L.A. Lakers 103, Denver 94 (L.A. Lakers lead series 3-2)
Offensive Ratings: L.A. Lakers 110.2, Denver 99.7
Make no mistake: This win was primarily founded on a defensive effort the likes of which we have rarely seen from the Lakers in this postseason. The Denver Nuggets managed essentially a point per possession over the course of the game, a number which dropped even lower during their 38-point second half and went to zero in the midst of an 11-0 Lakers run that started off the fourth quarter and essentially finished off the Nuggets.
As in Game Four, Denver shot the ball poorly. The offensive similarities between the two games ended there. Check out a comparison of the Four Factors for the Nuggets' offense from Games Four and Five:
ORtg eFG% OR% TO% FTA/FGA
Game 4 133.6 .483 .385 .053 .570
Game 5 99.7 .428 .304 .143 .361
Denver declined in every category. On their own, none of the drop-offs were significant enough to sink the Nuggets. Together, they amounted to the difference between an über-efficient outing on offense and a dismal one. Most troubling was Denver's improbable propensity for turning the ball over--16 times in all, more than double the Nuggets' Game Four total (six) and the most they've had since the opening game of the postseason.
Four of those turnovers came in rapid succession late in the third quarter, with Denver holding a seven-point lead and dreaming of going back home with a chance to finish out the series. Chauncey Billups, the culprit on two of those miscues, recovered to nail a three-pointer. However, the Nuggets would miss their next 10 shots, many of them long three-pointers. Add in another turnover and you have the recipe for a 14-0 Lakers run, one that blew the game open. Denver would get as close as four but never entirely make up the run.
Perhaps most interesting about the Lakers' run was its timing--it happened with the two benches in the game. That has been a period traditionally owned by the Nuggets, but in this game it was the Lakers' reserves who had the better of things. Lamar Odom was the biggest reason, shaking off his slump to score 19 points in his highest-scoring outing since the Utah series. Odom was everywhere on the floor, adding 14 rebounds, four blocks and three assists in 32 minutes. The Lakers were +18 in his minutes.
The other key reserve for L.A. was guard Shannon Brown. Having sat the entire first half, Brown checked in for Derek Fisher 4:37 into the second half in the wake of an 8-2 Denver run. Brown got a quick blow from Jordan Farmar late in the third, but returned to play the first eight minutes of the fourth quarter. With him on the floor, the Lakers were +13. Brown helped stifle Billups, who was scoreless in the final period, and effectively managed the Lakers' offense. Having Fisher watch most of the stretch run from the bench was a welcome change.
Meanwhile, the Nuggets bench saw J.R. Smith suffer through a miserable 3-for-13 shooting night. Chris Andersen put up eight rebounds and two blocks in 24 minutes, but Denver was outscored by 17 points in that span. In general, the Nuggets' starters will do well to hold their own, so when Denver's reserves are outclassed it becomes very difficult for the team to win.
For all the talk of the Lakers using Kobe Bryant as a decoy and beating Nuggets double-teams, their offense was nothing special. In fact, the Lakers barely scored better than they did in Game Four. Bryant handed out eight assists on a night when he attempted just 13 shot attempts, but undid a lot of that benefit by committing seven turnovers. The Lakers' strong two-point shooting (56.7 percent) was offset by misfiring from downtown (3-for-16, 18.8 percent). The balanced Lakers offense makes for better copy; that doesn't necessarily mean it was better for the team.
No, this win was primarily about the defensive end. If the Lakers can come up with another lockdown outing like this in Denver--and that will be no easy feat--they will wrap up the series no matter what kind of strategy they employ on offense.
Kevin Pelton is an author of Basketball Prospectus.
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