For two games in a row, the game between the Denver Nuggets and the Los Angeles Lakers has come down to a coin toss.
On Tuesday, Kobe came up big in the 4th Quarter, Denver made a dumb foul, Trevor stole a bad inbounds pass, and LA hit their clutch Free Throws. Heads, the Lakers won...
On Thursday, Denver climbed out of a 1st Half hole thanks to some timely 3s by a little-used backup and were big, big, big by nailing something like 18/19 Free Throws down the stretch. Tails, the Lakers lost...
So now the Western Conference Finals are tied 1 game each and Kobe's Boys are behind. I know a few of you have upbraided me before for suggesting that a "tied" series can be anything but a tie — but the simple fact is with all other things equal (and Denver and LAL have pretty much DEFINED equal in these first two games, have they not?) the Queen Bitch Home Court Advantage is decisive. And now the Nuggets call her their very biggest pal.
Reverting to my tired-but-true tennis analogy: Serve has been broken.
This is not to say that the Lakers are utterly incapable of winning a game in Denver. They had better not be, for their sakes and ours. They get three pulls of the slot machine, starting Saturday... Lookin' for a cherry, baby...
You may be noticing a lot of probability and chance metaphors in these little introductory spiels of mine — references to tossing coins and pulling slot machines and the like. That's because I remain thoroughly convinced that when you strip all the superficiality away, closely matched sporting events are resolved by random events.
A couple shots bouncing in or out and we have an altogether different result.
These things simply happen or do not, and there's not a lot that can be done about it, short of playing the first 45 minutes of the game in such a way to ensure that random events at the end do not alter a result. This means taking care of those big leads in the 1st Half, and playing a strategy that maximizes results — getting to the rack for the easy hoop, taking the open 3 rather than the contested 21-foot jumper and so on.
In Game 2, the Lakers left it to chance at the end. Again.
Tails, they lose.
Here's the Popcorn Machine LINK, be sure to take a quick glance at that if you haven't already. The pictures often tell the tale better than words.
Now let's pay a visit to the Friends of the Blue Team for some words.
(Click through for more stuff...)
by Benjamin Hochman, Denver Post
LOS ANGELES - The 2009 NBA Finals sounded pretty exciting, all right. LeBron James versus Kobe Bryant. Commercials coming to life. Cavaliers versus Lakers. Two 60-plus win teams. Two championship teams — one has to lose, but everybody wins.
"If they want to see that matchup, they can go play (the video game) NBA Live," Denver's Kenyon Martin barked after his Nuggets' 106-103 win Thursday night here, tying the Western Conference finals at 1-1. "Everybody has anointed Los Angeles as the Western champions and Cleveland as the Eastern champions. We're not going to lay down, by any means. If it's meant to be, then they're going to have to beat us. We're not going to give it away."
In fact, they took it away Thursday night.
After losing Game 1, which certainly seemed like their best chance to steal one in L.A., the Nuggets did just that in a thrilling Game 2, which featured a courageous Carmelo Anthony (game-high 34 points), unexpected heroics from reserve Linas Kleiza (16 points with four 3s), hustler's hustle (Martin led the team in floor burns, and Chauncey Billups forced a jump ball and made a steal in the final minute) and a moment to freeze in time (Nene lunging at Derek Fisher at the final buzzer, forcing Fisher to miss a potential game-tying 3).
They say a series doesn't start until a team loses at home. Well, the No. 1-seeded Lakers lost at home to Denver, the first time in 12 tries by the boys in powder blue in the playoffs. * * *
by Mike Littwin, Denver Post
LOS ANGELES - It sank in fast here, and not quite like a sunset over the Pacific, either.
The Denver Nuggets landed squarely on top of the Los Angeles Lakers, stunning the crowd, stunning the Lakers and maybe stunning themselves.
What we know for sure - after the Nuggets' 106-103 victory — is that the best-of-seven series is tied at a game apiece, that the Nuggets come home with home-court advantage and that all things are suddenly possible.
And we can pretty much safely anticipate one other thing: that the Pepsi Center crowd Saturday night will be way beyond frenzied for Game 3 of the Western Conference finals. * * *
When the game start ed, the seats were not yet filled. Jack Nicholson was in his $4,500 courtside seat, in full-fan mode, but the rest take their time to catch up. In Lakerland, you have have to understand, they don't really get serious about hoops until June.
