The Nuggets ultimately made this game closer than it should have gotten, cutting the Lakers large lead to as little as five in the fourth quarter, but Los Angeles was able to survive behind some timely free throws from Kobe Bryant and end 2014 on a positive note.
The Lakers got off to a fast start, shooting a scorching 66.7% in a first quarter that included Kobe going 3-3 from the field (2-2 on threes), and an off the backboard alley-oop from Ronnie Price to Wesley Johnson. Despite this, the Lakers only led by 4 to end the frame due to their now trademark horrible defense.
If a team cannot play defense, it helps when the other team plays worse defense. If this seems obvious, it clearly was not to the Nuggets. Denver began the second half with one of the most poorly executed presses I can remember ever seeing in an NBA game. Once Brian Shaw called off the press, the defense did not improve much, as the Lakers bigs dominated the second quarter and took advantage of the Nuggets complete lack of any semblance of rim protection to have a holiday feast in the paint. Carlos Boozer in particular continued to produce well in his new bench role, scoring 11 points and pulling down 5 boards in the first half alone (19 and 9 total) . This parade of layups, in addition to some new-found selfless ball movement leading to 9-13 first half three point shooting allowed the Lakers to end the half with a 62-46 lead.
The Nuggets trimmed the Lakers lead to 12 points by the end of the third as their shots began to drop, and put a real scare into the purple and gold in the fourth. Nate Robinson (13 points, 6 assists, 2 steals and 2 blocks) came in off of the bench made a couple of big defensive plays (including a steal, and then a block of Carlos Boozer) to key Denver's late run, but ultimately may have lost his team's chance at a comeback when he fouled Kobe Bryant on a three pointer, allowing Kobe to extend the Lakers lead at the line to 104-96, giving the Lakers a comfortable lead to hold on for the win (Robinson would later lose his temper and get tossed out of the game for his second technical).
Bryant secured his triple double of 23 points, 11 rebounds, and 11 assists (with 9 turnovers for the near quadruple double) in his 29th minute (played 31 on the night), again demonstrating that he can be an effective player in reduced usage. Ronnie Price tied his career high of 18 points, Wesley Johnson (16 points, 4-7 three-pointers) had one of those games where his shot was on and he looks like a legit NBA player, and Jordan Hill had 12 points on 6-9 shooting. Nick Young and Jeremy Lin struggled again off of the bench, combining to make just 3 of their 13 shots, but on a night when seemingly everyone else was en fuego (LA would set a new season high in threes, knocking down 14 triples) it did not matter. See you in 2015, and happy new year from all of us at Silver Screen and Roll.