at L.A. Lakers 96, Denver 87 (L.A. Lakers win, 4-3)
Kobe Bryant demanded Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum provide more, and on a night Kobe was closer to ordinary (by his standards, at least), Gasol (23 points, 17 rebounds, six assists and four blocks) and Bynum (16 points, 18 rebounds and six blocks) were extraordinary.
Offensive Ratings: L.A. Lakers 116.1, Denver 100.5
In many ways, offensive rebounds are the ultimate desire stat. Every team knows it must secure a defensive rebound to complete a defensive possession, so to take an offensive rebound requires outworking and/or outsmarting a defense specifically designed to prevent offensive rebounds.
With 7:18 left, Bryant missed a jumper. Bynum tried to tip the ball in and missed, and Gasol tipped and missed three more times. Then, Gasol's fourth offensive rebound of the possession--and the Lakers' fifth--finally turned into a basket.
On the next possession, Andre Miller grabbed an offensive rebound against Gasol and converted an and-one.
Los Angeles competed at incredible level tonight, which was necessary because Denver matched that intensity. Neither team shot 40 percent, but both made up for their poor shooting by hitting the offensive glass. The Nuggets grabbed 42.6 percent of available offensive rebounds only to be best by the Lakers, who grabbed 44.4 percent of their available offensive rebounds.
Offensive rebounds were just one way the Lakers picked each other up in the decisive game, and Kobe set that tone. He took just 16 shots, his fewest of the series, and his eight assists matched a series high. His 1:2 assist:shot ratio was his highest of the calendar year.
Steve Blake (19 points on 5-of-6 three-point shooting) picked up starting point guard Ramon Sessions (2-of-8, including 0-of-4 on three-pointers).
Metta World Peace picked up his Los Angeles teammates after abandoning them for the series' first six games due to suspension for his selfish, among other descriptors, elbow of James Harden. World Peace (four steals, two blocks and a team-best +17) played excellent defense and had a hand in holding Danilo Gallinari to 1-of-9 shooting and Andre Miller to 1-of-10 shooting.
Ty Lawson (24 points) was actually the game's most reliable scorer with his ability to create and make his jumper, and Al Harrington (24 points) served as a solid second fiddle. But asking Arron Afflalo (15 points on 11 shots) to be third option was overshooting, if only slightly.
Denver's bench played 99 minutes, more than double Los Angeles'. If the Nuggets tried to wear down the Lakers over the long series, it didn't work.
Facing Oklahoma City will be an undoubtedly tougher task, but Denver presented a huge challenge for the Lakers, and they rose to the occasion for that one.
L.A. Clippers 82, at Memphis 72 (L.A. Clippers win, 4-3)
Offensive Ratings: L.A. Clippers 92.7, Memphis 81.8,
It would be difficult to find someone who believes Vinny Del Negro is a better coach than Lionel Hollins. But Del Negro put more trust in his players than Hollins did today, and that was the difference in Game 7.
The Clippers won just their third playoff series in franchise history and second since the team moved to California and became the Clippers. Not a single player remains from the 2005-06 team that beat the Nuggets in the first round, and in all likelihood, the Clippers who led the team in a decisive fourth-quarter stretch today probably won't look much like the Clippers who will face the San Antonio Spurs in the second round.
This afternoon's contest was so physical, it drew legitimate comparisons to the mid-90s Heat-Knicks battles. Forearm shivers weren't even fouls, let alone ejection-worthy. For most of the game, the Grizzlies and Clippers beat each other up.
So, Del Negro put Eric Bledsoe, Mo Williams, Nick Young, Reggie Evans and Kenyon Martin on the court to begin the fourth quarter. Not as punch drunk as their teammates, those five reserves outscored Memphis 16-6 in 5:44 before Chris Paul and DeAndre Jordan entered the game. The Grizzlies never came closer than six after that, and that opening stretch to the fourth quarter essentially decided the game.
Martin (5-of-7 with 10 rebounds in 25 minutes), Evans (nine rebounds, a steal, a block and no shots in 19 minutes), Bledsoe (eight points and three assists), Williams (nine points) and Young (two three-pointers) all deserve credit for swinging the game in Los Angeles' favor. But realize that the Clippers' starters served as the offensive line, taking the beating and wearing down Memphis, and creating an opening for the L.A. reserves to thrive.
Not many coaches would have trusted their bench like Del Negro did today, especially sitting Blake Griffin for nearly the entire fourth quarter, but paid off. Those five reserves, the only ones to play today, each had positive plus-minuses. Chris Paul, played about half the fourth quarter with the Clippers' other reserves, was the only starter who wasn't negative.
Hollins, on the other hand, devised an early strategy that showed he didn't trust his players. After turning the ball over a series-high 22 times in Game 6, Memphis played like it was scared to turn the ball in the opening quarter of Game 7.
Turnovers, in isolation, are never good for a team, but a willingness to accept turnovers in order to generate better shots can benefit a team. To prevent turnovers, the Grizzlies simply didn't make passes that were at all risky, including entry passes to Marc Gasol or Zach Randolph. Those entry passes can be dangerous, and the Clippers have done a solid job swiping them throughout the series. But with Gasol and Randolph, two of the NBA's best interior scorers, receiving them in the post, they're lucrative.
Instead, Memphis settled for perimeter jumpers during the game's first 12:53 that, while they might have prevented turnovers, presented two problems. One, they're low-efficiency shots--the Grizzlies shot just 8-of-32 (25 percent) in that span. Two, they're more difficult to offensively rebound--the Grizzlies secured just two of those 24 misses (8.3 percent). Those mid-range isolation shots allowed the Clippers to more easily match up and box out, though Los Angeles certainly deserves credit for doing that very well anyway.
Midway through the second quarter, Gasol began attacking and Los Angles got back in the game. But Gasol and Randolph, two bigger players, are most effective early and tend to get worn down by the ends of games. In today's brutal matchup, that concern became even more pressing, and Gasol and Randolph should have had more plays for them run early--even if that meant more turnovers.
The Grizzlies were playing foolishly while the Clippers were playing poorly, and that's a time Memphis should have developed a big lead rather than falling behind by double-digits. Although the Grizzlies recovered and even led to start the fourth quarter, if that comeback wasn't necessary, maybe Memphis would have had more energy in the fourth quarter. And maybe Del Negro wouldn't look so smart for relying on his subs to outgun the worn-down Grizzlies.
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Dan Feldman is an author of Basketball Prospectus.
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