2009 Western Conference Finals Game 2: Denver Nuggets 106 – Los Angeles Lakers 103

Box Score | Highlights

I wrote after game one there should be no question the Denver Nuggets are a capable opponent for the Los Angeles Lakers.  If there were still any doubters the Nuggets’ 106-103 game two victory has permanently closed debate although at this point the only people who needed convincing of the Nuggets’ prowess were the most hardcore Lakers fans.

It cannot be overstated how much the Nuggets are playing in the playoffs.  They never played this well for this long during the regular season.  With there being so much pressure, both internally and externally, to get out of the first round I believe this team was really chomping at the bit for the playoffs to start from the time they acquired Chauncey.  George Karl said on multiple occasions that he thought Denver would explode once they made it past the first round.  Well, he was absolutely right.  The early success against the New Orleans Hornets has fired this team to an entirely different level of confidence.  I lost track of how many times I heard analysts talk about how the Nuggets were a team comprised of knuckleheads.  If you let knuckleheads taste success they become very dangerous just like in Bad News Bears. 

Both teams were a little sluggish to start the game.  After a relatively uninspiring first six minutes the Lakers slowly began to take control thanks to some seriously lazy play by Denver.  Time after time Denver was beaten back in transition or standing and watching as a Laker player retrieved a missed shot and placed it snuggly in the basket.  Things looked bleak as we were witnessing all the worst aspects of game one with an extra lack of interest thrown in for good measure. 

Things slowly began to turn around in the middle of the second quarter.  The catalyst was Carmelo Anthony.  Melo started the game 1-6, but somehow willed himself into the zone (at least inside the three point arc).  With the Nuggets down 14 Melo came out of a timeout and proceeded to pour in the Nuggets next 14 points in order to ensure they did not fall further behind.  I think it was an incredibly significant moment in Carmelo’s career and you can read more about it here (#3). 

While Melo kept Denver close with his scoring it may have been his recommendation that George Karl reinsert Linas Kleiza into the game with just under four minutes left in the second quarter that actually turned the tide.  Karl complied and for the first time I can remember Denver went big. 

The Nuggets had a lineup of Nene, Kenyon, Kleiza and Carmelo all on the floor with Chauncey.  The Lakers did not get another offensive rebound for the rest of the quarter and Denver closed the half out on a 14-2 run.

There are a lot of Nuggets fans out there who have a strong dislike for Kleiza. He definitely regressed this season and he is typically a complete liability if his three point shot is not falling, which it has not been for months.  I myself have been considering him nothing more than an asset to be traded in the offseason.  Kleiza likes playing against the Lakers and he had a nice series against them last season.  With J.R. clearly limited the Nuggets need someone off the bench to score.  Kleiza might end up becoming a difference maker in this series.  Kevin Arnovitz of ClipperBlog and TrueHoop fame has a nice segment on Kleiza in the Daily Dime (#8). 

Love him or hate him you have to admit without Kleiza the Nuggets are down 0-2 in this series.  What I loved about Kleiza’s play, I have definitely not written that in a very long while, was he knew Denver needed to keep the Lakers off the offensive glass and he was in the lane right at the rim on every shot attempt.  His effort bore fruit as he pulled down eight big first half rebounds.  His example was able to convince his teammates how important it is to swarm the paint.  The Nuggets actually collected more offensive rebounds than the Lakers did, 14 to 13, and the total rebound battle was a virtual tie as well with L.A. claiming one more rebound than Denver, 43-32.

The Nuggets also remedied their free throw shooting although things were ugly early on again.  Denver actually made 17 straight free throws and 18 of their final 19.  The one miss sent hearts racing as it gave the Lakers the chance to tie the game up with a final desperation heave by Derek Fisher.  Nene did a great job of fighting through an arm tackle by Paul Gasol and challenging the shot.  He forced Fisher’s typically high arcing shot to a slightly higher trajectory than intended and the shot fell a foot or two shy of the mark. 

It was a great win and I just cannot get enough of Carmelo right now.  There is still room for improvement. He attempted a ridiculous number of threes, six, that left me begging for him to stop chucking them up.  Those six three point attempts unduly drove his shooting percentage down.  Carmelo ended up converting 12 of 23 two point attempts, which is very impressive.  Melo also had a couple of very bad turnovers coming down the stretch.  One was a pass directly into the teeth of the defense with no obvious recipient in the vicinity.  The other he over dribbled moving at a snail’s pace on the perimeter coming off a screen and allowed Ariza to swoop in from behind and take the ball. 

Even so the will and determination Carmelo is displaying is a new side we have not seen in the past.  We all know Melo is competitive, you have to be in order to play at the highest level.  What he has added is that will to succeed and to win and it is reflected in everything he does.  Last season in the first round series against the Lakers if Melo found himself on Kobe, you could see him looking to switch off at the earliest possible moment.  He has done a complete 180 as he now welcomes the challenge and is doing a pretty darn good job. 

