Saturday, May 30, 2009
Western Conference Finals Game 6
The Lakers have had their struggles in this postseason, but they appear to be peaking at the right time. L.A. played at full intensity while the Nuggets endured a curious collapse, particularly at the defensive end, as the Lakers advanced to the Finals for the second straight year after a 119-92 blowout Friday to end the Western Conference Finals in six games. The Lakers shot a whopping 57 percent, and made nine of 16 three-point attempts. Kobe Bryant led five players in double-figures and three players who scored 20 or more for the Lakers with 35 points on 12-for-20 shooting. Kobe added 10 assists and six rebounds on a night when he had opportunities for himself as well as his teammates. Pau Gasol had 20 points and 12 rebounds, while Lamar Odom delivered his second straight impressive performance with 20 points and eight rebounds off the bench. Trevor Ariza went 3-for-4 from behind the arc for 17 points as he continues to show improvement, particularly on the offensive end. The Lakers had an edge on the boards as well, outrebounding Denver 38-27 as L.A.'s high field goal percentage manifested itself in the form of fewer missed shots leading to fewer transition opportunities for the Nuggets. Chauncey Billups, who averaged 20.6 points for the playoffs, never got into a rhythm Friday, and took just seven shots for 10 points. He did his best to ignite the offense with nine assists, but the rest of the team had just five assists combined, while the Lakers totaled 28 assists. The only sharpshooter for the Nuggets in Game 6 was J.R. Smith, who was 4-for-9 from three-point range and 10-for-17 from the floor for 24 points. Carmelo Anthony came up with 25 points, but had too many lapses on the defensive end. It wasn't a fitting ending for the Nuggets or the Denver crowd, which saw their team post its best-ever regular season record and advance farther in the playoffs than they've gone in 24 years. The Nuggets experienced tremendous growth after the trade to acquire Chauncey Billups, and if they keep the team together, they need only to absorb the lessons the Lakers taught them and take a few more steps to truly join the league's elite. There's no next year for L.A., advancing to the 30th NBA Finals in franchise history. Kobe, in his 13th season, knows his personal window is closing. He must win now to cement his legacy, and the rest of the Lakers must surely be hungry to erase the memories of last year's opportunity missed.