|Kenneth Faried, F 28 MIN | 4-8 FG | 2-3 FT | 8 REB | 0 AST | 10 PTS | -7
In the first playoff game of his career Faried played decent. The problem is, decent won’t necessarily cut it this time of year. Faried can play better than this and the Nuggets desperately need him to play better. His energy has been one of the team’s most prized assets all year long and against the Lakers it could end up countering some of Bynum’s electric blocks.
|Danilo Gallinari, SF 36 MIN | 7-14 FG | 5-6 FT | 4 REB | 2 AST | 19 PTS | -17
Gallinari was about the only Nugget who came prepared to play for the playoffs, not the regular season. This was especially interesting considering how long it’s taken him to regain his form since returning from injury. He attacked the basket early and often, utilizing a variety of spin moves in the post that we haven’t seen in quite some time. He also knocked down shots when he was open and played good defense for most of the game. In the postgame press conference he admitted his team was hesitant on offense and that they need to figure out ways to score (i.e. getting out on the break) before Bynum gets set on defense. Clearly Gallinari understands what it takes to win against teams like the Lakers in the postseason. Now if he can just get his teammates to grasp this concept…
|Kosta Koufos, C 12 MIN | 0-1 FG | 0-0 FT | 5 REB | 0 AST | 0 PTS | -8
Koufos hardly made an impact. He started, as usual, but didn’t see many minutes after his initial stint. Karl said during a timeout how he needed his team to play up to it’s potential so he could understand whether his gameplan was working or not, but drastically cutting Koufos’ minutes seems to be hypocritical and counterproductive in that sense. Koufos has been a fairly large part of the Nuggets DNA over the last several months and is one of the few players on the roster who has the size and defensive aggression to possibly stifle Gasol or even Bynum. Seeing him play only 12 minutes doesn’t seem like enough time for a detailed evaluation of where he stands.
|Arron Afflalo, SG 33 MIN | 3-11 FG | 3-4 FT | 2 REB | 3 AST | 9 PTS | -7
Afflalo played great defense on Kobe… for about half the game. But once Kobe got going he never slowed down. Guarding the NBA’s second best shooting guard of all time is not an easy task. Afflalo did well for the most part but he still has to shoot better than 27 percent from the field. Anybody who takes pride in their defense knows it’s extremely difficult to lock down your opponent on one end and attack with aggression on the other, and sadly that’s what the Nuggets are asking from Afflalo. Still, if anybody can do it, it’s him.
|Ty Lawson, PG 31 MIN | 3-11 FG | 1-2 FT | 1 REB | 2 AST | 7 PTS | -21
There was quite a bit of fuss on Twitter regarding Lawson’s performance. Clearly he was intimidated by the Lakers front-court duo of Bynum and Gasol and avoided penetrating the lane virtually all together for much of the game. But before we overreact and jump to conclusions (after only one playoff game nonetheless) let’s keep a few things in mind: First, Lawson was the Nuggets best player in the playoffs last year against Serge Ibaka and the Thunder. Second, Lawson has fared extremely well in terms of bouncing back after bad scoring outings this season, having scored in single digits on back-to-back occasions only once all year. Finally, the Lakers are just a flat-out bad matchup for the diminutive point guard. Ty Lawson is 5-11 on a good day; the Lakers front-court duo is 7 feet every day. Lawson relies heavily on dribble penetration and most importantly, finishing around the rim. When he has two 7-footers watching his every move, it’s extremely tough for him to play this way. I’m not trying to be an apologist, but I’m level headed enough to understand that just because he struggles against the best power forward-center combo since Duncan and Robinson doesn’t mean he’s not the Nuggets point guard of the future.
|Al Harrington, PF 22 MIN | 4-14 FG | 0-0 FT | 5 REB | 0 AST | 10 PTS | -4
Harrington was bad. He didn’t play his game and attempted to force shots up when they weren’t falling in true Mamba-esque fashion. This is not the type of performance the Nuggets need from Big Al. At some point he needed to sever ties with shot attempts, as none of them were falling, yet he just never did. Look for Harrington to bounce back next game.
|Andre Miller, PG 27 MIN | 5-13 FG | 2-3 FT | 8 REB | 7 AST | 12 PTS | -5
Miller’s stat line is impressive, however it’s difficult to recall any one thing he did extremely well that helped the Nuggets in their attempt to win this game. He filled in for Lawson during stretches he normally wouldn’t — due to Ty’s struggles — and did a solid job all things considered. Hopefully Lawson finds ways to score next game so that Miller can revert back to the distributor he’s been lately that benefits the Nuggets most.
|Corey Brewer, SF 23 MIN | 3-6 FG | 3-3 FT | 3 REB | 1 AST | 11 PTS | +3
Brewer was certainly a bright spot on a dull, dispirited afternoon. He played great defense on every person he was assigned to guard and was one of the few Nuggets who tried to embrace the fastbreak. His defense could end up playing a key role this series, especially if Karl decides to place him on Bryant.
|Timofey Mozgov, C 9 MIN | 2-5 FG | 2-2 FT | 4 REB | 0 AST | 6 PTS | -3
For the second game in a row Mozgov played better than he has for most of the season. Perhaps the key is only playing him 10-12 minutes per night as he seems to top out at “Maximum Productivity” after that point. I still think Koufos deserved about half of Mozgov’s minutes, if not more, for the simple fact that he isn’t a liability on offense and has been a major contributor for the Nuggets down the stretch.
|JaVale McGee, C 17 MIN | 0-6 FG | 2-4 FT | 6 REB | 0 AST | 2 PTS | -10
Sunday was a struggle for McGee. Like many Nuggets, this was his first playoff game and it showed in the form of nervousness. He was fumbling the ball as if it were going out of style and couldn’t finish anything within two feet of the rim. But also like many of his teammates, he should bounce back on Tuesday with a more dominating performance.
|Julyan Stone, G 2 MIN | 0-0 FG | 0-0 FT | 0 REB | 2 AST | 0 PTS | +2
|Jordan Hamilton, G 2 MIN | 1-1 FG | 0-0 FT | 0 REB | 0 AST | 2 PTS | +2
Game One Wrap Up and Additional Nuggets (By Charlie)
This isn’t going to be much of a series if the Nuggets are counting on digging themselves out of double-digit deficits against the Los Angeles Lakers on the road. Low and behold, that’s where the young Nuggets found themselves most of the night, falling to the Los Angeles Lakers in a game they never led and trailed by as a many as 21 points.