There was some consternation at the end of the game as there was a controversial jump ball resulting in a Laker turnover. 

I watched the jump ball at the end of the game in super slow motion multiple times and the lane violation that the officials supposedly missed on J.R. was not nearly as clear cut of a call as the announcers and pundits would have you believe.  J.R.’s first step was actually outside the circle and by the time his second step touched the ground inside the circle Gasol had already swiped at the ball, although he did miss it.  yes, J.R. was in the circle before the ball was touched, but if you are going to stick to the letter of the law, the player who first set foot inside the circle was Lamar Odom who had his foot over the line before J.R. touched down inside the area in question. 

The Lakers wanted Carmelo to be called for a foul after Ariza had gained possession.  What happened, once again thanks to super slow mo technology, was Ariza’s left foot landed on Odom’s left foot and when Odom took a step it caused Ariza to lose his balance.  Melo did not push Ariza.  It was a very good no call.

There is much more to discuss, but I must get at least some sleep tonight.  It is a shame I did not get to talk about Chauncey at all yet, but look for additional bullets sometime on Friday.

With tonight’s win game three just became much more exciting.

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  • jakester

    Jeremy, I found it interesting that the Lakers had THREE shot clock violations in the third quarter yesterday. This is supposed to be a championship caliber team?

    The Nuggets are getting after it on defense. JR, Carmelo, Chauncey, and certainly our bigs are all giving EFFORT, with their fully bodies, as a team. The Lakers, meanwhile, seem to do a good job of putting pressure on the ball for about 10-15 seconds of a possession, but if they can’t get the turnover or goad the opposition into taking a contested jumper, then we see what we saw last night – plenty of open looks, lanes open all day for drives, and fouls fouls fouls.

    When LK is hitting and playing the 4, is there a scarier offensive lineup in the game than him, Melo, CB, Nene and JR?

    I was kind of joking when I said Nuggets in 5 after Tuesday’s loss, and I think Karl is right that it’s going to be a long series (meaning 6 or 7 games). But it is definitely not outside the realm of possibilities that with CB’s leadership, Melo’s confidence, and LA’s reticence, the Nuggets could start pulling away.

  • BeefySwats

    Linas Kleiza, if you’re reading this…

    I’m sorry.

    I’ve doubted you all season and postseason and truth be told it’s not hard to see why.

    But you stepped up huge last night. You hit the offensive glass, you played relatively good defense, and you buried the long ball. That’s all we ask of you off the bench. Hell, you outplayed Lamar Odom last night.

    Thank you. You have my respect again, at least until your next 1-6 outing with 4 fouls and 3 TOs.


  • magster

    If anyone has video of Chauncey’s off the back out of bounds play from the state high school basketball game, please post it on youtube.

  • stephenmp

    Been reading your blog for a couple of weeks now, wish I’d known about it sooner! Thanks for the good analysis of the JR Smith jump ball no-call. I also thought it seemed like the announcers were getting a little too worked up about it.

  • magster

    To add onto stephenmp, ESPN did one of its freeze-frame blow up individual player features on that jump ball, and JR is just about to jump into the circle but is still outside it when ESPN blows JR’s image up, and Odom’s foot is clearly inside the circle in that freeze frame.

    It’s fine with me because it aggravates Laker fans.

  • Bee

    Great game!

  • TCuz

    It is amazing that there are STILL Nuggets doubters among the media. Obviously there will always be doubters, but I heard Jeff Van Gundy say on ESPN this morning that all the game 2 victory by the Nuggets meant was that the Lakers were now going to win in 6 games instead of 5. Come on Jeff, I know you get paid to do your homework more than that. It seems like analysts are falling into a habit of assuming that the Cavaliers and the Lakers are invincible, that they’re destined to meet in an epic clash of the titans in the finals. But as the Magic proved, the cavs are not head and shoulders above the rest, and as Houston has ALREADY proved, the Lakers are playing like the old “Play if we feel like it” Nugs during the Iverson era. These four teams are all very very good, and honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised to see any of the four win the title.

  • SonsofJoeWolf

    Maybe VanGundy thinks the Lakers are playing unfocused and lazy basketball, and he assumes that they will turn it on (like they did in game 5 & 7 of the Houston series) but I don’t see it that way. To me it looks like the Lakers are playing hard, they are putting forth a good effort. And the Nuggets are staying with them step for step.

  • TCuz

    I honestly hope that’s the case. Game 3 at the Can will dictate how the rest of the series goes, I think. Or at least, it’ll show whether the Nugs are an elite team or not. Could you imagine a blowout, like we did to Dallas and NO? Not saying it’s going to happen, but if the Nugs just play their game without worrying about who they’re playing, it wouldn’t matter if we were playing the Lakers, the Cavs, or 5 clones of a pudgy Charles Barkley. We could be looking at a 3-1 Nuggets lead.

