Five, they'll both play 42+ minutes, and LA will win.