It was the worst-case scenario for the Nuggets, who shattered whatever confidence the starters had built by turning in their most lackluster start in recent memory. The first quarter saw essentially all of Denver’s worst fears confirmed. The Lakers’ size was simply too much to handle and allowed L.A. to dictate the flow of the game. Despite Kobe getting off to a slow start and Bynum not making a field goal the entire first quarter, the Lakers pummeled Denver 27-14 in the opening period and were never really threatened the rest of the way.
Before we delve into all the ugliness, let’s get the positives out of the way first. Going into the series I thought Andre Miller was the key to opening up gaps in the Laker defense and he came through with probably the best overall performance of any Nugget. Miller brought some semblance of flow and rhythm to an offense that was otherwise stale and utterly hopeless.
In a strange twist of fate, Miller now finds himself pitted against Steve Blake, his former Blazers teammate and now bench counterpart for the opposing L.A. Lakers. Two years ago, Miller battled Blake for the starting point guard job in Portland and emphatically won out despite Brandon Roy’s and Nate McMillan’s preference for Blake. Now, both players come off the bench and Miller continues to prove he’s a better player than Blake. I thought Andre attacked with a lot of confidence and made great reads against a Laker defense that intimidated the rest of his teammates.
It was a very encouraging sign, as Miller’s role has been marginalized over the course of the season and it hasn’t always felt like he’s an important part of the team. For the Nuggets to have any success in this series, Miller needs to be very good. Despite some poor shot selection, Miller seemed to get the message of how much Denver needs him and he responded with 12 points, 8 rebounds, and 7 assists in a game he didn’t even play his best.
Kenneth Faried was the other bright spot who assuaged some of the doubts about his effectiveness in this series with a near double-double against the dominant Lakers front-court. Faired is still a bad matchup for the sheer size and strength of the Lakers bigs, but he showed that he won’t be denied so easily. Faried had to work incredibly hard for everything he got in the paint and it’s clear the Nuggets must do a better job working their offense and getting Faried more opportunities outside of one-on-one post ups against much bigger players.
Outside of that, pretty much everything else went wrong. Defensively, the Nuggets were soft and showed the lack of commitment that’s earned them the dubious distinction of being ranked 22nd in defensive efficiency, the worst rating of all 16 playoff teams. Rotations were lazy and communication was nonexistent. The Nuggets half-heartedly contested shots and allowed the Lakers too many easy transition baskets and paint points. Pau Gasol picked Denver apart with his passing and in short, the Lakers were allowed to do whatever they wanted.
The Nuggets learned nothing from this game other than the fact they simply weren’t as prepared as the Lakers for playoff basketball. The best thing they can do is forget this night ever happened and head into game two with more focus and a renewed commitment to playing harder. Nevertheless, I’ll break down some of the finer points of this forgettable performance bullet-style.
- If you haven’t heard already, Ty Lawson had a miserable game and barely showed up. He essentially managed 1 point, 1 assist, and 2 turnovers in 25 minutes before padding his stats in garbage time. Its games like these that make you wonder if Lawson really wants to be great or if he’ll forever be known as the goofy, lovable jokester. Lawson did not react well to having his first option taken away and was all too content to let the defense funnel him straight into help at the rim. Lawson won’t play this bad again, but his performance is concerning enough to make you wonder if he can be a consistent threat in the rest of the series.
- Arron Afflalo did a good job on Kobe, but his offense was almost as disappointing as Lawson’s. He was not as aggressive coming off screens or cutting off the ball, often content to settle for one-on-one isolations against solid perimeter defenders. You have to wonder if he’s exerting too much energy on defense to maintain the type of offensive production the Nuggets need out of him. Karl played Afflalo the entire third quarter, searching for a spark and some leadership to help get Denver back in the game. Afflalo shot 2-for-4 in 12 third quarter minutes and the Nuggets melted as the Lakers took their big lead of 21.
- I am a huge fan of Brian Kamenetzky’s insight over at ESPN’s Land O Lakers blog, but I was flabbergasted when he singled out Al Harrington as a potential problem for the Lakers this series. Harrington is playing with a torn meniscus and is already a fairly inefficient jump shooter by trade. He’s too small to match up with the Lakers and the more he’s in the game, the more L.A. can exploit their size mismatch. If Harrington is going to beat you with jump shooting, make him go one-on-one and dare him to hit those difficult shots. That’s exactly what the Lakers did and it worked out beautifully for them. The Lakers have won when they’re forcing the Nuggets to beat them with Al Harrington.
- The Nuggets matched the Lakers in second chance points and beat them out in fast-break points 19 to 11. They also earned 27 free throw attempts to the Lakers 15, a couple of small victories in a game that wasn’t competitive. Still, it could be something to build on going forward.
- The Nuggets need to find some playoff intensity. They always seem to revert to old habits and a dysfunctional personality when the stage is set and the lights are shining bright. It’s such a stark contrast to the Lakers, who collectively play with much more intensity and immediately remind you this is a playoff game just by the way they carry themselves.
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