Game Four of the Western Conference Finals shaped up to be one of, if not the biggest game in Denver Nuggets history—a pivotal contest that the Nuggets had to win to stay alive.
Denver, the winner of Game Two in LA and loser of Games One and Three, both mainly on errant in-bounds passes, found themselves in a must-win situation, at home in Game Four.
The Nuggets decided to fight hard and make a statement for all to see.
The game started slow, as Denver barely made it to 20 points in the first quarter, but were spurred on by their bench, and held a seven point, 52-45 lead at the half over the Lakers.
What was evident early was that the Nuggets were rebounding astoundingly, a performance so stellar it outshines any other on the boards all season.
Denver's strong Brazilian Center Nene grabbed seven rebounds in the first quarter, and in all, the Nuggets out rebounded the Lakers an amazing 58-40.
Denver is not that strong a team on the boards, but on Monday they pounded the Lakers all night, getting great position as Denver's big men overpowered LA's.
While the game was still close at intermission, the Nuggets saw the opportunity for a huge win. As coach George Karl said during half time: "Don't just go out and win, this needs to be a statement win."
Denver took its opening in the second half, outscoring LA 68-56 to eventually win the game in convincing fashion, 120-101.
The Nuggets, with a cold-shooting Carmelo Anthony, partly due to a rolled ankle sustained in the second period, had to find another source for production in the game. 'Melo, who had five games in a row with 30-plus points, saw that come to a halt with 18 in Game Three, and could only muster 15 in Game Four.
Chauncey Billups, Denver's second leading scorer, was not as hot as usual from the three-point line, going one for 6, but was perfect from the line (9-9) and co-led the team with 24 points.
Big Shot Billups was tied by a hot-shooting JR Smith, who's scoring was on display, as was his passing.
This season, Smith has become a top-notch passer, choosing to dish to an open teammate from time to time rather than taking wild, contested jumpers.
Tonight was Smith's best career playoff performance with 24 points, four assists, and two steals. He was truly electric, shooting three-pointers, interspersed with no-look passes and beautiful drives to the hoop.
For the Lakers, Kobe was Kobe, getting 34 points but needing 26 shots to do so. Pau Gasol had a solid game with 21 points and 10 rebounds, but the rest of the LA team was flat, slow, and not competitive all game.
Denver should take much confidence from this victory.
Not only did they win, but their stars, Anthony and Billups, both had unspectacular games, something that will not likely happen again in the series.
JR Smith has followed in the footsteps of Carmelo and arrived in the playoffs right here, right now.
Overall, this game was a team victory. All five Nuggets starters scored in double-digits and Denver's bench outscored LA's 42-24.
For the Lakers, a loss of this sort has been coming. They have been up-and-down all playoffs, but they will fight hard in LA to win Game Five.
The best case scenario for the Nuggets is to win Game Five in LA to be 3-2 up going back home to the Mile High city.
Winning another game in LA will be a tough obstacle to overcome, but if they can do it on Wednesday the Nuggets should win the series in six.
Look for Denver to come out aggressive like Game Four, scrapping their way to loose balls, driving hard to the hoop, and making clutch shots.
The Nuggets will win Game Five 103-99.