The Los Angeles Lakers jumped out to a 12-3 lead against the Denver Nuggets in Game 2 of their NBA Playoffs series Tuesday night. Already up 1-0 in the series, the Lakers made six of their first eight shots, including three straight dunks, before Denver made a single field goal. The Nuggets were so disoriented at one point that they had four players defending three Lakers inbounding in the backcourt after a made free throw, gift-wrapping a two-on-one break for Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum, which ended predictably with a Gasol-to-Bynum alley oop.
(A quick aside: does Bynum realize how lucky he is to be playing with this guy? Bynum is a special talent to be sure. He's absolutely huge, and has a great skill set for a guy that size. But how many gimmes does he get from Gasol every game? Answer: a lot. And how many other bigs in the league can make the plays and passes Gasol makes for Bynum? Answer: none.)
The Lakers never trailed on their way to a 104-100 victory and a 2-0 lead in the series. In fact, L.A. has yet to trail in the series. In many ways, Tuesday felt like a dominant performance. Kobe Bryant scored 38. Bynum scored a career playoff high 27. The Nuggets had no answer for those two, and every time Denver made a little run and cut into the lead, the Lakers would build it back up. Was the outcome ever really in doubt?
If the Nuggets could make open threes this series would look very different.
And he's right. Not just threes either. Pretty much all manner of open shots. Arron Afflalo, the Nuggets second leading scorer on the season, a guy who had been red hot averaging 18 points per game while shooting better than 50 percent after the All-Star break, is now 7-23 in the series after going 4-12 on Tuesday. He's 0-8 on three-pointers. Afflalo's backcourt mate Ty Lawson had great success driving to the basket Tuesday after a terrible performance in Game 1, but like Afflalo, Lawson has yet to make a three in the series.
The Nuggets' fast break in Game 2 was a thing of beauty. Time and again they would beat the Lakers down the court, with Corey Brewer doing his best impression of Usain Bolt most of the night. But even with the easy baskets that came with 30 fast break points, the Nuggets shot just 44 percent overall. And they shot just 4-19 from deep.
Two plays in the fourth quarter in particular stand out. Midway through the fourth the Lakers had rebuilt the lead to 14 at 91-77 when Denver began its final push. On an 8-1 run, Danilo Gallinari, a 37 percent career three-point shooter, had a wide open look that would have cut the lead to four with five minutes remaining. He missed.
The Nuggets kept coming despite the miss, and a few minutes later they had indeed gotten the lead back down to four, and had the ball. Lawson, a 39 percent three-point shooter on his career, managed to get a clean look from straightaway, but the ball clanged in and out.
In theory, the Nuggets match up reasonably well with the Lakers. They have good wing defenders in Afflalo and Brewer to put on Bryant, and a series of 7-footers in the middle to throw at Bynum. In practice, though, the Lakers' stars are running roughshod over them. But even so, Denver outscored the Lakers by five points tonight after the initial three and a half minutes of the game. They seem to have a game plan that can work -- run and run and run some more. Run past Bynum so he doesn't have a chance to park himself in front of the basket and block 10 shots as he did in Game 1. But they're still going to have to play halfcourt basketball at some point, and if they intend to win a game or two in this series, they're going to have to make some shots.