Nuggets overcome Bryant’s big night
LOS ANGELES — Kobe Bryant nearly produced one of the more miraculous comebacks in this NBA postseason.
Instead, he and the Lakers are headed back to Denver in hopes of holding off the resurgent Nuggets, who prevailed by a 102-99 score 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.
“I almost bailed us out,” Bryant said, according to the Los Angeles Times. “That’s not something we can use to rely on to win a championship. We all have to play with energy and a sense of urgency.”
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 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.
“I was just glad we didn’t go to overtime,” said Denver guard Andre Miller, who had 24 points and eight assists. “There was too much energy in the building. A veteran team like that will fight their way back, and they know how to finish games. We found a way to contain them.”
The Lakers will try again to end the series Thursday night in Game 6 back in Denver. It will be the final game the Lakers play without suspended Metta World Peace. The winner of this series advances to face the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Denver played harder than the Lakers in Game 5, Bryant said, and Miller was a big part of that.
“I thought Andre was sensational in the second half the way he orchestrated the layups we got. He made some great athletic plays,” coach George Karl said.
Another Nuggets reserve, JaVale McGee, provided inside power, with 21 points, 14 rebounds and two blocks.
“I was just trying to stay aggressive,” McGee said.
Karl had hinted before the game that he would make sure his team knew about Lakers center Andrew Bynum’s comment Monday that it isn’t always difficult to finish off a playoff series. 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.
After Karl motivated them before tip-off Tuesday with Bynum’s words, the Nuggets indeed came out with by far their best start 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.
“For us to be successful, we run and we have to play with a good energy,” Karl said after the game. “You know we have not been a great defensive team all year, but we have opportunities to be good defensively.”
The Lakers have been citing their transition defense as the key to this series, but Faried helped the Nuggets build a 26-19 lead.
Then 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 with the help of guard Arron Afflalo, whose offensive burst often lifted Denver late in the season. Afflalo had been struggling with the extra duty of guarding Bryant in this series, but he delivered 19 points and three steals Tuesday.
The Lakers were disappointed at the blown opportunity, but they felt their outside shooters and defensive interior could both be much better.
“We played hard for the last six minutes of the game,” Bynum said. “And we got back into it. But it was a little too late.”