The headlines will all be for Andrew Bynum’s triple-double, Pau Gasol’s near triple-double, and Kobe Bryant’s standard scoring mastery. Yet the players who filled in the cracks for the purple and gold also provided solid contributions that were key in allowing the Lakers to dominate Game 1 against the Nuggets.
With Metta World Peace serving the second of a seven game suspension, coach Mike Brown maintained a tight rotation off the bench. Matt Barnes, Steve Blake, and Jordan Hill were the three players he chose to trust, and all three managed to provide a quality contribution during their minutes on the court.
Blake drained a trio of three-pointers in the first quarter that catapulted Los Angeles to a 27-14 lead at the end of the first 12 minutes.
Meanwhile, Hill recorded a double-double, providing a spirited effort in backing up Gasol and Bynum. His energy and physical presence were instrumental in protecting the paint when Bynum (who tied a NBA record for blocked shots in a playoff game) was taking a breather.
Lastly there was Barnes. Although he didn’t shoot well (only 1-6) he supplied solid defense and quick hands, collecting six rebounds and nabbing four steals in his 29 minutes of play.
If the Lakers are going to continue to control the tempo and flow of this first round series, they’ll need to maintain the level of quality play when the starters are getting their rest.
All season long one of the Achilles heels of this squad has been the inability to hold on to double digit leads, often making dogfights out of games in which they should have cruised to victory. In Game 1 against the Nuggets, the superior play of the bench kept that issue at bay.
So far so good.