They have other things on their minds — and certainly not the Nuggets, who had lost 11 consecutive playoff games to the Lakers, dating back to 1985, when the Nuggets won one game. Doug Moe is in town watching the series. When I asked him what he remembered about 1985, he said, "Are you serious? I'm lucky if I remember what I had for breakfast."
It has been a while. * * *
by The Denver Post
LOS ANGELES - J.R. Smith gutted through Game 2 the best he could with a strained right calf, and though he said he felt all right after the game, it was clear Smith wasn't in top form.
Smith, who played 24 1/2 minutes, finished with three points on 1-of-6 shooting (1-of-4 from the 3-point line). He had four rebounds with three assists and three turnovers.
He began the game with a sleeve over the calf. He shed the sleeve - and an arm sleeve — at halftime in hopes of playing better, but it didn't work out.
"It was just one of those things that I wasn't making shots," Smith said. "I wasn't really contributing, so I tried something else."
Smith is hoping another day of rest does his body good.
"I'm still going to do a lot of rehab and all that," Smith said. "But overall I feel good." * * *
by Woody Paige, Denver Post
LOS ANGELES - From deal-breakers to deal-closers, from heartbreakers to heart-stoppers, the Nuggets this time, unlike the first time, finished.
If Game 1 was the worst loss in Nuggets' history, Game 2 was their best victory. What the Nuggets gave away Tuesday night, they took away Thursday night to even the Western Conference finals.
Now, the Lakers have creeping doubt and the Nuggets growing confidence.
This is a series after all.
With 3:25 remaining in Game 1, the Nuggets possessed a precarious four-point lead — and lost by two.
With 2:21 remaining in the second game at the Staples Center, the Nuggets owned a perilous three-point lead — and won by three.
The Nuggets had been ahead by 13 points.
"Well, not quite the same game, but almost, different ending," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said.
"I thought the game was flip-flopped," Nuggets coach George Karl said. "They won one and we won one, and the total score is probably one point."
His math is correct. The Nuggets have scored 209 points, the Lakers 208. * * *
The Nuggets found a way to slow Kobe Bryant, who scored only four points in the last eight minutes, instead of 14 points in the last seven minutes of Game 1. He had no free throws in the fourth quarter this time, rather than five free throws in the final 30.5 seconds last time.
Bryant did tie Game 2 for the last time with 45.3 seconds left, but didn't get another shot.
The Lakers committed a gigantic turnover with 15.7 seconds to go Thursday night, and the Nuggets got three free throws in the stretch from Chauncey Billups, who forced a tie- up when he scrambled for the ball and tangled with Lakers center Pau Gasol.
The Nuggets' J.R. Smith was fouled before he could attempt a 3-pointer at the conclusion of Game 1. In Game 2, the Lakers knew the Nuggets would foul Bryant before he could throw up a 3-ball for the tie, so they kicked the ball out to Derek Fisher. His 3-pointer was contested by Nene and way off.
Endgame. * * *
by Mark Kiszla, Denver Post
LOS ANGELES - When all looked lost for the Nuggets, in a city built on big cinematic moments, forward Carmelo Anthony delivered the line destined to define this Denver team that refuses to give up on its crazy championship dream.
"Keep fighting," Anthony insisted as he ran down the court, punctuating his order with an expletive, demanding that teammate Chauncey Billups listen.
Denver beat the Los Angeles Lakers 106-103 on Thursday night for one reason and one reason only.
Overcoming a 13-point deficit in the first half, the Nuggets kept fighting with all the stubbornness in a winner's heart.
On a night when Anthony one- upped Los Angeles superstar Kobe Bryant by giving the visitors 34 points, nine rebounds and four assists, this was the Denver star's most beautiful line:
"Keep fighting," Anthony urged Billups, with the arena going bonkers, at the precise moment when the Lakers looked most unbeatable, ahead 51-38 with 3 minutes, 45 seconds remaining in the second quarter.
"That's all we can do. Keep fighting," Billups replied, with a nod of affirmation.
This is how basketball legends are born, athletes become friends for life, the momentum of a playoff series turns and a team begins to believe championship dreams can come true. * * *
by Daniel Williams, Denver Daily News
Carmelo Anthony won this round of the Western Conference Finals over Kobe Bryant — even though much of the game looked like a heavyweight fight.
After letting Game 1 slip through their fingers, the Denver Nuggets answered in a physical Game 2, beating the Los Angeles Lakers 106-103 and stealing home court in the best-of-seven series.
The Nuggets did not get the start they wanted, however, and let the Lakers get off to a quick start, jumping out to a 21-14 lead, led by Kobe Bryant's multiple jump shots.
