Denver more than held serve on its home court in Thursday night’s Game 6 against the Lakers; the team made a statement. Facing their second elimination game of the series, the Nuggets made sure this one was never in doubt, opening the game on a 13-0 run and leading by as many as 28 points while cruising to an easy 113-96 win to even the series at three games apiece.
Game 7 is Saturday in Los Angeles.
“There’s no way I thought what happened tonight would happen,” Nuggets head coach George Karl said afterward. But really, the way his team has competed in every game since the first one of the series, the way that Game 6 played out wasn’t all that surprising.
Ty Lawson set the tone for Denver from the very beginning, and finished with 32 points in 30 minutes, shooting 13-of-18 from the field, 5-of-6 from three-point distance, while adding five rebounds and six assists. Andre Miller was once again solid off the bench running the offense, and Corey Brewer was able to provide an offensive spark for Denver in this one, as well.
On the Lakers side, it was once again the story of too much Kobe Bryant and not enough from anyone else. Bryant was physically ill heading into the contest, and missed shootaround altogether due to a stomach virus. He required an IV treatment before the game and another at halftime just so he would have enough fluids in his system to be able to go.
“My room resembled a scene from ‘The Exorcist,'” Bryant said of his day spent with the illness. While he clearly did not appear to be himself, he played well, and finished with 31 points in 37 minutes on 13-of-23 shooting.
But for the second straight game, Pau Gasol was completely non-existent, and it wasn’t just his 1-of-10 shooting that saw him finish with only three points. Gasol was slow in his defensive rotations, and really seems to have either a lack of focus, interest, or both since Andrew Bynum has emerged as the team’s preferred number two option.
In this series, neither Gasol nor Bynum have been a legitimate offensive option at all. Denver’s defense continues to sag on the Lakers’ bigs inside, and L.A.’s perimeter players not named Kobe have failed to consistently respond. Bynum was at least somewhat active, grabbing 16 boards and blocking four shots to aid the Lakers’ effort. But his team needed more than the 11 points on 4-of-11 shooting he was able to muster.
After the Lakers’ horrific overall effort in Game 5, and with the absence of energy to start the game once again in Game 6, there’s no guarantee that they will be able to flip a magical switch when they’re faced with their own elimination game in Los Angeles on Saturday. One bright spot for L.A. will be the return of Metta World Peace to the starting lineup, after serving his seven-game suspension for the elbow he landed to the head of Oklahoma City’s James Harden a couple of weeks back.
But the Lakers problems go deeper than the defensive intensity and occasional three-point shooting that he might be able to bring. Gasol has to find a way to impact the game if the Lakers are to compete in Game 7 and beyond, and can no longer fail to contribute on either end of the court if his team is to have a chance.
Role players like Matt Barnes, Steve Blake, and Ramon Sessions are going to have to consistently knock down open shots to give their big men some room to operate in the paint, and L.A. is going to have to find a way to slow down Lawson, tighten up the rotations defensively, and bring the intensity from the start if the Lakers want to make it out of the first round.
None of this has happened consistently in this series, of course, and it hasn’t happened at all in the past two games. The talent is there for the Lakers to beat this Nuggets team one more time at home on Saturday, but it will take maximum effort from everyone on the roster to make it happen, along with some adjustments from Mike Brown in the way L.A. uses its weapons offensively.
Given all of that, despite having to go on the road for a Game 7, you have to believe that this Denver team likes its chances.