Remember how I said I had seen one of the worst Laker games in recent memory in Game 5 vs. Denver?
I lied: Game 6 was one of the worst Laker games I’ve seen in recent memory.
The Denver Nuggets smelled blood on their home floor and attacked the Purple and Gold and never relented, actually beating Los Angeles wire-to-wire. Denver jumped on a lackadaisical Lakers squad from the onset, shooting their way into a 13-0 lead and, really, never looked back. And, considering the way this Lakers team likes to lose games, it was only fitting that theNuggets pounced in a manner that kept them from ever really taking full control of a game, let alone the series (which, if we’re honest, they have done): The outside shot.
Because, holy hell, did Denver shoot the lights out. Particularly, Ty Lawson, Danilo Galinari and Corey Brewer — all of whom struggled the first five games from the perimeter — went a combined 9-for-15 from downtown while the team, as a whole, shot 10-for-20 from long range. In case you are too frustrated for mental math, that’s a 50 percent clip from downtown, to go along with 52 percent shooting overall. The Nuggets’ offense — largely held down by Mike Brown’s supposed “trademark” defense — exploded for 113 points, every single one of them as efficient as the next.
And while the Nuggets did most of their scoring outside, they also destroyed the Lakers in the paint — for the SECOND GAME IN A ROW — in almost the exact same manner that they did in Game 5: By drawing out the Lakers’ bigs and with great ball movement on the interior that led to things like easy Kenneth Faried dunks or jumpshots after the defense finally collapsed.
But don’t think that the Nuggets wrestled this game away from L.A.; that’d be irresponsible.
So what did the Lakers do to give this game away? What didn’t the Lakers do to give this game away?
Save for Kobe Bryant, who was sick with gastroenteritis (are you sure we got that right? It wasn’t Pau Gasol? Are you sure?), this team sucked.
How bad was it? Well, L.A. shot for 36 percent, not including Kobe’s line of 13-for-23. The bigs? They checked out and couldn’t be bothered with a Game 6 playoff game in which the other team has a chance to gain serious momentum and make the Lakers look like chumps. Pau Gasol’s line, in particular, still doesn’t do justice to the kind of crappy night he had. Dude shot 1-for-10 for a whopping three points to go along with three boards.
Of course, you’d imagine that Andrew Bynum would come out more motivated after putting up a stinker in Game 5 following his “close-out games are easy” comment. If that was your thinking, then close your eyes while I show you this line: 4-for-11 from the field with 11 points to go along with his inflated number of rebounds (16), which was largely due to him missing shots from point-blank range and getting the boards to try and put it back. In no way, shape or form did Andrew Bynum ever decide to become active, instead choosing to frustrate the hell out of the Lakers’ fan base by doing what he does best, and checking out of games as if he’s too damn good to be playing in the NBA.
Defensively, this team didn’t have a leg to stand on. While the interior defense was awful — again, which is surprising since that’s exactly how we lost Game 5 — it was the lazy rotations to close out on shooters that did L.A. in from the start. Figuring that the Nuggets would continue their poor shooting streak — despite being wide-open most times — Denver decided to take notice and drain shots that the Lakers gifted them. Any rotation that came within a foot was about three seconds too late, and most times, Laker defenders couldn’t be bugged to run out to shooters and put a hand on someone’s face.
In fact, the only good part of this game, the only real part to be happy about, was Kobe Bryant’s never-say-die play, constantly trying to get his team any semblance of momentum to make a run. The closest L.A. got was within four in the third quarter, and Denver pulled away promptly, blowing open the game with a 14-2 run late in the third period and starting out the fourth quarter with a 90-68 lead.
Soon, Mike Brown waved the white flag, took out a sick Kobe, a sick-looking Andrew Bynum, and Pau Gasol.
This marks only the second time that L.A. has failed to win a close-out game since the 2009 Western Conference Semis. Before that, you had to turn your page to the 2006 season in which L.A. gave up a 3-1 lead on the Phoenix Suns. (The first time L.A. failed to close a team out was Game 5 of this series.)
Don’t be mistaken, though: The Lakers’ effort was slightly better this time around than the trash they put forth in Game 5, which almost made me believe that this team wanted Metta World Peace back for Game 1 of the Western Conference Semis against the Oklahoma City Thunder. Until I saw this game, I mean.
But this is why you don’t throw playoff games. The Nuggets were energized by their home crowd, got hot, and now there’s a Game 7, where anything can happen. The Lakers had two shots to get rid of this damn team, and now it’s likely that they’ll be starting the offseason early.
And if that happens? Expect some serious regime change, and some radical-as-hell personnel moves. L.A. will become frantic.