Lakers finding out McGee isn't a pushover
LOS ANGELES – It's not just that the Lakers forgot to close down a first-round playoff series.
It's that they might have unlocked, and opened, a box that contained a new NBA monster.
Because all of the Lakers' lassitude and presumption that put Game 5 in jeopardy Tuesday night was blocked out by the specter of Denver's 7-foot, 250-pound Javale McGee.
Those who thought Andrew Bynum was the matchup Denver couldn't handle, rethink it. Fast. McGee was brilliant in this 102-99 Denver victory, one that at least postpones the Western Conference final with Oklahoma City and activates a Game 5 in Denver on Thursday.
The Nuggets had to survive Kobe Bryant at his most torrential, but he finally missed a "three" with 19.9 seconds left and Denver up by three.
Bryant had 43 points but McGee, known in Washington for his knuckleheaded tendencies, walloped the Lakers with a series of one-handed dunks off lobs and rebounds, and scored 21 with 14 rebounds to put Bynum in eclipse.
Bynum has developed a helpful way of enriching the off-day playoff dialogue these days. His latest? Elimination games are easy. If you put some pressure on the elimination candidate, that team will crumple like a Pinto.
One wonders if Bynum's unique behavior this season is an attempt to popularize his "brand." Or maybe it just indicates that nothing anybody says really means anything, so why not have fun with it?
So George Karl smiled. "I disagree with him," the Denver coach said. "The first win is easy, the second win is harder, the third one is way harder, and the fourth one is impossible. But maybe that's an indication of complacency (on the Lakers' part) that we can use."
And Pau Gasol smiled. "I like his mindset," he said Tuesday morning, "as far as his confidence. But it's not always easy."
And Coach Mike Brown smiled. "Hey, the big guy has to come to play now," he said. "And he has to back up what he says."
Someone presented Karl with a revealing stat. In his NBA coaching days, he is 22-20 in elimination games. That's pretty significant, when you consider you can only lose one elimination game per season. In 1996, when the Chicago Bulls could not be contained, Karl's SuperSonics fell behind 3-0 in The Finals and still forced a Game 6.
He got the Nuggets energized for this one, and Matt Barnes was the only Laker, for a long time, who matched their zeal. Barnes scored six with three rebounds in the first quarter alone and kept the Lakers within a reasonable 6-point margin after one half.
It was far more than they deserved. Bryant, who came into the game having taken 50 more field-goal attempts in the series than the next Laker (Ramon Sessions), showed why by going 5 for 13. Not great, but everyone else went 10 for 35.
Bynum's "easy" night extended to his own commitment. He did get seven rebounds but was 2 for 5 with no blocks.
Denver wasn't playing Spalding Guide basketball, either, but did get 15 of its 49 points on fastbreaks, and Afflalo finally got involved with 13 in the half.
The Lakers could not escape their trance in the third quarter, either, with Andre Miller, who turned 36 on March, prancing through the home defense when he wasn't finding open shooters. Bryant had 29 at the end of three, but the Lakers still trailed, 76-65, and the boos seemed to intensify with each time out.
Bryant, justifiably skeptical of his teammates, missed several easy ones to start the fourth, and Sessions got ahead of the pack and fumbled the sure bucket out of bounds. And Miller hit the rampaging McGee with a 60-foot lob for a slam, then fired in a jumper over Steve Blake for a 15-point lead with 9:02 remaining.
Blake, struggling to beat the shot clock, banked in a jumper from about a half-mile out and Karl, now leading by 11, put both hands on his head in amazement.
But that was nothing compared to the gaping silence when McGee collared an offensive board with one hand, ranged to the baseline, and threw another howling one-hand slam down on Bynum for a 90-75 lead.
Finally Bynum awakened for two put back baskets that made it 94-87 with 3:00 left, and Denver's shots began bouncing out.
Three dramatic 3-pointers by Bryant — two uncontested, one from the corner over the flailing Danilo Gallinari, cut it to 98-96. Another one, by Sessions, cut it to 100-99 with 12.8 left. But Miller rattled the rim with one free throw and swished the next for a 3-point edge.
Back to the Rockies, where the air thins and the plot thickens.
Contact the writer: firstname.lastname@example.org