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McGee, Afflalo spring to life

May 09, 2012|Ben Bolch

One of them finally showed up.

The other re-emerged after continually flickering in and out.

Together, Arron Afflalo and JaVale McGee helped the Denver Nuggets look formidable on a stage where they had been jittery and outclassed earlier in their first-round playoff series.

McGee was more impressive than his Lakers counterpart for much of the Nuggets' 102-99 victory in Game 5 on Tuesday night at Staples Center, repeatedly dunking over Andrew Bynum on the way to 21 points on nine-for-12 shooting. The 7-footer also snagged 14 rebounds and had a key block of a Pau Gasol dunk attempt in the final minutes.

Afflalo scored 19 points after being a nonfactor for the first four games of a series that is suddenly heating up, with the Nuggets having a chance to pull even in Game 6 on Thursday in Denver.

McGee was clearly more inspired than Bynum, who had talked Monday about how "close-out games are actually kind of easy."

Oh, really?

McGee had three dunks in the fourth quarter alone, including a pair off alley-oop passes from Andre Miller. Then, with the Lakers furiously rallying and trailing by only six points, McGee blocked Gasol's dunk attempt after the Lakers 7-footer charged into the lane with 1 minute 53 seconds left.

It's been a feast-or-famine series for McGee, who was a hero in Game 3 with 16 points and 15 rebounds but was largely a no-show otherwise. Until resurfacing Tuesday.

Afflalo made layups, baseline jumpers and even mixed in a three-pointer, making eight of 19 shots for the night. It was quite the departure from how things went for him earlier in the series, particularly at Staples Center.

His play realized the worst fears of Lakers Coach Mike Brown.

"He definitely is a guy that is of concern to us," Brown said before the game, "the fact that he hasn't had a huge game and obviously that could come at any time."

It came Tuesday.

Afflalo repeatedly made shots in the first half as the Nuggets took the lead and then made two free throws midway through the fourth quarter to help repel the Lakers' momentum after Steve Blake had hit a three-pointer as the shot clock expired. Afflalo later added a layup to give the Nuggets a 92-79 lead.

Afflalo had been wildly off the mark in the first four games of the series, making 33.3% of his shots and only 18.2% of his three-point attempts. His average of nine points per game ranked sixth on his team and was less than half the 18.6 points he had averaged since March 26.

Even so, Denver Coach George Karl remained an ally.

"I'm not unhappy with Arron's play," Karl said before the game. "Arron had a fantastic last six weeks [of the regular season] and he was our leading scorer during that stretch, but we never have a game plan of one guy being a dominant scorer. It's kind of like, let's go play basketball. He was the guy over the last six weeks who had been hot and getting into a good rhythm.

"I think Kobe [Bryant] is pretty aware of him and I think he knows how important he is."


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