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Nuggets get lesson in playoff maturity in Game 1 loss to Lakers

Denver's starters, whose average age is 23.6 years, come out slow, fall behind by 13 points in the first quarter and are never in the game in 103-88 loss.

April 29, 2012|By Ben Bolch

The number that doomed the Denver Nuggets in their playoff opener couldn't be found in the box score.

It wasn't the 15 shots they had blocked or their season-worst 35.6% shooting percentage or the measly 14 points they scored in the first quarter Sunday against the Lakers.

You really had to look no further than the average age of the Nuggets' starters: 23.6.

Welcome to the big stage. Now try not to fall off in the first five minutes.

"They clearly had the experience and the knowledge to know how to come out and compete in a playoff game," Denver guard Arron Afflalo said of the Lakers after their 103-88 dismantling of the Nuggets at Staples Center in Game 1 of their Western Conference first-round playoff series. "Those are things that only experience can give a team or young players."

Afflalo's 25 career postseason games before Sunday were one fewer than those of his fellow starters combined, with forward Danilo Gallinari having played in five games and forward Kenneth Faried making his playoff debut.

Afflalo and point guard Ty Lawson looked like postseason novices against the Lakers, which seemed doubly befuddling since they had been one of the best backcourts in the NBA since late March to lead Denver's playoff push.

They were united only in their ineffectiveness Sunday, each making three of 11 shots while being outclassed by counterparts Kobe Bryant and Ramon Sessions.

The Nuggets wanted to run, run, run but quickly ground to a halt after enduring miss, miss, miss. Denver couldn't connect on nine of its first 11 shots and 15 of its first 20, falling behind by 13 points in the first quarter.

"Our game plan was to get out and run," Lawson said, "and that's what we didn't do."

The Nuggets finished with only 19 fastbreak points and fell well short of their league-leading average of 104.1 points per game.

Afflalo suggested his team didn't possess the proper mind-set from the opening tip.

"It's not a regular-season game," said Afflalo, who finished with nine points, roughly half of his 18.6 average since March 26. "You have to understand the attention to detail and the intensity factor and the competitive spirit more so than what you need to do to execute offensively and defensively to make it a competitive game down the stretch. You can't be down 10, 15 points the entire game."

Lawson missed his first seven shots on his way to a seven-point, two-assist, two-turnover performance. He beat Sessions off the dribble early in the first quarter only to have a short jumper blocked by Lakers center Andrew Bynum, who finished with a franchise-record 10 blocks in a playoff game.

The Lakers seemed to know exactly what Lawson intended to do on every play, forcing him to take eight jumpers and blocking four of his shots.

"The Lakers had him as their No. 1 guy to take out in their pick-and-roll coverage," Denver Coach George Karl said. "We need him to be much, much more assertive, honoring that he's our leader."

The Nuggets can only hope that will be among the lessons learned by Game 2 on Tuesday.

"It won't be what happened in Game 1, that's for sure," Afflalo said. "From an intensity standpoint or an attitude standpoint, the game will be different."

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