Key No. 1: Inside-Out Basketball
Denver Nuggets Coach George Karl said something telling during the post-game press conference following the Lakers 103-94 victory.
Paraphrasing here: We didn't get out and run like we like to.
In fact, neither team got out and ran. The Lakers had six fast-break points, while the Nuggets had only four. On Monday night, the Nuggets had 15 fast-break points and the Lakers had only five.
So what caused the difference? Better transition defense?
No, it all started with the triangle offense and running the half-court sets by going inside-out.
There were very few instances of the Lakers throwing three perimeter passes and then jacking up a three pointer. The team shot 16 threes Wednesday compared to 31 on Monday.
Fewer long rebounds lead to less opportunities for fast breaks.
In addition, the Lakers dominated in the paint, 54-36, with Lamar Odom finally breaking through with a 19-point, 13-rebound game. Pau Gasol chipped in with 14 points and 10 rebounds.
The Nuggets still had too many offensive rebounds, 14, but the Lakers did a much better job to start the fourth quarter in boxing out and not allowing second chances.
And those two facts made all the difference in the game.
Key No. 2: Kobe the Facilitator
Before the game, Kobe Bryant had scored more points during the first four games than any player had ever scored over the first four games of a playoff series. He could've made it five straight games, but instead opted for the role of MVD: Most Valuable Decoy.
Bryant still lead the Lakers with 22 points, but he shot the ball 13 times, a playoff low for him. (And at least three of those shots were to beat the shot clock.)
He led the game in assists with eight and chipped in five rebounds.
The most impressive run came early in the fourth quarter when the Lakers went almost exclusively to a Bryant-Gasol pick and roll.
Bryant drew the double team every time, but instead of trying to split the defenders–like he's so apt to do–he swung the ball to a teammate and helped the Lakers open up an 11-point lead.
Key No. 3 - Defend the Paint
On Monday, the Nuggets scored 52 points in the paint and the Lakers blocked only five shots.
Wednesday night, the Lakers allowed 18 less points in the paint and blocked 12 shots. The Lakers still allowed too many offensive rebounds, 14, but it was an improvement on the 20 they allowed Monday.
Other than four blocked shots, the Nuggets Chris Anderson wasn't much of a factor. He scored two points and had eight rebounds.
Although Karl thought that the Lakers finished the game with a bit of home-cookin' from the officials, the numbers tell otherwise.
The Lakers finished the game shooting five more free throws than the Nuggets and picked up eight less fouls.
The referees seemed to let a lot of contact go, especially when it occurred around the basket.
The officials even decided, rightfully, that a hard foul from Carmelo Anthony in which he slapped Bryant across the face was not a flagrant foul and they gave players a bit more leeway and called three technicals, two of those coming on a double-T.
But for the most part, the officiating was transparent and, despite Karl's claims, seemed to be called evenly on both ends of the court.