The Los Angeles Lakers opened up their 2012 playoff run with one thing in mind: striving to not have another embarrassingly early exit. The Lakers landed the third seed in the West as they face the sixth seed Denver Nuggets for the third time in the playoffs in five years. Starting off Game 1 in Los Angeles, the Metta World Peace-less Lakers are going to have to find quick remedies for the loss of one of their best defensive players on the court.
Devin Ebanks gained the starting spot while World Peace serves out his final six games of his seven-game suspension, and Los Angeles is looking for their bench and non big name players to make their same key performances they had against Oklahoma City a week before. With the Nuggets being one of the only teams that can compete with the Lakers’ 7-footers, L.A. was going to have to take control of the paint early in the series, as it would be one of the fastest ways to move onto the second round with a short series behind them. Impressive shooting from Kobe Bryant is of course expected, and the rest of the bench was going to have to be right behind the Black Mamba in order to make a healthy playoff run. With the Nuggets going 1-3 against the Lakers during the regular season, the Lakers are looking to have their same dominant force carry over into the post-season.
The Lakers started off the game with a defensive state of mind, with Kobe Bryant forcing an easy turnover while Andrew Bynum dominated on the boards to snatch up all of the defensive rebounds. Denver looked to play impressive defense early, forcing the Lakers to up their intensity level with faster ball movement and unwanted forced shots. Both teams couldn’t keep solid possession of the ball or make baskets, however, as the Lakers led 6-4 with nearly five minutes past in the game. Both teams were combined for a weak 4-16 shooting from the field.
Ramon Sessions led the L.A. offense in the first half of the first quarter, easily finding the outside route to take the ball to the hole for multiple layup opportunities. Bryant couldn’t find a basket to fall, but Ebanks stepped up and followed through on an open jumper off of a Kobe pass. He finally got his first points of the game with a little under five minutes remaining, and became more confident in his offensive game, even drawing a foul to send himself to the line. The Nuggets continued to shoot horrendously, and Bynum’s three blocks were not helping their cause. A three from Steve Blake gave the Lakers an eight point lead, their largest of the afternoon at that point. Matt Barnes, who was playing on a sprained ankle, made a bang as soon as he hit the floor, stealing the ball to pull up for a jumper from the elbow to put the Lakers farther ahead.
Los Angeles controlled the tempo of the game in the first quarter, as Steve Blake hit another pair of three-pointers after coming off the bench to help the Lakers earn a 27-14 lead as the quarter finally came to a close.
Andrew Bynum entered the second quarter without taking a single shot, but his five rebounds and three blocks were enough to cover his cold offense. Jordan Hill was able to step in while Bynum hit the bench, and made a positive impact automatically, grabbing four rebounds and two points with only three minutes gone in the quarter. Suddenly the Nuggets were able to string together a pair of three-pointers and an offensive presence, and they cut the 13-point deficit to only four. Steve Blake and Devin Ebanks switched the momentum back over to the Lakers, with Blake orchestrating a pass to Ebanks which he slammed home.
The Lakers were excelling with their spectacular ball movement, as Bryant continued to find the open man instead of taking shots as his rhythm had not been established yet. Bynum finally got his first bucket of the game after tipping in Bryant’s missed shot attempt, putting the Lakers up seven. Devin Ebanks continued to dominate the game, scoring his fifth basket from six attempts to have the game leading 12 points in his name. Bynum grabbed his ninth rebound just before halftime, and Sessions drained a three to put the Lakers up 13 points. Al Harrington finally ended the drought for the Nuggets with an answering three, but L.A. still kept the lead at halftime, heading to the locker room up 50-40.
A fifth block from Andrew Bynum started off the second half for the Lakers as they took the ball down the other end of the court for Pau Gasol to hit a 15-foot jumper. After Kobe scored off of a driving layup, the Nuggets attempted to up the momentum of the game, but Bryant lead the offensive charge for the Lakers to keep his team ahead. Pau Gasol got open in the corner to hit a three to give the Lakers a huge 15-point lead, to which Bynum followed up with a huge sixth block against Kenneth Faried.
Sessions, in his first career playoff game, hit another three for the Lakers, proving how valuable he is against a team with large players in the paint while he enjoys the space in the perimeter. The Nuggets then pushed forward onto an 8-0 run, but L.A. worked together to snap that streak when Gasol picked up his seventh assist of the game lobbing it to Bynum down low.
Both teams were unable to make any real offensive impacts the rest of the quarter, with a few turnovers and missed shot attempts forcing both teams into the fourth quarter. The Lakers still had a lead over the Nuggets, however, as they entered the final 12 minutes of the game ahead 77-64.
Jordan Hill drained a three-foot jumper off of a Sessions assist to open up the fourth quarter for the Lakers. After another tip-in basket from Gasol, each one of the Lakers’ starters had double digit points. The Nuggets continued to press forward offensively despite at one point being down 17 points, forcing the Lakers bench to keep bringing their best game on the defensive side of the floor.
Bynum recorded his tenth block of the game, surpassing Los Angeles great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for most blocks in a playoff game. Kobe Bryant executed basket after basket for the home side, scoring all 10 of the Lakers points in a three minute margin to keep L.A. on their road to a victory.
The Nuggets were unable to establish a dominant offense against the Lakers besides their 8-0 run in the third quarter, and Denver was never able to get above 40 percent shooting in the game. The huge performances by the Lakers’ big men continued to shine over any layup or points in the paint Denver tried to piece together. Without Metta World Peace in the game, L.A. were still able to control the floor from a defensive standpoint, and forced the highest scoring team in the NBA to fall to the Lakers.
In the end the Lakers cruised to a Game 1 victory, 103-88.