I told a few people before tonight's game that I was nervous. L.A. never really alleviated that nervousness until midway through the third period, when they got four straight turnovers on Denver and Shannon Brown threw down a nasty dunk with the Birdman coming back on defense to try to get the block. From there until midway through the fourth, it was all Lakers, as they went from down something like six or eight to up double-digits. Chauncey Billups talked before the game about feeling like a boxer who dominates a round until the last ten or twelve seconds, when the other fighter wakes up and throws a flurry. The problem with Chauncey's analogy is that the Nuggets have done very little actual dominating. If you dominate for 44 minutes and the Lakers flurry for four minutes, the Lakers won't win. No, the Nuggets have played well for 44 minutes, played better than the Lakers, but L.A., in their wins, dominated the other four.
Lamar Odom woke up tonight. His points-per-shot wasn't fantastic, but he got on the glass very effectively and blocked a number of shots. He, Gasol, and Bynum all did very nice jobs, in fact. For a team derided over and over again for a lack of toughness, they did an awfully nice job blocking Denver shots, grabbing rebounds (although Denver did win the rebounding battle by one), scoring inside, and creating shots for other people.
Gasol and Kobe both did great jobs creating for others. Kobe did his usual work with trap double-teams, working them away from the basket and making passes out to allow his teammates to go 4-on-3. For L.A.'s fourth-quarter flurry, this was working to perfection, resulting in multiple shots very near the basket. Gasol, meanwhile, as Jeff Van Gundy pointed out, created multiple shots for Trevor Ariza cutting to the basket as well as inside-outside passes to shooters on the perimeter.
L.A. still missed a lot of open jumpers. They finished just 3-16 on threes, and they're not at team that shoots a lot of contested threes, so most of their 13 misses were open shots. With the inside game working so well, Phil Jackson seemed to go away from his shooters, Sasha, Farmar, and Fisher, in the second half in favor of Shannon Brown, Trevor Ariza, and Luke Walton, whose games are predicated on other skills, especially the first two, who Phil likes for defense. It was defense that broke the game open for L.A., as they didn't let Denver get anything inside and contested hard on jumpers outside.
Derek Fisher finally hit a couple of shots. He still missed his two threes, but he did shoot 4-9 overall, which is fine. You can win games with Fisher shooting 4-9.
Kenyon Martin took fifteen shots. L.A. will win Game 6 if Martin takes fifteen shots. He only made six, and most of the ones he made were early jumpers. He just doesn't have much offensive game. As Jeff Van Gundy emphasized repeatedly, when Martin is making shots, the coaches have to be disciplined and keep letting him take them. L.A. did exactly that and it paid off, as Martin started missing shots later in the game.
A major benefit of Martin taking shots is that he's not in a good position to be an offensive rebounder. Every miss you can get from him is likely a defensive rebound for you.
I'm shocked to see that Kobe had seven turnovers. It didn't seem like that to me.
The officiating seemed fine. Van Gundy and Mark Jackson didn't have any complaints that I recall. To me there were really only two super-questionable calls: the Nene block/charge that fouled Nene out was either a charge because Pau put his arm out or a no-call because there just wasn't enough contact to blow the whistle; and Carmelo smacking Kobe right across the face on a drive being only called a regular foul cost L.A. a possession. That kind of hit is an established flagrant foul in the playoffs. I don't think Carmelo will get it upgraded tomorrow, but I also think that if they'd called a flagrant at the time, it wouldn't have been rescinded. It's really not clear to me how the refs decided that this particular hard hit across Kobe's face wasn't a flagrant foul. Because the game wasn't chippy? (By the way, how nice is it to see an NBA playoff game not get chippy?) Because Carmelo and Kobe are friends so obviously he doesn't want to hurt him? Because Kobe didn't fall down? I don't get it.