The Denver Nuggets: Give the Nuggets some credit: They played the Lakers to a standstill through three quarters. Unfortunately for the Denver faithful, David Stern continues to insist that games go the full four...which turned out to be seriously bad news for the Nuggets. I'm talking "the groom drinking too much at his own wedding and DYING" bad. Denver was thoroughly outplayed in the final period en route to a 103-94 knockout that sorta reminded me of this one:
The Nuggets shot 23 percent (5-for-21) in those final 12 minutes, during which they were outscored 27-18. But actually, their fail parade started with a case of butterfingers in the third quarter. Denver was up 73-68 with 4:20 to go in the third when Chauncey Billups got caught in the air and threw a tuuurrible pass that was stolen by Pau Gasol, which led to this momentum-changing posterization of the Birdman by Shannon Brown:
That was the first of four straight turnovers by the Nuggets. On their next possession, Billups had ANOTHER pass stolen by Gasol. After that, Carmelo Anthony got called for traveling. Next up was a shot clock violation. Denver scored only once more in the quarter -- a three-pointer by Billups -- which allowed L.A. to come back and tie things up.
After that, the Nuggets became totally unhinged. It took them more than four minutes to score their first points of the fourth quarter...by which time they were already down 11 (87-76). The good news is that they outscored the Lakers by two the rest of the way. The bad news is that they lost by nine.
Nene: The Lakers' big men (Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol, Trevor Ariza and Andrew Bynum) owned the paint the way these exercise balls owned their exercisers, combining for 54 points, 31 rebounds and 11 blocked shots. And while they were kicking sand in the Nuggets' faces and taking their girlfriends and/or baby mamas, Nene was either a helpless shooting prop or watching from the sidelines. Shackled by foul trouble all night, Nene fouled out in only 26 minutes, finishing with 4 points (1-for-3) and as many fouls and turnovers as rebounds (8). Of course, it's worth pointing out...
Nene's sixth foul: It was complete and utter crap. I've seen Nigerian money scams that were easier to swallow. (Speaking of which, if you haven't checked out 419eater.com, you really should.) Pau Gasol -- while trying to drive from 17 feet out -- bent down, stuck out his off arm and shoved Nene down. Nene had position and was moving his feet...but Gasol got the benefit of the whistle on what really should have been an offensive foul. Instead, Nene had to sit and Pau was rewarded with a couple foul shots. Mind you, the Nuggets had just used a 6-0 run to pull to within 91-87. But instead of getting the ball back with a chance to pull to within one or two, they lost their only true center and fell behind by six. That was a huge swing at a critical time. And helped lead to...
Another officiating controversy: After Game 4, Phil Jackson went semi-postal on the refs due to what he felt was unfair and inconsistent officiating. In particular, he blasted the zebras for hitting the Son of Walton with a tech after Luke complained about being elbowed by Nene. Said P-Jax: "It was an off-ball cut, and the referee gave him a technical then subsequently gave him three consecutive fouls out on the floor. That kind of disparity, we don't like in ball games. That's not equal refereeing and those are the things that change the course of games. We don't like that. We want the game to be fair and evenly played." Naturally, the NBA fined him $25,000 for not keeping his trap shut (the Lakers as an organization were also fined $25,000), to which Jackson responded with more vitriol: "I didn't think very good of [the fine] at all. I thought I was very conciliatory, tried to soft-pedal my comments, but that's the league for you. They'll come back and hammer you."
If Phil's right -- and believe me, he is -- then you can probably expect George Karl to get hammered after expressing the feeling that his players got screwed in Game 5: "I'm not going to get fined," said Karl, who proceeded to make comments that almost certainly will get him fined. "... It was a difficult whistle to play, no question about that. Every player in my locker room is frustrated, from guards to big guys. Look at the stat sheet. Gasol goes after at least 20 jump shots and 20 shots to the rim and gets one foul. Our big guys have 16. I don't know. Nene has six fouls; three or four of them don't exist. And it's frustrating when you take one of your big guys off the court for that many minutes. ... I think Stan Van Gundy says it right. In the postgame, we're lobbying for the league to help us with the refereeing. And this is too good a series. It's too good of teams competing that we're sitting here just confused by the whistle."
One anonymous Nuggets player -- he requested anonymity ostensibly to avoid being fined, but I'm guessing he was just as afraid of the public backlash -- even accused the Lakers of "buying" the game through those two $25,000 fines: "The Lakers paid $50,000 to win that game. They got their money's worth." Wow. Next thing you know, we'll find out that Ron Garretson was the second gunman on the grassy knoll.
That anonymous Nuggets player: Grow a pair. Seriously.
J.R. Smith: "Smitty" is supposed to provide scoring punch off the Denver bench, but he has yet to offer up more than a weak slap on the road in this series. He scored 8 and 3 points (on combined 3-for-13 shooting) in Games 1 and 2, and last night he finished with only 7 on 3-for-13 from the field and 1-for-10 on threes. That last stat is the one that really bothers me. Why not try DRIVING for a change, Smitty?
That nasty smell? It's your jumper, Smitty.
Chris Andersen: He had a typical Birdmany game -- 2 points, 8 boards and 4 blocked shots in 24 minutes -- but the number that caught my eye was -17. That was Birdzilla's plus-minus score. Now, normally I don't pay much attention to that statistic. However, in this case, it's pretty telling...because (as noted above) the Lakers' big men had their way, particularly when Andersen was subbing at center for the foul-plagued Nene. Guys were scoring over Chris like he wasn't even there, and it became pretty obvious (in case it wasn't already) that the Birdman is best used in relief and NOT as a first option at the five spot. Oh, and also as noted above, he took it in the face from Shannon Brown, which I guess was Shannon's revenge for this:
Update! Lamar Odom: Not only is Lamar dangerously obsessed with candy...he has a personal assistant who BUYS HIS CANDY FOR HIM. His daily candy expense would buy two weeks of groceries for me. Seriously. The diet of an elite professional athlete? Apparently. Thanks to Elvar from Iceland for the link.
Kobe Bryant: He had one of his most efficient games of the playoffs: 22 points on 13 shots to go along with 5 rebounds and a game-high 8 assists. Of course, he also had a game-high 7 turnovers, but that's not why he's here. It's because he some predictably Mamba-like things to say after the game: "It was a big gamble for me coming in, but I wanted to change my approach this game and be more of a decoy. The past couple games they really were loading to my side and I figured I could be a decoy and try to give chances to my teammates." Yes. Trusting his teammates was a BIG GAMBLE. Passing the ball when the opposing defense is loading up against you is Basketball 101, but it sounds like Kobe wants a bag full of extra hands to pat himself on the back with for actually, you know, playing smart basketball instead of continuing to shoot over triple-teams. Yay for you, Kobe.