Kobe Bryant had a stomach virus, had trouble keeping anything down all day, and took fluid by intravenous injection before the game. Turns out, it was the rest of the Lakers who played as if they should have been in the infirmary.
Bryant was the only Laker to provide any offense in Game 6 of the Lakers’ Western Conference first-round playoff series against the Nuggets in Denver on Thursday night. Denver won easily, 113-96, dominating play inside, shooting three-pointers as if they were playing a game of H-O-R-S-E in the driveway and thoroughly dominating every facet of play to force a Game 7 Saturday night at Staples Center.
The Nuggets have come back from a 3-1 deficit in the best-of-seven series to tie it.
Ty Lawson was as extraordinary for the Nuggets as the Lakers big men were miserable. Lawson scored a career playoff-high 32 points on 13-of-18 shooting and made five of his six three-point attempts.
When the Nuggets’ Corey Brewer scored his 11th consecutive point at the start of the fourth quarter to give Denver a 101-73 lead with 7:52 left, Lakers Coach Mike Brown called timeout and called off the horses. He pulled Bryant and effectively conceded the game. Garbage time had begun.
Of course, for the Lakers, garbage time began with the opening tip. They fell behind, 13-0, trailed by nine at the half, then were outscored 9-0 at the start of the third quarter. They got into the game at one point late in the second quarter, trimming the lead to four. From that point on, Denver went on a 16-2 run.
Bryant finished with 31 points, making 13 of 23 shots, but he might as well have been playing one-on-five all evening. He got no help from any corner.
Andrew Bynum scored 11 points, but was ineffective offensively throughout. He did have 16 rebounds, six on the offensive end. But with Nuggets defenders collapsing on him, he couldn’t convert any of those. These knockout games seem to get tougher and tougher.
Pau Gasol turned a disappearing act in the playoffs into an art form. He was a quiet one for 10 before garbage time began, with three rebounds. The Lakers almost seemed to be playing four on five for much of the game while the outcome was still in doubt.
The loss of Metta World Peace seemed to have a significant effect on the Lakers. World Peace had been averaging almost 16 points a game in the last 10 games before he received a seven-game suspension for an elbow to the head of Thunder guard James Harden in the next-to-last game of the regular season. He will be available for Game 7, though after the layoff, the question remains about how effective he will be.
Denver 90, Lakers 68 (end of third quarter)
The Lakers opened the second half with a nine-point deficit. They didn’t realize at the time how good they had it. Ty Lawson made sure of that.
Lawson had a career playoff-high 32 points after three quarters, making 13 of 18 shots, including five of six from long range, to keep the Nuggets in complete command.
Denver scored the first nine points of the half and then answered any Laker challenge thereafter.
The Nuggets scored on drives, from behind the three-point arc and with their mid-range game. Kobe Bryant kept the Lakers from falling completely out of sight, but he had virtually no help.
Scary moment early in the second half when Bryant slammed Kenneth Faried across the side of the head on a breakaway. Bryant was called for a flagrant foul and Faried, who was slow to get up, made both free throws for a 59-45 lead.
The lead grew to 61-45 on Arron Afflalo’s basket after another failed Lakers possession and 63-45 when Lawson made a seven-foot runner. That 9-0 start was enough to force a Lakers timeout.
Since the Lakers cut the lead to four late in the first half, Denver went on a 16-2 run.
The Nuggets didn’t let up. They increased the lead to 24 at 79-55 with a little more than four minutes left. By the end of the quarter, they had outscored the Lakers, 36-23.
The Lakers have not been able to get any scoring inside, and their two-for-nine shooting from three-point range has enabled the Nuggets to continue collapsing in the middle.
Denver 54, Lakers 45 (halftime)
The Lakers opened the second quarter with Kobe Bryant on the bench. He looked much more comfortable while playing than while sitting, with a towel draped over his knees and an I-can’t-believe-I-feel-like-this look on his face.
He re-entered the game after a timeout with 8:54 left in the second quarter and the Lakers trailing, 35-25. He promptly dropped a three-pointer to cut the deficit to seven, but Andre Miller, who had played so well in Game 5, came right back with another three-pointer to keep the Lakers from getting anything going.