The Los Angeles Lakers: See if this sounds familiar -- one team comes roaring out to start the game, goes up by double figures, looks to have the other team on the ropes, only to have the other team come all the way back right before the half to turn it into a game. Then, in the second half, it's back and forth most of the way, with the team that had the early lead up for most of it, only to get outplayed down the stretch and lose by one basket.
If it sounds familiar it's because the same thing that happened in Game 1 repeated itself last night in Game 2, only the teams were reversed, as were the results. Last night the Lakers came out like they wanted to show people the team that everyone expected when the playoffs started was finally here and playing the way they were capable of...and that all the issues with a lack of effort or focus were firmly in their rearview mirror. [Edit: Warning! Assholes in the rear view mirror are closer than they appear! - Ace Ventura] But after taking a 14-point first-half lead, they seemed to quickly lose their effort and their focus -- AGAIN -- and suddenly their halftime lead was only one point. The Lakers started the second half with energy and intensity, but by that time it was too late, because the Nuggets had been brought to life like the Bride of Re-Animator...and yes, this analogy is an indirect reference to Kenyon Martin's horrific tattoos.
The mirror image similarities between Games 1 and 2 are almost eerie. Each team's stars had almost the same performance that the other had in the previous game, with Kobe outscoring Carmelo by one in Game 1 by shooting 13-for-28 while Carmelo shot 14-for-20; and then with Carmelo outscoring Kobe by two in Game 2 by shooting 12-for-29 while Kobe shot 10-for-20. In Game 1 the Lakers' starting center, Andrew Bynum had only 6 points, while in Game 2 Denver's starting center, Nene, had only 6 points. The assists, steals, blocks and fouls for both teams were almost the same as each other in each game, and from one game to the next. The Nuggets shot better from the field in Game 1 and lost, while the Lakers shot better from the field in Game 2 and lost. In Game 1 one thing the Nuggets could really point to to explain the loss was the dozen free throws they missed; and it was the same for the Lakers in Game 2, as they missed 5 free throws in the 4th period while Denver overcame some early FT misses to hit 17 straight (and 18 of their last 19). In Game 1 the Lakers won 105-103, in Game 2 the Nuggets won 106-103. Really, really odd how similar these two games were. And I mean odd kind of like how Jesus and Elvis were basically the same person.
The big difference in this game came down to rebounds. In Game 1 the Lakers held a 46-37 rebounding edge (17-7 offensive), but in Game 2 the Lakers only outrebounded Denver by one, 43-42, and were actually beaten on the offensive glass 14-13. Like Game 1, it was just a very hard-fought game by both teams that was won by an extremely narrow margin. But the Nuggets are now in control, having gotten the split they wanted when they came to L.A. to start this series, and with the way they've played at home in these playoffs, we could very well be looking at a 3-1 lead when the series rotates back to LA for Game 5 next week. [Edit: Somewhere AK Dave is laughing and dusting off his "2009 Nuggets = 2004 Pistons" theory. I have to say, after two games, that theory seems less crazy. Well, slightly. -Basketbawful]
Derek Fisher: After hitting the three-pointer in Game 1 that put the Lakers ahead for good, Fisher came out and stunk up the joint in Game 2, going 1-for-9 for 3 points to go along with 2 turnovers and 5 fouls. At the other end, he was part of the group of players that was guarding Chauncey Billups, as Mr. Big Shot went off for 24 points in the last 25 minutes of the game. He wasn't the Lakers' worst guard though...
Sasha Vujacic: Fresh off being publicly outed by his teammates as being "annoying", the Machine gave his team another reason to be irritated with him last night by going 0-for-4 in 6 minutes of playing time. How has this guy not yet figured out that he's ice-cold this year? [Edit: Does everyone realize that Sasha signed a new contract with L.A. last summer? I have three words for you: Contract Year Phenomenon. I'm just sayin'. -Basketbawful] It seems like no matter how many games go by in which he bricks everything imaginable, he still comes out firing away as soon as he's inserted into a game. I know a shooter is supposed to shoot through a slump, but this is getting ridiculous. Maybe the question is why is Phil Jackson even playing him at this point? Speaking of which...
Phil Jackson: Andrew Bynum looked to be having one of those moderately decent games he has every third or fourth game (9 points on 4-for-8 shooting in the first half), but apparently Phil decided to pull the plug on Big Bynum before he had a chance to regress by playing him for only four minutes in the second half. It should be pointed out that when Bynum went out with just under three minutes left in the second quarter the Lakers were up by 13...but then finished the half only up 1. Maybe it's just me, but it seems odd that Phil decided that Luke Walton should get more playing time last night than Bynum. Which reminds me...
Luke Walton: Good thing for Denver that Phil decided to go with Luke instead of Bynum in the second half, as the Son of Walton not only poured in 2 measly points to go with 2 turnovers and 2 fouls, but he also got lit up by Linas Kleiza, who scored 16 points and grabbed 8 rebounds off Denver's bench. [Edit: For the record, I checked Kleiza's game log, and there were only six games during the season in which he had 8 or more rebounds. And he's only averaging 2.9 RPG in the playoffs this year. All of which makes the Lakers' inability to keep Linas off the glass a little more pathetic, don't you think? - Basketbawful]
Dahntay Jones: While he did double his scoring output from Game 1 (scoring two points this time instead of one), he deserves a mention here for picking up four personal fouls in the first quarter. [Edit: According to the play-by-play, he committed those four fouls in the first five minutes and 49 seconds of the game...during which time he also missed two layups. But it gets worse: Dahntay picked up his first foul with 7:46 left in the quarter, and his fourth foul came at the 6:11 mark. This means that he picked up all those fouls in a minute and 35 seconds. Uh...wow? -Basketbawful]
I don't think I've ever seen a player do that before. I mean, yes, players have fouled out super fast before (they mentioned last night that Travis Knight did it in 6 minutes once); but I can't say I've ever seen a player pick up that many fouls in the first quarter, if for no other reason than a coach will almost always take a player out after two fouls in the first quarter, let alone three. To Jones' credit, he didn't foul out, but in the process of avoiding his sixth foul he probably ended up on a Trevor Ariza poster.
Kobe Bryant: Basketbawful reader Justin B. sent the link to this video of Chauncey Billups inbounding the ball off Kobe's back for a layup. Inbounding off the Mamba seems to be the hot new trend.
Officiating: Let's face it...it wasn't so good. But Dick Bavetta was the lead ref, you know? That's like letting Charles Manson watch your human ear collection. It's not going to end well.
Jeff Van Gundy: Kobe Bryant is the greatest Laker of all time? Really?! Uh, Jeff, Bill Walton called. He said that was the worst attribution in the history of human civilization.
The plus-minus stat: From Buck Nasty: "Trevor Ariza had the worst plus-minus on his team (-11) while going 6-for-7 from the field and 6-for-8 from the line for 20 points in 33 minutes (though he did turn the ball over in some terrible situations). By comparison, Shannon Brown played 17 minutes, went 3-for-8 on FGs and 1-for-2 from the line, but still had a better plus-minus. Thanks for plus-minus, stat-geeks. It's clearly the best way to tell how well a player played. And yes I know it's net points or whatever, but....eh screw it, it's just dumb."
Val Kilmer: He was in L.A. for the game last night...
...and it appears his transformation into Meat Loaf is officially complete. To make things even worse for the former second-worst (to George Clooney) Batman of all time, his Top Gun co-star was also on hand and looking as good as ever. You know, if you like insane, midget pretty boys.