In the first quarter, Marcus Camby set the defensive tone for what was going one of his best performances of the year. The Captain came out and returned four Laker shots back to sender and grabbed a handful of rebounds. Offensively, the Nuggets were jumpstarted by Carmelo’s twelve first quarter points which were scored in a variety of fashions. ‘Melo threw a reverse dunk down on Luke Walton, hit a rare three, and was 3-4 from the charity stripe. And the Nuggets’ collective efforts in the quarter put them in the lead by nine points, 32-23.
In the second the Nuggets came out very strong early, but faltered late to allow the Lakers to shave a couple points off their lead and go into the half down by seven, 65-58, largely in part to a 7-2 run in the final minute. The biggest positive at this point was the Nuggets holding Kobe Bryant to nine first half points by flashing different defenders at him and disrupting his rhythm by denying him the ball off the first pass past half-court.
The Lakers would battle back quickly in the third and find themselves down by only two points with a shade over six minutes to play before the Nuggets showed their first bit of true resiliency. From that exact juncture in the game, Denver-70 Los Angeles-68, the Nuggets went on a 12-0 run in the next two minutes and finished the quarter with a ten point lead. Carmelo Anthony would have seven of those twelve with the other five coming by way of an Allen Iverson three and two made free-throws by Eduardo Najera. I felt that this stretch of game was the first of two critical junctures where the Nuggets showed a sense of maturity and calm to go along with a strong sense of resolve that was not seen in earlier stretches of this season.
The second pivotal stretch of game started with 6:50 remaining in the fourth quarter with a Kobe Bryant dunk that pulled the Lakers within seven, 102-95. At this point in the fourth quarter the Nuggets were going cold from the outside while settling for jump shots and I feared a pending letdown as the Lakers were swinging the momentum of the game. And with said momentum the Lakers would eventually take the lead, 105-104, after threes from Maurice Evans and Brain Cook with only 4:20 remaining. But once again the Nuggets' resolve proved true with the game’s outcome in the balance as Steve Blake was cold-blooded with a humungous three-pointer to regain the lead for good.
And once they had regained the lead, the Nuggets showed the type of killer instinct that has been so elusive all season long. It may have came by way of the free-throw line with the Nuggets going 8-12, but what was so refreshing to see was the Nuggets’ ability to limit mistakes and make the necessary hustle plays that won the game. Marcus Camby had a steal, Nene drew a foul on Luke Walton on the offensive boards, and Carmelo Anthony answered the call of duty defending Kobe Bryant down the final stretch. This is how you close out games and the Nuggets couldn’t have picked a better time to be playing their best basketball.
With this win, the Nugget now need to only win one more game to guarantee a playoff birth and bring my ten-game prediction record to a respectable 3-2. Now on to the individual efforts that collectively materialized the big W.
Carmelo Anthony scored a game-high 33 points while pitching in five rebounds, five assists, and two steals. He was an efficient 9-19 from the field and a killer at the free-throw line hitting 12-14. While he was the offensive MVP for the Nuggets, I would have to give the overall game MVP to Marcus Camby. The Captain may have only finished with three points tonight, but he flat-out dominated the glass grabbing 22 rebounds and swatting seven Laker shot attempts. Without him I do not know how the Nuggets would have kept Lamar Odom, Ronnie Turiaf, and Andrew Bynum off the glass.
Off the bench, the Nuggets enjoyed the return presence of Eduardo Najera chipping away here and there to finish with 14 points, nine boards, and three steals. Eddie was a perfect 4-4 from the field and a respectable 6-8 from the charity stripe in his first big chunk of minutes since returning from a tibia contusion nearly ten days ago. I’ve always said that Eduardo is the glue that holds this team together sometimes and tonight he proved to be just that. When the Nuggets were ready to crack and go to pieces… Eddie was there, one way or another.
Tonight was a great win, but the Nuggets need to re-focus before going into Utah for a game that has plenty of distractions, (Adrian Dantley’s number being retired just being one of many), and a hot atmosphere in what should be another playoff-like feel against the bitter rival Utah Jazz.
Six is great, but can the Nuggets make it seven?