Lakers power forward hugs guard Steve Blake after he make a key three-pointer… (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles…)
Some things to take away from the Lakers' 92-88 Game 4 win Sunday over the Denver Nuggets:
1. Steve Blake had a huge fourth quarter. As soon as the shot swished into the net, Kobe Bryant ran over to Blake and hugged him. Pau Gasol ran over too, extending his arms over his shoulder. Blake just hit a three-pointer that gave the Lakers a 92-86 lead with 18 seconds remaining, capping off a huge fourth quarter. He made eight of his 10 points in that period. Blake snuck from behind and blocked Danilo Gallinari's layup attempt as the Lakers led, 86-84, with 2:34 remaining.
The Lakers' giddiness for Blake's heroics went beyond the Lakers about to secure a 3-1 series lead with a chance to close out Game 5 on Tuesday at Staples Center. After scoring nine points in Game 1, Blake had scored only three points on one-for-eight shooting and struggled to make simple entry passes. Blake's tentativeness and inconsistent shooting proved to be a season-wide problem. But he never has made excuses for those shortcomings and has genuinely worked hard in improving his craft.
Who knows if this will lead to a consistent turnaround. But at least for one, the Lakers saw how having a reliable outside shooter can drastically help their offense. That included Ramon Sessions hitting a corner three-pointer after getting freed up from Gasol's clean pick on Gallinari that set him flopping to the court, giving the Lakers a 89-86 lead with 48 seconds left. For Blake, it became a touching moment considering his aforementioned struggles.
2. Andrew Bynum showed up to work. While his 19-point performance in Game 4 may look similar to his 18 points in Game 3, Bynum spread that production in both halves and looked more aggressive in the post. Even as he sat for most of the fourth quarter in favor of an effective Jordan Hill, Bynum maintained a positive attitude. He soon proved he was engaged by hitting a right hook 44 seconds after entering the game in the fourth quarter. Sure, Bynum still nearly cost the Lakers the game. He missed two free throws, setting up Gallinari's corner jumper that tied the score, 86-86, with 1:06 remaining. But everything else, ranging from his help defense and post presence, remained effective.
3. Hill provided solid contributions off the bench. Even with the Lakers approaching numerous lead changes in the fourth quarter, Coach Mike Brown kept him up through the 2:35 mark. He was that good. Hill's 12 points and 11 rebounds marked his second double-double in the last four games, and reflected the hustle plays that have quickly earned him an increased role after receiving a surprise appearance April 22 against Oklahoma City.
On one first-quarter possession, Hill unsuccessfully tipped in Kobe Bryant's missed layup. Hill missed another layup after grabbing his own board. But he stayed persistent with another rebound before finally converting. Five other rebounds set up six more Lakers points as well as a three-for-four clip from the stripe. And with no one watching him, Hill penetrated and nailed an open 18-foot baseline jumper, cutting the Nuggets' lead to 71-70 after the third quarter. Pending courtcase aside, Hill should enter this off-season as a free agent pretty optimistic.
4. The Lakers managed, for the most part, to play at the right tempo. Even with the officials mostly ignoring their whistles and Denver relentlessly pushing the pace, the Lakers still established control by frequently playing at their tempo. Even though Bryant's 22 points came off 10-for-25 shooting, he proved instrumental with his six assists and post-ups to ensure crisp ball movement. Bynum and Gasol (13 points on six-for-12 shooting) remained patient in finding open post looks and mid-range jumpers, respectively, within the offense. The Nuggets still made the game close with 19 fastbreak points and no one to account for Ty Lawson/Andre Miller (26 points). But the Lakers stayed disciplined, particularly in the second half, by minimizing forced and rushed shots.
5. The Lakers really struggled at small forward. Metta World Peace's return can't come soon enough. With the exception of his flop and getting blocked by Blake, Gallinari posted 20 points on nine-for-16 shooting. Matt Barnes' shooting remains awful (two for six). And Devin Ebanks hardly provided much of an impression with no points, three rebounds and two assists.
No one expected them to fill in for World Peace completely. Barnes and Ebanks haven't drastically hurt the team. But with the exception of Ebanks' 12-point effort in Game 1, they've mostly remained a non-factor.
Lakers' outside shots significantly affects offensive execution
Lakers need short Denver series more than World Peace's return
Lakers-Nuggets series: Five things to watch in Game 4
E-mail the Lakers blog at email@example.com. Follow the Lakers blog on Twitter.