The Nuggets struggled to find a scoring touch, and Anthony missed five of his first six shots, and Denver was down 31-23 after the first quarter.
Los Angeles stretched their lead to 14 points, and the Lakers started to think blowout after Trevor Ariza also started to get hot — that was until Linas Kleiza checked into the game for the Nuggets.
Kleiza — who has barely seen action in the Nuggets' first 10 playoffs games — made the most of his rare minutes and heated up behind the arc, hitting three three-poniters in the second quarter, finishing with 11 first-half points.
Kleiza also added eight first-half rebounds, and along with Anthony, who also found his scoring touch, the duo started to chip away at the Lakers' lead.
After only two first-quarter points, Anthony scored 14 in the second, and Chauncey Billups' layup in the final seconds of the half cut the Lakers' lead down to 55-54. * * *
by Nate Timmons, Pickaxe and Roll
* * *
Here is what I had to say in my preview:
"It continues to puzzle me why Karl elects to go with LK who hasn't shown any ability to get his offense going (0-0 for 0 points, 0 rebounds, 1 steal and 1 foul in 7 minutes in Game 1)"
Needless to say ... I wont be applying for any head coaching jobs any time soon.
Linas Kleiza comes off the bench last night and plays 22 minutes going 5-8 from the floor (4-7 from three, 2-2 from the foul line) for 16 points, 8 rebounds (3 offensive), and a team high +16 on the night.
Let's not going absolutely nuts and proclaim that LK is back, but his shot was falling at all the right times as he hit timely three after timely three. He found himself in good position (or lucky position) on a couple offensive rebounds and helped out on the defensive end with 5 boards. Every rebound was big last night for anyone wearing Powder Blue as the Lakers were ALL OVER THE GLASS on the offensive end.
Kleiza was the wild card off the bench that Denver desperately needed and without his performace the Nuggets do not win that game. * * *
posted by "Jezru" to Pickaxe and Roll
First of all I have to say an epic thank you to my buddy, a Bucks fan, who hooked these tickets (and for spotting me two beers) — my kidney is yours my friend!
So here I was, a Nugget fan entering the arena of the hated on es. Ready to defend my team until the very end.... However, our resident troll PMSLakerfan (something like that) was right. I have never in all my years of being a fan of visiting teams ever encountered a more amicable crowd. It's true. Of everyone there I was given hassle only one time (aside from the dude next me — more on that later).
Do I credit this to the fact that Laker fan is classy? No. Laker fan is uninformed. As I said earlier, they don't know basketball. I walked around wearing my pickaxe logo hat, yellow hawaiian shirt and blue undershirt the whole time and nobody recognized the pick axe logo. To summarize what I said earlier, if it ain't the Laker's logo, they don't care. If it ain't the Lakers doing well, then forget it. Bandwagoners? Mmmmmm.... * * *
Then holy crap it got close. They showed a splitscreen of Val Kilmer and Tom Cruise and I made a vocal comment questioning their manhood and the tatted up latino gentlemen sitting next to me became annoyed. We later made up. His name was Juan. Good guy Juan. Just don't knock Tom Cruise. * * *
On the way home I reveled in the tar and feathering of Derek Fisher and Phil Jackson. One woman called in to complain that the refs were against the Lakers (really? How many times did Kobe double dribble and travel tonight?!).
The manic Laker nation is alive and well. 24 hours ago they were ready to recieve any and all trophies... Tonight? Not so much.
It was an epic experience that I shall not forget any time soon. The Nuggs won and it was awesome. I even got a Melo chant in there a couple times...
Nuggs in 6!
[THIS POST INCLUDES SOME PHOTOS FROM THE GAME]
by Jeremy, Roundball Mining Co.
* * *
It cannot be overstated how [well] the Nuggets are playing in the playoffs. They never played this well for this long during the regular season.
With there being so much pressure, both internally and externally, to get out of the first round I believe this team was really chomping at the bit for the playoffs to start from the time they acquired Chauncey. George Karl said on multiple occasions that he thought Denver would explode once they made it past the first round. Well, he was absolutely right.
