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Kobe and Bynum, 1-2 Punch (5.1.12)
Kobe Bryant and Andrew Bynum carried the Lakers to victory Tuesday night against the Denver Nuggets. The present and future cornerstones of the franchise combined for 65 points on an efficient 27-49 shooting. The one-two punch was too much for the Nuggets to handle and the Lakers won 104-100. However, the Nuggets were able to chip away at a 13 point deficit with just under seven minutes remaining in the game. They made the game closer than it needed to be and if not for some timely plays by Kobe, the Nuggets may have stolen game two. The Nuggets continually exposed the Lakers lack of proper shot selection and spacing by leaking out after contesting jumpers and getting easy transition buckets.
The Lakers opened the game strong and won the first quarter 32-25. This quarter would prove instrumental in the victory, as the Nuggets would play the Lakers even in the second and third. The Lakers established the inside out combination right off the bat, and Bynum and Kobe started off hot. On the first possession of the game, Bynum took advantage of an isolation play on the near block. Bynum took two dribbles and turned middle for the right hook. The very next play, the Nuggets decided to double Bynum as soon as he caught it at the near mid block. Bynum immediately kicked out to Pau at the far top of the key, and Pau swished the open jumper. Two minutes later, Bynum caught the ball at the near mid block. He was immediately doubled, so he kicked it out to Barnes at the near corner. Barnes quickly swung the ball to an open Kobe at the far side 3. Kobe then blew by the closeout and attacked baseline to finish with a two handed dunk. The execution of the ball movement from strong side to weak side was excellent, causing Steve Kerr to proclaim, "Great execution from the Lakers. Barnes making himself available on that double team, and Bynum doing the right thing, just pass to the first open guy, let him make the next pass." Often times Bynum has struggled to kick out from the double teams, but on this occasion he was perfect.
Following some Gallinari free throws, George Karl decided to have his team full court press. Teams will usually only use a press following a free throw. The Lakers were prepared and they burned the press. The Nuggets stupidly brought up four guys to only cover three players. Faried and Lawson doubled Sessions at the far elbow, Afflalo covered Kobe at the near elbow, and Gallinari covered the in bounder, Matt Barnes. Barnes wisely noticed the mistake, and he slung a pass to Pau Gasol at the far side half court. Pau instinctively pushed the ball up the court, like a point guard, and he attacked into the paint. As soon as Koufos moved up to stop the ball, Pau threw the lob to Bynum for the easy two on one alley oop dunk. Bynum followed this possession by switching onto Lawson at the free throw line following a pick and roll. Bynum contested Lawson's step back jumper and he leaked out. Barnes took the rebound and sent the outlet to Bynum for an easy two handed dunk. This put the Lakers up 12-3 within the first three minutes of the game.
After Bynum's nice opening, Kobe decided to kick it into high gear. Kobe held the ball at the top 3, took a dribble inside the line, crossed over from right to left, leaving Gallinari shook, and swished the pull up 20ft jumper from the near top of the key. He followed this with a curl to the free throw line. Kobe caught the pass, faced up, took one dribble to his left, pumped to get Afflalo in the air, and hit the 14ft jumper from the near elbow. Bynum then made another great pass out of a double team to feed Matt Barnes an easy layup on the near block. Kobe followed with a beautiful and one. Kobe used a Bynum down screen to pop up to the far top key. Kobe caught the pass and swung through to his right to use another pick from Bynum. Bynum rolled as Kobe went right, Kobe took three probing dribbles and pulled up for the 14ft jumper with Afflalo on his back. Kobe swished the jumper and knocked down the free throw. Kobe then caught the ball at the far mid wing for an isolation set. Kobe faced up, jabbed right twice, swung through from left to right, took one dribble for the pull up fading jumper in the far mid corner, and swished it. Kobe finished the quarter with a nice 3. He caught the ball at the far wing, faced up, jabbed right to rock Brewer baseline, and shot the 3 for a swish. Kobe finished the opening quarter with 14 points on 6-8 shooting. Bynum finished 4-6 for 10 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists, and 1 block.
In the second quarter, the Nuggets kicked it into overdrive and capitalized on easy transition buckets. Ramon Sessions got a little caught up in the run and gun tempo and allowed the Nuggets to pick up the tempo. Sessions went from the near top and used a pick from Hill to probe the lane. He missed the floater, Hill missed the putback, and Barnes was swatted on the putback dunk. Gallinari leaked out after Sessions missed the floater and he took the outlet for an easy dunk in transition. A couple possessions later, Sessions used a pick from Pau at the top to attack right. Sessions went all the way to the rim, missed the tough layup and fell to the ground. Andre Miller gobbled up the rebound and immediately sent the outlet to the streaking Corey Brewer for a dunk in transition.
With Metta suspended, I wondered if the wings of the Nuggets would expose the Lakers. To my surprise, Matt Barnes has played these past two games with a pretty sore ankle. I thought Gallinari, Harrington, and Wilson Chandler would really expose Devin Ebanks, however, Matt's presence, along with Ebanks' excellent play, has made the depth of the Nuggets less of a problem. Also, Wilson Chandler has decided to have season ending surgery on his hip, opening the door for Corey Brewer. Brewer had an excellent game, shooting 5-7 for 14 points, along with 2 assists, 1 rebound, and 3 steals. Brewer's activity was excellent and he may pose a serious problem off the bench on Denver's home floor.