Kobe, Lakers handle Nuggets in Game 1
A day before Andrew Bynum produced one of the most eye-popping defensive performances in NBA playoff history, he spoke up to his Lakers teammates about the importance of getting off to a good start in their championship quest.
With an NBA record-tying 10 blocked shots, the 7-foot All-Star center put the Lakers on the good foot — and the Denver Nuggets on their heels.
Kobe Bryant scored 31 points, Bynum posted the Lakers’ first playoff triple-double in 21 years, and Los Angeles thoroughly controlled the tempo in a playoff-opening 103-88 victory Sunday.
Despite a few well-chronicled fluctuations in his motivation and discipline this year, the seventh-year pro had perfect focus in Game 1, capping his utter dominance in the paint with his record-tying block of Timofey Mozgov with 3:02 to play. Bynum also had 10 points and 13 rebounds before checking out to an ovation.
”It’s the only way really possible for me to get a triple-double — through blocked shots,” Bynum said of his first career triple-double. ”If I play good D, we’ll win games. I think I’m just going to be as aggressively as I can defensively to contest their shots. … You’ve got to win Game 1. Statistics are against the teams that lose Game 1, especially on the home court.”
Game 2 is Tuesday night.
Just how dominant were Bynum and his tall teammates against the NBA’s highest-scoring team? Bynum blocked 11 percent of the Nuggets’ 90 shots, and with 15 total blocks, Lakers swatted one of every six Denver shots, separating the Nuggets from any hope of a late rally.
”His timing was impeccable today,” Bryant said of Bynum. ”He really understood the rhythm of their offensive players. He was just there at the exact moment, either to change or block the shot.”
While Bynum had the Lakers’ first playoff triple-double since Magic Johnson in the 1991 NBA finals, fellow 7-footer Pau Gasol added 13 points, eight rebounds and eight assists for the playoff-tested Lakers, who never trailed while forcing Denver to play Los Angeles’ preferred half-court style.
Bynum blocked eight shots in the first three quarters before surpassing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s franchise-record nine blocks in the fourth. He eventually equaled the NBA record set by Utah’s Mark Eaton on April 26, 1985, and matched by Hall of Famer Hakeem Olajuwon on April 29, 1990.
”We’ve got to find a way to score before he gets in the paint, because he’s impressive,” said Danilo Gallinari, who led Denver with 19 points.
For coach Mike Brown, who has mostly enjoyed his first year riding the roller coaster of Bynum’s emotions and motivation, the game showed why these Lakers could go deep into June.
”He can control a game without shooting a single shot,” Brown said. ”He has 10 blocks, but I’d be curious to know how many (shots) he changed. He changed a gazillion shots in the paint, and that’s what Denver is very good at. He was phenomenal tonight, and if he continues to play like he did, being the type of monster he was tonight patrolling that paint, we’ll be playing a long time.”
But Denver coach George Karl got a jump start on lobbying the officials for help against Bynum in Game 2.
”(Bynum) was playing a nice illegal defense,” Karl said. ”He was zoned up good. I think we got one illegal defense (call against Los Angeles). I saw about 30 of them. … The shot-blocker probably beat us.”
The sixth-seeded Nuggets won eight of 10 to reach the postseason, but most of their fears about this playoff matchup were realized. Andre Miller had 12 points, eight rebounds and seven assists while helping out Ty Lawson, Denver’s leading scorer, who managed just seven points while failing to make a shot in the first three quarters for the NBA’s second-youngest playoff roster.
Ramon Sessions had 14 points and five assists in his first career playoff game for the third-seeded Lakers, who lost last year’s postseason opener to New Orleans.
Devin Ebanks even scored 12 points in the first half while starting his first career playoff game in place of suspended Metta World Peace. The Lakers didn’t miss their defensive stopper while forcing most of Denver’s key contributors into poor games.
”I don’t think we were intimidated,” Gallinari said. ”They played their game plan better than we played our game plan. … This first game, we were overthinking too much. One of the best things we do is just be aggressive and don’t think too much.”
Bryant scored 23 points in the second half to open the 15th playoff campaign of his 16-year career. The third-leading scorer in NBA playoff history hadn’t played in a week, sitting out the Lakers’ last game alongside Gasol and Bynum to keep his high-mileage legs fresh.
Sessions and Ebanks both made their playoff debuts, while Brown coached the Lakers in their first playoff game at Staples Center, which opened in 1999, without Phil Jackson commanding their bench from his oversized chair.
NOTES: Jordan Hill had another surprisingly strong game off the bench, contributing 10 points and 10 rebounds to the Lakers. … Bynum blocked seven shots on June 6, 2010, in Game 2 of the NBA Finals against Boston in his previous playoff high. … The Lakers handed out white T-shirts reading ”One at a Time,” but in a Staples Center tradition, most of the crowd declined to wear them. … Fans in attendance included Megan Fox, David Beckham, Meagan Good and Brian Austin Green.