Lakers and Ariza Steal Back Home Court Advantage With Game 3 Win

May 24, 2009

Led by Kobe Bryant's 41 points, 6 boards, and 5 assists, the Los Angeles Lakers defeated the Denver Nuggets in Game 3, winning 103-97. The road victory earned the Lakers a 2-1 edge in the series, and more importantly, allowed them to regain the home court advantage that they had squandered with their Game 2 loss in Los Angeles.

For the third straight game, Bryant played impressively in the fourth quarter, proving once more why he is the best closer in the sport. Bryant shot 12-24 for the game, and made 15-17 from the free throw line.

Pau Gasol and Trevor Ariza were also instrumental in the Laker win, as Gasol contributed 20 points and 11 boards, while Ariza added 16 points and another game-saving steal.

Carmelo Anthony led Denver with 21 points, but 18 of those points came in the first half. Chauncey Billups also contributed 18 points in the loss.

In the first quarter, it was entirely the 'Melo show, as Anthony came out determined to impose his will on the game. Anthony nailed a trey, got to the foul line 8 times, and scored 14 points in the quarter. However, his most impressive play occurred on defense, as he broke up a 3-on-1 Laker fastbreak by stealing the ball from Trevor Ariza.

Meanwhile, LA hung close by doing something it has not done the entire postseason -- consistently attacking in the low post, possession after possession. Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum, and Kobe Bryant all had multiple touches on the block, ensuring that Los Angeles at least got decent looks at the basket.

At the end of one, Denver led 28-26.

In the second quarter, the Denver bench gave the Nuggets a spark. "Birdman" Chris Andersen got the home crowd buzzing, as he scored on a variety of layups and dunks thanks to some nice feeds from his teammates. Andersen had 13 points in the half, and finished the game with 15 points, 7 rebounds, and 3 blocks overall.

However, Kobe Bryant also began to heat up during the period, and the Lakers were able to stay within striking range. Bryant hit a nice turnaround jumper from the post, made two attacking drives to the rack, and later nailed a mid-range J. Kobe finished the half with 15 points, and the Lakers trailed only 52-48.

The third quarter welcomed J.R. Smith back to the Western Conference Finals, as he finally got untracked for the first time in the series. Smith's production was desperately needed by Denver because 'Melo sat out much of the period due to injury. Smith would hit two key treys in the closing minutes of the quarter to extend the Denver lead to 79-72.

But in the fourth quarter, Bryant showed just why he is The Closer.

After a Lakers' rally tied the score at 81, Bryant hit a beautiful, Olajuwon-like fallaway in the post over Smith to give LA an 83-81 lead. Bryant again delivered minutes later with a nice drive that put LA up 92-91.

But, his most memorable bucket would come with only 1:09 remaining in the game.

After a Smith pull-up jumper had given Denver a 95-93 lead, Bryant silenced the stadium by nailing a contested 3 to put LA up 96-95. Bryant would go on to hit 5-6 free throws in the final minute of the game.

Still, Bryant was not the only hero for LA, as Pau Gasol made his presence felt with 8 fourth quarter points, including two nice back-to-back turnaround jumpers in the low post.

More importantly, Trevor Ariza made the play of the game by again stealing the Nuggets' inbounds pass with 36.5 seconds left and Denver trailing only 97-95. Ariza was fouled on the play, and made both free throws for a 99-95 lead.

The Lakers won despite shooting a miserable 31-45 from the free throw line. LA outshot Denver from the field 45% to 39%. Both teams grabbed 43 rebounds apiece.

What We Learned From This Game

1. Unlike in the Houston series where the Lakers gave a half-hearted effort, LA is now competing, giving effort, and showing more consistency on defense through the first three games. The fact that all three games have been competitive without LA slacking, only proves that both teams are closely matched.

2. The coaching staff made a determined effort in Game 3 to attack from the post, and it made a difference. The Lakers got good, high percentage looks all night, and put the Denver big men in foul trouble. Moreover, the inside attack slowed the pace of the game, and helped curtail the Nuggets' momentum somewhat by restoring order to the contest when needed.

3. Lamar Odom deserves great credit once again for his defense on the inbounds passer at the end of the game. Odom's length created problems, and forced the passer to lob the ball over his long arms. As a result, Ariza was able to track down and steal the hanging ball for the second time in three games.

4. Phil Jackson appears to be realizing the importance of Andrew Bynum.

In Game 2, the Lakers got out to their big first-half lead partly because of Bynum's production inside. In the second half, he did not see the light of day, and the Lakers consequently struggled.

In Game 3, Jackson played Bynum for 20 minutes, showing the confidence to run the offense through him in the post. Although Bynum did not have a great shooting night, Jackson's display of confidence should allow Bynum to have better performances later on in the playoffs.

5. When it comes to closing games, there is no Great Debate. Kobe Bryant's skill level and intangibles put him at the top.

The intangibles are well documented, as Bryant has for years been an ultra-competitive, clutch shot-maker with no fear of taking the final shot.

What is overlooked, amazingly, is the range of skills he has over the other current greats, LeBron James included.

In a head-to-head comparison with James, Bryant grades out better in almost every area, save for athleticism and passing ability.

Defensively, Kobe might not bring it for the first 3 quarters, but when he is locked in during crunch-time, he is the better on-ball defender. The reason? Kobe understands the importance of ball denial, and is capable of preventing the opposing team's best player from getting a touch.

James, on the other hand, usually does not start defending until after the catch.

On offense, Bryant has the more consistent stroke on his jumper, and when he gets to the line, he is by far the better free throw shooter. That alone makes Bryant the better option in the clutch.

Bryant also is the best "bad shot-maker" in the league, as nobody hits as many contested shots with the same consistency.

But most importantly, Kobe has a low post game capable of commanding a double team. This particular skill creates tremendous matchup problems for teams, as Kobe punishes most 2's down low, and thus, forces opposing coaches to often guard him with a slower, bigger 3. Kobe can then outquick those bigger players on the perimeter.

Because James presently lacks a low-post skill-set, his game contains a glaring hole which reduces his effectiveness in crunch time. In other words, teams can get away with putting 2's on him knowing that he will not take them down on the block. Orlando has used Courtney Lee and Mikael Pietrus in this manner, allowing the Magic the luxury of keeping their forwards out of foul trouble.

James' series-saving three-pointer was impressive, but Bryant right now is the premiere closer in the NBA.

By Mike Elliott
Staff Editor for

1 comment:

  1. Is "outquick" a word? Perhaps you could've stated that Kobe is quicker than those players ...


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