Here are a few aspects of last night’s 92-88 victory we will analyze:
Rebounds – The Lakers managed to out-rebound the Nuggets, 48-38, and also took down more offensive rebounds, 19-13. Jordan Hill was the main contributor of both. The Lakers have to out-rebound virtually every opponent in order to give themselves the best chance to win. Last night, they did their job.
Kobe Bryant – Bryant didn’t have the best shooting night, but he made the correct plays down the stretch by getting the ball to the right guys at the right time. Anybody that has ever seen Kobe play knows that he will have a better shooting night next time around.
Steve Blake – Steve Blake came up huge for the Lakers, scoring eight of his 10 points in the fourth quarter. Not only that, but he hit a huge three-pointer to give the Lakers some separation (six points) with under a minute to play. With Derek Fisher gone, it will be up to Blake to provide clutch outside shooting down the stretch of ball games. He can create plays during the game, but in the fourth quarter, his precise shooting will be sorely needed. Although he’s not exactly known as a shooter, Blake is possibly the best shooter on this team.
Ramon Sessions – Sessions hasn’t quite been as aggressive offensively as we would like, but he hit perhaps the biggest basket of the game, connecting on the go-ahead three-pointer with under a minute to play. Much of the play-making has gone through Pau Gasol and Kobe Bryant in these playoffs, but Sessions will have to assert himself offensively and give the Lakers what they acquired him for–aiding and complementing Kobe Bryant.
Jordan Hill – Jordan Hill continues his impressive play despite barely being throw into the rotation two games before the playoffs. His activity and offensive rebounding has been a huge plus for the Lakers, and is providing the Lakers with consistency behind their starting big men.
Matt Barnes – Matt Barnes is still struggling with his ankle injury. Before the playoffs, Barnes was playing brilliantly and his activity level was unmatched on the floor. He appears to be moving okay, but Mike Brown obviously sees some weaknesses on defense due to the ankle. This has also forced coach Brown to go with a lineup of Sessions, Blake, Bryant, Gasol, and Bynum down the stretch. So far, it has worked out just fine.
Big Men – The Lakers’ big men were relatively quiet last night, but managed to get the job done. Gasol has been incredibly consistent, and is basically the biggest play-maker in this series. Bynum had a solid night offensively, but wasn’t as effective on defense as he is capable of being. Look for both big men to step it up big and assert themselves in Game 5 at home.
New Clutch Shooters? – With Ramon Sessions and Steve Blake hitting big shots last night, and having each proved their abilities to knock down big shots towards the end of the regular season as well, it begs the question if they will be able to fill Derek Fisher’s clutch shooting shoes. So far, the pair have collectively stepped up and provided the kind of shooting we have seen from Fisher in the past. Fisher shot the ball well with his new team–the Oklahoma City Thunder–in the first round of their playoff series, and appears to be providing the same kind of killer instinct we saw here in Los Angeles for many years.
Perhaps Kenny Smith of Inside The NBA said it best. When Shaquille O’Neal asked if Sessions and Blake were on the same level as Derek Fisher when it comes to clutch shooting, Smith replied that although they are hitting these open shots, Fisher looks for those shots, and basically lives to put daggers in teams late in games.
However, Kobe stated after the game that he is comfortable with Blake and Sessions, and noted that even after both of them missed shots along with Matt Barnes in succession, he continued to pass the ball to them. It definitely paid off. Sessions and Blake may not have the same mentality of Bryant and/or Fisher down the stretch, but they have earned the confidence of Bryant. As long as the Black Mamba’s confidence and trust keeps rubbing off on his fellow guards, they should be just fine.
When Metta World Peace returns, however, it will be interesting to see whom Mike Brown sticks with at the point guard position. In the Oklahoma City game just before the season ended, Brown opted to go with with Steve Blake who was playing well throughout the game, and it worked out perfectly. At the same time, Sessions has also shown his worth in late game situations as well. Perhaps it will be on a game-by-game or opponent-by-opponent basis as to whom he decides to go with.
The Lakers were able to pull out an ugly victory in Denver. Game 5 will be in Los Angeles, and hopefully they can take care of business at Staples Center.
Three down, one to go.