Some things to take away from the Lakers' 102-99 loss to the Denver Nuggets in Game 5 of their first-round playoff series on Tuesday night.
1. Kobe Bryant played out of his mind, but it wasn't enough. Everything about the Lakers' effort looked ugly. They couldn't hit shots. They didn't get back on defense. They hardly looked interested in closing out the series.
Thankfully, the Lakers have Bryant, who scored 43 points on 14-of-32 shooting. Bryant quickly cut Denver's 12-point lead in the third quarter down to three after scoring nine of the last 11 Lakers points to end the quarter. Bryant then went on a near four-minute span where he hit four consecutive jumpers. Don't fault Bryant for missing the three-pointer on the last possession. Don't fret over Ramon Sessions missing the follow-up trey that could've forced overtime. This game shouldn't have been close. But through sheer will and talent, Bryant made it possible.
2. The Lakers played sloppy overall. The Lakers wanted to instantly break the Nuggets' will in a potential elimination game. The Nuggets vowed they'd fight to the end. What really happened? The Lakers and Nuggets played with the same kind of execution many would see in a typical rec-ball game. The Lakers frequently moved the ball, but they still shot 38.9% (35 of 90). Bryant couldn't shoot over double teams as he normally does, while stewing over many non-calls. Gasol's mid-range jumpers clanked off the rim. On one possession, both Jordan Hill and Matt Barnes missed consecutive put-backs. On another, the fans at Staples Center went crazy over Steve Blake and Barnes making consecutive fastbreak layups because of how awful the offense looked. Even Andrew Bynum fumbled a ball out-of-bounds.
Those cheers soon turned into boos throughout the second half. JaVale McGee drove baseline uncontested for a dunk. Andre Miller breezed past Barnes off a single dribble. Miller threw a half-court lob to McGee. Simply an ugly performance no matter how you slice it.
3. Andrew Bynum didn't show up for the second game this series. So you want to become an elite center? Then how about Bynum actually try on defense and not allow McGee to look like Blake Griffin. Bynum needs to avoid getting a technical foul by needlessly shoving McGee. Why doesn't Bynum back up his bold claim that closeout games are "easy" by actually showing some aggressiveness in the post? Everyone understands and appreciates you've come a long way by staying healthy, expanding your post moves and showing a thirst for improvement. But your unpredictable behavior is really costing the team and testing the organization's tolerance for your immaturity.
Bynum's 16 points on five-of-eight shooting and 11 rebounds might look good on paper. But his focus didn't until the Lakers mounted a comeback in the final minutes. Had Bynum actually tried earlier, it wouldn't have required the Lakers to try to grind things out at the end.
4. Matt Barnes needs to attack the basket more. Even through his horrendous mark from three-point range, Lakers Coach Mike Brown has given Barnes the green light to still take those shots. There's nothing really wrong with them. They are open. Yet, this approach clearly isn't working.
Barnes can endlessly work on his outside shooting all he wants, such as when he did after Game 2. But his two-of-20 mark from three-point range this series hardly suggests he'll snap out of it. While Barnes went one of six from three-point range in Game 5, he scored eight of his 11 points on shots closer to the basket. Barnes, who appeared to be progressing with his sprained right ankle, would be much more suited if he stuck with slashing to the basket and making hustle plays.
5. The Lakers should hardly feel optimistic facing Oklahoma City. If they're struggling to control the tempo against Denver, how on earth will the Lakers temper that against the Thunder? If they can't stop Miller in the lane, how are they going to stop Russell Westbrook? Simply put, if the Lakers give this type of performance against the Thunder, they would've gotten blown out by double-digit margins.