The early success against the New Orleans Hornets has fired this team to an entirely different level of confidence. I lost track of how many times I heard analysts talk about how the Nuggets were a team comprised of knuckleheads. If you let knuckleheads taste success they become very dangerous just like in Bad News Bears. * * *
Love him or hate him you have to admit without Kleiza the Nuggets are down 0-2 in this series. What I loved about Kleiza's play, I have definitely not written that in a very long while, was he knew Denver needed to keep the Lakers off the offensive glass and he was in the lane right at the rim on every shot attempt. His effort bore fruit as he pulled down eight big first half rebounds. His example was able to convince his teammates how important it is to swarm the paint. The Nuggets actually collected more offensive rebounds than the Lakers did, 14 to 13, and the total rebound battle was a virtual tie as well with L.A. claiming one more rebound than Denver, 43-32.
The Nuggets also remedied their free throw shooting although things were ugly early on again. Denver actually made 17 straight free throws and 18 of their final 19. The one miss sent hearts racing as it gave the Lakers the chance to tie the game up with a final desperation heave by Derek Fisher. Nene did a great job of fighting through an arm tackle by Paul Gasol and challenging the shot. He forced Fisher's typically high arcing shot to a slightly higher trajectory than intended and the shot fell a foot or two shy of the mark. * * *
by Nick Sclafani, The Nugg Doctor
The Western Conference Finals just became a five game series with Denver holding three of the possible five remaining games at home. The Nuggets were able to erase L.A's home court advantage by downing the Lakers in tinsel town, 106-103, after falling behind by as many 14 in the first half of game two. Now, the Western Conference Finals comes to Denver knotted 1-1 for games three and four where the Nuggets are undefeated so far this postseason and have won their last 16 games. * * *
And while I can't say enough about Carmelo's 14 straight points in the second quarter, the true hero of the first half for Denver was Linas Kleiza. In the first quarter, Denver was abused on the offensive glass. But with Linas grabbing eight rebounds in his eleven minutes spanning much of the second quarter, the Nuggets allowed just two offensive boards in second. LK, who is playing with a broken finger tip, was also 3-5 from distance and 2-2 from the free-throw line to give the Nuggets a much-needed eleven first half points off the bench. * * *
[U]nlike in game one when the Nuggets missed twelve free-throws overall, Denver was 29-37 on freebies in game two including 17 consecutive attempts and 18 of their last 19 down the stretch to hold off the Lakers. Carmelo scored a game-high 34 points and for the fifth straight game in these playoffs scored 30+ points to break a 24 year old record held by Alex English for the most playoff games scoring 30 or more points consecutively. * * *
by Andrew, Denver Stiffs.com
In addition to the ongoing LeBron/Kobe puppet show (and I must confess that I like the ads) and the Vitamin Water LeBron vs. Kobe ads, before the Game 2 pre-game show ESPN aired a Nike-sponsored special titled "Dream Season: 23 & 24", inferring that this will be a "Dream Season" when LeBron and Kobe meet in the NBA Finals. And during the first quarter when the refs did everything possible to keep the Nuggets from playing aggressively, one of my friends watching the game with me sarcastically noted: "Was that foul sponsored by Nike, too?"
But the foul calls eventually evened out and the Nuggets eventually remembered that they're better than these Lakers. So while the LeBron vs. Kobe 2009 NBA Finals might be preordained in the NBA's offices in New York, I'm thrilled that neither the Nuggets nor the Magic have gotten the memo. I can't really speak for the Magic, but I can assure you that the Nuggets have every intention of ruining the NBA's June ratings party.
This Game 2 comeback victory was special for so many reasons:
- Carmelo Anthony channeling his childhood hero Bernard King to break a Nuggets record with his fifth straight 30+ point game, which included attempting 14 free throws (now you know why Denver Stiffs has been harping on Melo's FT attempts all season long!).
- Chauncey Billups outsmarting Kobe Bryant with the off-the-back pass to himself to close the second quarter and complete a stunning 14-2 Nuggets run.
- The rebirth of Linas Kleiza. Welcome back, LK!
- Kenyon Martin's hard but fair/necessary foul on Trevor Ariza that sent the red hot Ariza slamming into the floor.
- For the first time ever, George Karl (almost) worked the sidelines as much as Jack Nicholson did.
- Melo's untiring defense on Kobe. * * *
by Johnny Domenico, Nuggets' Nuggetz
None from me thank you. The biggest remaining question for this squad was how would they respond to adversity in the playoffs? Very well, thank you very much. There's still a long way to go, but I think it's safe to say that Thursday night's win solidifies Denver's status as a championship contender, and I think we're in for a very entertaining Western Conference Finals. * * *
- Who's the hungriest player on the court in this series? Without question it's Melo. Nobody else comes close. Whichever area he's focused on, whether it's scoring, rebounding, defending or whatever, he seems to will his way to success.
