Game 4 wasn't about the officiating. It was about effort. And for the full story, look no further than the rebounding columns in the box score – the Nuggets were +11 in offensive rebounds, and +18 in total rebounds.
|Off Reb Rate
|Def Reb Rate
Rebounding, much like defense, is primarily about effort. Height matters, being tall helps, and boxing out with skill is important, but what makes a good rebounder is the energy a player expends going after the ball. When a good rebounding team, such as the Lakers, does so poorly on the glass, it typically means they didn't try as hard to chase down the ball.
We saw this coming. The Lakers were tired, and they were not in a must-win situation. The Nuggets, on the other hand, were practically playing for their playoff lives. A loss wouldn't have sent them home, but it would have all but guaranteed the inevitable. As Kobe Bryant put it, it was a situation that made it easy for the Lakers to check out early.
"When you're tired, you say, okay I don't have to get that ball or I don't have to get on the floor for this loose ball," said Bryant, "as opposed to taking every possession like it's the last possession like we did in the third game." via ESPN
This is what happened to the Lakers, and it should surprise no one.
As Lakers fans, this is frustrating. This is not the first round; toy with Western Conference Finalists, and they have the ability to make you wish you had taken them more seriously. Besides, the Lakers could use the rest that would have resulted from a shorter series.
We like to look at the good, the bad, and the ugly around here, so let me make this very simple:
The Good: Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, and Andrew Bynum
The Bad: Everybody else
The Ugly: The officiating
Bryant and Gasol played like they cared. They played their hearts out, and they appeared to want this win. They were alone. Andrew Bynum played well, but his effect on the game was limited by short minutes and few touches. No one else came to play.
Meanwhile, Denver was who you thought they'd be. They played with everything they had. Carmelo Anthony was essentially useless to them, and it didn't matter. On their court, in their building, in front of their fans, with their season on the line, they weren't about to lose a second game in a row. Role players were energized by both the figurative and literal context of the game. They played as a team, played with every ounce of energy and effort they could muster, and secured a strong win. They were the exact opposite of the Lakers, with their stars struggling while everyone else delivered, and every last one of them playing like their lives depended on it.
In the end, both teams "believed" – the Nuggets believing that they could win, while the Lakers believed they didn't need to. It was an exercise in shortsightedness: Had they expended the energy necessary to win and played with the intensity they'll surely have when the pressure is on, they may have been more tired in the moment, but they would have won the opportunity to rest up afterwards. Instead, they focused on the fact that they had done what they went to Denver to do – they had won one, retaken home court advantage, and regained the upper hand.
I could break this game down into its little pieces, tell you just went right and what went wrong, but do you need that? You saw the game, you know what happened. You know what went wrong, and you know what the Lakers need to do better in the next game. Much more importantly, you also know that they will do exactly what they should do in Game 5, that they will respond to this disappointing loss with a strong effort, likely resulting in a win.
It is who they are. Frustrating, but inevitable.
The truth is, this was not a bad loss, and it is not cause for alarm. It was not a "must win" game, and it does not put the Lakers in a particularly bad situation. In fact, aside from the overall series score, it changes very little. What it does do is guarantee that this series is going longer. Six games? Perhaps, but for a Lakers team that would rather nurse its fatigue than utterly demolish its opponent, seven is more likely. And that's okay. In fact, perhaps it is part of the learning process for these Lakers. Adversity builds character, and as a team they have some character flaws that need desperately to be worked out.
In Game 4, the Lakers simply didn't put forth the effort. They couldn't be bothered to go hard after rebounds and loose balls. They lost nearly every "50/50 play." The aspects of the game that depend less on execution and more on effort were those in which the Lakers were most deficient. They're also the areas in which they will be strong in Game 5, in Los Angeles.
What else is new?