Monday, May 7, 2012

State of Laker Nation Playoff Recap: Luckier than you think

The next morning after Game 3, I estimated that while the Nuggets have to be near perfect to beat the Lakers, LA merely only has to play hard to beat Denver. Looking at the Game 4 box score, a truer statement couldn't have been written.

The formula for Game 3 in the Nuggets/Lakers playoff series was the same as in Games 1 and 2; slow the game down, feed the ball to the inside, pound the boards and limit turnovers. Every part of the Lakers offensive and defensive attack is meant to slow the Nuggets' run and gun attack down to turn the highest scoring team in the league into a mere over matched and undersized squadron of role players. With a 3-1 series advantage, the Lakers seemingly did that.

Last night the narrative was pretty simple: Steve Blakers and Ramon Sessions hit some gigantic shots in the fourth quarter to put down a surging Nuggets squad. Everyone has been pretty focused on this:

But that's why MAMBINO is here; to expose some unseen corners of the contest you just watched.

The truth is that even though LA controlled the 2nd half, limiting the Nuggets to just 37 points after a 51 point first half, the Lakers were lucky to win this game. Here's why:

  • Danilo Gallinari finally stepped to the plate in Game 4, and sliced up the Lakers D to the tune of 20/6 on 9 for 16 shooting. Defensively, he was able to contribute as well, checking Kobe and the Lakers cadre of small forwards as best he could, including this titanic flop on a screen from Pau Gasol:
    • For all of their 4th quarter heroics (by the way, it was a tie game with less than a minute on the clock), Steve Blakers and Ramon Sessions got simply overpowered by Andre Miller, who outmuscled them to the tune of 15/7/3. 
    • The Lakers, who scored more than 100 points in their other two series victories, only threw down 92 on a bad shooting night from Kobe and zero points from starter Devin Ebanks. 
    • The Nuggets, who found a bit of their shooting stroke in Game 3, went back to Awfultown from behind the 3 point line, shooting just 3 for 19. 
    • After compiling double-doubles his last two games, the Lakers were able to contain Kenneth Faried with a relatively marginal 6/7 performance.
    • LA found an answer for Ty Lawson. They limited his run-outs, clogged the lane, and thus, limited his effectiveness. He finished the game with a very mortal 11 points and 6 assists.
    Are all those things lucky?  No, not at all. The reason why Faried played below the precedent he set in the previous two games was because Jordan Hill, Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol boxed him out harder than before. Ty Lawson's production was basically cut in half because the Lakers' guards funneled him into defensive traps with their big men. The Lakers were able to control their turnovers and keep down their fouls, allowing Denver to shoot only 12 free throws, down from the 23 in Game 3.

    However, Denver only shot 3 for 19 on threes, missing tons of open looks that could have decided what was ultimately a 4-point game. Also, for a team that generally shoots 73% from the line, the Nuggets outdid themselves yesterday with just a 58% stroke from the charity stripe. It's not like Denver had small changes from their usual production; they had pretty radical departures from their norm. Did the Lakers convincingly defeat the Nuggets yesterday? Yes. In the words of Steve Kerr mid-way through the fourth, you just felt like the game was the Lakers to lose, no matter what the score was at the time. The Lakers completely controlled the pace in the 2nd half and made the Nuggets play the game THEY wanted to play. However, as much as I felt like LA couldn't lose, they got much luckier than you or I thought.

    Game 5 is on Tuesday, and I can't imagine anything other than a Lakers' W. They won't need luck for that.

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