- Second place goes to Pau Gasol, whose rebounding and dare I say, tough interior play, is keeping these games from being double-digit losses for the Lakers.
- Nene looks like the old Pau Gasol, flopping for fouls, occasionally dominant, but usually confused by the different beast that is NBA Playoff basketball.
- Forget the Playoffs, welcome to the 2008/2009 NBA season Linas "the Menace" Kleiza! * * *
- I have to admit I was absolutely frightened when I realized that both Steve "Jobbed Me" Javie and Dick "I hope he doesn't hurt himself" Bavetta were working this game together. Fortunately each seemed to be favoring one team or the other, so it worked itself out in the end. Apparently sometimes two wrongs do make a right.
- I haven't felt my heart beating as fast as it was in the last two minutes of this game in avery long time. I'm not sure if that's a testament to the exciting finish, or to my lack of cardiovascular training, but I'm pretty sure it was the finish. * * *
posted by "Troy F." to Nuggets Talk message board
Being one of the few people who don't hate LK on the board, let me say a few things:
1) I was scared as hell when he went into the game. He's been sucking badly and in no way deserved minutes based on previous games play.
2) I've said for most of the year and like/hate/love/despise LK, he would be a key for us sometime in the playoffs. Every championship team has the guy nobody expects to come off the bench and have a huge game. Maybe it's JJ Redick sticking 5 threes in a key game for Orlando. Or maybe it's Sasha Vujavic hitting for 12 points in a closing game at Utah last year for the Lakers. There comes a time you need that surprise guy to make a big contribution. For us, we expect JR to play well. (He hasn't in this series, but that's another story) We expect Melo, Billups, and Nene to play decent. We even expect Kenyon to do what he does. LK is the guy who HAD to step up at sometime during this playoff run to give us a lift. And I'll be damned if he didn't do it tonight. Congrats LK.
3) I never want to hear a comment about how Melo doesn't step up in the playoffs, isn't that great of a player, or isn't in the Kobe/Wade conversation again. He's clearly in that class. I know there will be people who say "he's only done it for a couple of rounds in the playoffs, etc.) I don't give a damn. He's a special player and I'm glad the world has found this out.
4) For all the talk Van Gundy and ESPN gave about the Lakers destroying Denver on the glass, I found it interesting we had more offensive rebounds.
posted by Amazing Grace & Chuck to Nuggets Talk message board
Amazing how similar the first two games in opposite ways. First game we were the better team most the game and ended up losing. This game LA was the better and lost.
Kobe outscored Melo by a couple but needed a lot more shots to do it, today it was Melo's turn. Kobe closed out that game, tonight our closers took care of business.
Both coaches made some weird decisions tonight, Phil leaving Ariza out when he was killing it (anyone think he'd make a good starting SG for us next year? We'd be huge and he's what we were missing).
GK pulling out the guys who were getting it done, its like he sets his rotations at beginning of game and refuses to alter. Neither coaches decision seemed to blow it for them, but both would have won if they probably managed subs differently.
by David Ramsey, Colorado Springs Gazette
LOS ANGELES • Kobe Bryant pulled his jersey over his face, which made sense. He didn't want to look at the Denver Nuggets bench. He didn't want to see a resurrected team.
Yes, the Nuggets have risen.
They were down by 14 points. They had lost 11 straight playoff games to the Lakers.
But the Nuggets conquered the deficit, the happy crowd, their sorry past and King Kobe. They dropped the Lakers 106-103 and jet back to Colorado with a tied series and every reason to believe.
"We're a special team and we got a chance to do something really special," Chauncey Billups said.
For years - heck, for decades - the Nuggets have been a franchise that falls and can't recover. After Tuesday's heart-crushing, oh-what-might-have-been loss, the Nuggets could have wilted. That's been the norm for a long time.
On Tuesday night, coach George Karl stumbled around with a devastated look. One more play, he told himself, and the Nuggets could have claimed the biggest victory in franchise history.
On Wednesday, he watched film of the loss for hours and slowly his mood brightened. He saw how fiercely his team battled. He saw Anthony toying with Lakers defenders.
And he stopped mourning and started believing. * * *
The Bottom Line:
1. We needed a split out of LA and that's what we got. Now the Lakers have to win in Denver — where the Nuggets have yet to lose in this post-season. Good luck with that...
2. Melo is a superstar, Chauncey and Kenyon played well, and the unloved Kleiza came up huge when it was least expected.
3. Nuggets made their Free Throws when it counted tonight and have effectively captured home court advantage against the media darlings.