Nuggets 102, Lakers 99
LOS ANGELES — Kobe Bryant took over more than one time in hopes of advancing the Lakers to the NBA playoffs’ second round.
But the Denver Nuggets held off Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers 102-99 in a Game 5 thriller at Staples Center on Tuesday night.
Bryant scored 43 points, with 14 coming in a frenetic fourth quarter that saw the Lakers trailing by 15 points midway through.
Bryant took over the game late in the third quarter in a way he failed to do in Games 3 and 4 in Denver, where he scored 22 points each time, with 30 percent shooting in Game 3 and 40 percent in Game 4. On Tuesday, he powered the Lakers to a surge that cut Denver’s lead to 68-65, but then the Nuggets kicked it up a notch again behind backup guard Andre Miller.
Miller finished with 24 points and eight assists, and another Nuggets reserve, JaVale McGee, provided some inside power, with 21 points, 14 rebounds and two blocks.
Bryant hit four 3-pointers in the final quarter, but he missed a tying bank shot in the final minute and then a tying 3-pointer on the final possession before Ramon Sessions also missed a 3-pointer before the buzzer.
The Lakers will try again to end the series Thursday night in Game 6 back in Denver. The winner of this series advances to face the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Nuggets coach George Karl had hinted before the game that he would make sure his team knew about Andrew Bynum’s comment Monday that it isn’t always difficult to finish off a playoff series.
“Closeout games are actually kind of easy,” Bynum said after a practice. “Teams tend to fold if you come out and play hard in the beginning. So we want to come out and establish a lead and protect it.”
Karl said Tuesday that he disagreed with the statement considering the fight teams show to avoid elimination — and added that it showed some “complacency” from Bynum.
The Nuggets indeed came out with one of their better starts Tuesday, particularly on the Staples Center floor, where they never led in Game 1 or Game 2. Rookie power forward Kenneth Faried outran the whole Lakers defense to get two fast-break buckets and produced eight points in the first eight minutes.
The Lakers have been citing their transition defense as the key to this series, but Faried helped the Nuggets build a 26-19 lead. However, Al Harrington passed the ball under Denver’s basket right to the Lakers’ Matt Barnes, who threw an instant alley-oop for Bynum, and then Corey Brewer fouled Bynum on his defensive rebound while in the foul penalty with 2.5 seconds left in the first quarter. Bynum’s two free throws cut Denver’s lead to 26-23.
The Nuggets maintained control of the game by defending better than they had previously, activating their running game. Denver had 18 fast-break points in their entire Game 4 loss to the Lakers. They had 15 fast-break points in building a 49-43 halftime lead in Game 5.
NOTES: Nuggets guard Arron Afflalo, whose offensive burst often lifted Denver late in the season, had been struggling with the extra duty of guarding Bryant in this series. But Afflalo perked up to be Denver’s leading scorer in the first half Tuesday, with 13 points on 6-of-12 shooting from the field. Bryant had 18 points, however, despite a slow start. … Denver continued to go away from Timofey Mozgov and Kosta Koufos, their starting centers in this series, with reserve McGee getting more done. McGee had seven points and eight rebounds in 15 first-half minutes. … The Lakers again played without Metta World Peace, who is down to one more game to serve in his seven-game NBA suspension for elbowing Oklahoma City’s James Harden. World Peace appeared on the TBS talk show “Conan” with Conan O’Brien on Monday night.