The Los Angeles Lakers opened their 2012 post-season campaign at home against the Denver Nuggets. The Lakers replaced Metta World Peace with Devin Ebanks in the starting lineup, and the second-year man had to do his best to fill the void.
This was also a playoff debut for Ramon Sessions, a player who is key to the Lakers’ success. Sessions added another dynamic to the squad when he was acquired and it was his first time with championship pressure on his shoulders.
As for Kobe Bryant, this was yet another appearance (209th) in the post-season, and his quest for number six began today.
The Lakers had a slow start to the game and early on both offenses were a little stagnant. Nerves were running high and the squads were anxious to get on the court. The Nuggets were battling well with the Lakers’ big men early on and they were limiting them on the glass. With 9:15 to play in the quarter, the Lakers were up 4-2.
Although the teams had a history of high-powered offenses, their play on that end of the court was very poor to open the game. The Nuggets shot 18 percent from the floor and the Lakers were 3-7 shooting. The teams were getting nice looks, but were unable to knock down their shots.
The Lakers picked up their play as the quarter progressed and Kobe Bryant found his offensive touch. Kobe was getting looks near the basket and a few at the line. That led to the momentum shifting the Lakers way and Kobe’s offensive surge gave confidence to the other players.
In the final portion of the first quarter, the Lakers opened up their lead behind the great shooting by Steve Blake. The bench came in and provided the team with great play, anchored by Blake who nailed three three-point shots. After 12 minutes of play, the Lakers were up 27-14.
The Nuggets opened the quarter with two easy layups and with Kobe and Andrew Bynum on the bench, it was a perfect time for them to make a run. Denver cut the deficit down to single-digits, but the Lakers answered back whenever a run was made. The bench continued with its solid play and Jordan Hill’s rebounding skills helped out the Lakers tremendously. With those factors, the Lakers found a way to bump the lead back to 11 and regain control of the game.
However, Denver never quit and it attacked the Lakers from the inside and outside. The Nuggets liked to get the ball into the open-court and that opens up a lot of options for their point guard. Denver was hurting the Lakers inside the paint to open the quarter, but their two three-pointers helped cut the lead down to four, 31-27. The Nuggets have the ability to catch fire at any point in the game, and they had their moment in the second quarter.
The Lakers’ stars had trouble getting consistent production and were having trouble scoring. They combined for just ten points, but luckily the role players stepped up big. However, the defense was not on the right page and the Nuggets were getting what they wanted.
The latter half of the quarter, the Lakers regained their swagger and returned to their previous form. The ball was moving extremely well and ended the half on a high note. After 24 minutes, the Lakers were up 50-40 behind 12 points from Devin Ebanks and eight from Kobe.
The Lakers were allowing the Nuggets to attack the basket and their ability to get to the line worked to their advantage. Danilo Gallinari was hurting the Lakers with his shooting and passing ability. He has a penchant for drawing fouls and he used that to hurt the Lakers.
Aaron Afflalo also provided the Nuggets with some solid minutes and his perimeter jumper was consistent all night. However, even his defensive skills could not do anything to stop Bryant. Gallinari and Afflalo were great players for the Nuggets, but Kobe was one step higher and got everywhere he wanted to on the floor.
Eventually the Lakers’ star power and efficiency was too much for the Nuggets to handle. Denver would make run here and there, but the reliability and poise of the Lakers kept them on top. The defensive prowess of Bynum allowed the Lakers to dominate the defensive end and the offensive skills of Kobe and Gasol allowed the Lakers to open up a big lead.
The Lakers committed just two turnover in the third quarter and that great ball security allowed them to maintain a large lead. The lack of giveaways in the period led to efficient play and stellar ball movement. Heading into the final period, the Lakers were up 77-64.
The Lakers fed the ball to Gasol in the fourth quarter and he delivered for the team. Gasol’s ability to pass out of double-teams helped find teammates for open shots and his footwork allowed him to score near the basket.
Gasol took advantage of the smaller Al Harrington and the inexperienced Javale McGee. He either attack the paint for an easy looks and also was able to step back and hit the deep jumper.
On top of that, the Lakers played punishing defense and that stopped the Nuggets from making any deep runs. Denver had to settle with perimeter shots and constantly lost the ball when the drove into the lane.
The other Lakers’ stars continued with their amazing play. Andrew Bynum set the Lakers record for most blocks in a playoff game and his presence in the paint was indescribable. The Nuggets were hesitant to go to the paint and Bynum made a permanent mark on their offensive attack.
The Lakers were just too much for the Nuggets and they had to many options to use. As the final buzzer rang, the Lakers took Game 1 with a 103-88 win.