In the first half, Denver’s defense was lousy. And what makes things even tougher to swallow was how the first half effort by L.A. was just as bad. The Lakers ran a lay-up drill on the Nuggets and outscored Denver 34-28 in the paint. And if it wasn’t for Linas Kleiza scoring ten straight points in the second quarter to put Denver up by 14 at one juncture, the Nuggets may not have even gone into the second half down by only two. Carmelo refused to attack the rim, (something that would really come back to hurt the Nuggets in the second half) despite shooting 6-13 from the field and scoring 14 first half points and Allen Iverson also added 14 despite going 5-10 from the charity stripe. Linas Kleiza and J.R. Smith each added another ten off the bench, but Marcus Camby, Kenyon Martin, and Anthony Carter were MIA.
For the Lakers, Pau Gasol proved to be too much for Denver to handle in the first 24 minutes. Gasol schooled the Nuggets for 18 points, seven rebounds, a block, and five assists in the first half alone. Most of his offense came by way of cruising dunks as not a single Nugget defender could rotate quick enough as he and Lamar Odom butchered the Nuggets interior defense with quick passing. Lamar added nine rebounds and just as many points in the first half while Kobe Bryant fought through foul trouble and a 2-10 start offensively.
Then in the second the Nuggets flat out choked. They had fought hard and to only be down by two in the Lakers’ building put an opportunity in front of Denver, but the Nuggets surrendered 39 points in the third quarter to L.A. while only counterpunching with 22 on the other end.
The 17-point swing was enough to put Denver’s lights out. Hell, Jeff Van Gundy even had time to pronounce Linas Kleiza’s name right in ad-lib color time!
The Nuggets as a team all but disappeared in the second half despite some great individual efforts. Go figure. It’s defensively where this team can’t seem to get it straightened out and the concept that seems to have never sunk in is good defense has to be played as a team.
Carmelo Anthony and Allen Iverson, who was ejected in the fourth quarter, each scored 30 points with ‘Melo snatching 12 rebounds and the Answer dishing seven dimes. Linas Kleiza led the charge off the bench with 23 points and four rebounds, and J.R. Smith totaled 15 points before fouling out. Unfortunately, the three other starters for the Nuggets left a lot to be desired. Anthony Carter and Marcus Camby each only scored four points and Kenyon Martin squeaked out five. Martin was a dreadful 1-7 shooting, Camby was a miserable 2-9 (stop shooting from outside), and A.C. played just 18 minutes in total after proving to have no chance on Kobe Bryant defensively.
For the Lakers, it was all Gasol all the time. The Spaniard finished with a game-high 36 points, 16 rebounds, eight assists, and three blocks. If George Karl is going to use Kenyon Martin to try and defend on Kobe, (by the way, Kobe scored 28 second half points to finish with 32) then he is going to have to find a way to hide Carmelo’s allergy to playing any defense. Lamar Odom was guarded by Carmelo primarily in the second half and Odom finished with 14 rebounds (eight offensive) and 17 points. Furthermore, the Lakers managed to shoot 50% (46-92) from the field and 84% (27-32) from the free-throw line.
The good news is the opportunity for the Nuggets to take control of this series is still there if they can steal game two in L.A. and take care of business on their home floor. Remember, both L.A. and Denver were phenomenal at home this year and I still believe that the team that fails to take care of business on their own floor is going to be the team on the short end of this series. Meaning all the pressure is on the home team and the Nuggets need to use a different mode of transportation to the arena, come out loose on offense, ready on defense, and get more of a tangible effort out of a few of their starting five to knot things up a one game apiece when the pressure shifts back to the Mile High.