  • jakester

    Okay so here’s what I’m worried about:


    As you have pointed out, Bynum is effective not because he’ll dominate, but because he opens up things for Gasol to dominate. Yes, a lineup of Bynum/Gasol/Odom/Ariza/Bryant makes the bench glaringly weak, but it’s the playoffs. The bench is shortened anyway. Farmar, Brown, Walton and Campbell can each play 10 minutes and still allow the Lakers to be big most of the game. And if the Nugs go small – I mean, just imagine Gasol posting up LK. Scary.

    The good news is, I don’t think Phil is going to do that, particularly not down the stretch in games. He just doesn’t want Bynum closing out games. Fine with me.

  • Bee

    Honestly, Van Gundy is absolutely killing me. There is an article in the LA Times that says he’s going to announce all Lakers games this post season. I really want the fans in the can to open up a chant as follows:




    Just like they did with Barry Melrose during Avs games in the past. Please I’m begging people.

  • KC Gunner

    Why the JVG hate? He’s a reasonably insightful announcer, as far as those things go. At first I found the Breen-Jackson-Van Gundy trio a little annoying, but I think they have a great rapport and actually manage to contribute some decently valuable commentary and keep things entertaining. Not super high standards, sure, but a bar about 90% of announcing teams fails to meet.

  • Bee

    Really? Reasonably insightful as long as you’re interested in Laker insights. His pro-Laker bias is astounding.

  • KC Gunner

    Maybe your bias is coloring things?

    For instance, he shredded the Lakers bigs for their “inexcusable” failure even to trot down the court in one sequence where the Nuggets captured about 3 offensive rebounds in an odd little extended 3 v 3 slow-“fast break.” I recall comments about how good/championship teams do not put forth such pathetic effort.

    He’s certainly opinionated, but it’s not like listening to a homer-FSN type crew on LeaguePass. FFS, he’s a color commentator, adding color and opinions, and undeniably those opinions are, at least sometimes, negative about the Lakers. That’s just not bias — biased announcing would overlook or ignore such things.

  • TCuz

    Wow, I definitely did not want to start a Van Gundy Hate-Fest. I agree with KC Gunner: Van Gundy is a reasonably tolerable color-commentator, and although I think that he is misinformed in his picking the Lakers so confidently, he has not translated that into a Laker Love Bonanza during the games. I’d much rather listen to him than the lisp of Reggie Miller, although I much prefer Kevin Harlan to most other Play-by-Play guys. But that’s neither here nor there, as we should be more worried about what’s going on ON the court than what the old guys who are watching it have to say.

  • TCuz

    Oh, and by the way, I would much rather listen to Marlowe and Hastings than any other commentators basketball has to offer. They’re our guys, ya know?

  • Bee

    Have you listened to the FAN at all today? Alfred was absolutely going off on Van Gundy. Not that this is the measure of a balanced opinion, but suffice it to say that I’m not the only who noticed.

    Also, have you seen this article:


    Van Gundy is picking the Lakers in 5. He revised that this morning to 6. But, here is a Van Gundy quote for you:

    “I just think L.A. has the ultimate closer in Kobe. Denver doesn’t really have any good matchup for him. So I think they’re just vulnerable late to Bryant being great and beating them in close, hard-fought games. I think that’s what’s going to happen.”

    And if we define bias as “a partiality that prevents objective consideration of an issue or situation”, wouldn’t you say that the above article (especially the previous quote) reveals Van Gundy is predisposed or partial to seeing the game in a certain way? He already has an idea of what he thinks will happen. That is the definition of bias. Saying a few negative things about the Lakers does not absolve him of any bias.

    Either way, I’m sure we could both go round and round about this. I don’t feel like watching the game again to pull out all the quotes I think are relevant. He just drives me nuts. And I think he deserves a chant to greet him at the can.


  • sleepydog

    Not only does JVG love the lakers, he also is a nuggets hater, and he has been for years. His actual commentary is not that bad, but his biases are terrible. he and mark jackson spent 5 possessions dogging on nene last night for ONE play that he didnt hustle back.

    also, and maybe this is just me, but it seems like if there is a questionable call that goes the lakers way, it almost never gets replayed on tv. but if the close call goes the nugs way, it will definitely get replayed, and the announcers will discuss it nonstop (like the jump ball near the end)

    but i dont want to be too negative, that was maybe the biggest win in Nuggets history, and i’m loving it. Melo has finally become the player we always wanted him to be, Billups is back home, and we’re coming back to play at home. now if we can just get JR Smith playing better we can def win this series.

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