Here are a few aspects of last night’s Game 7 victory over the Nuggets we will analyze:
Rebounds – The Lakers were out-rebounded by the Nuggets, 54-50, but it ended up being all right. The Nuggets made it a point to rebound the ball, but the Lakers managed to find a way to win. They will have to focus on rebounding going forward against the Thunder, however.
Pau Gasol – Gasol stepped up his play exponentially, and played the way all of Los Angeles had been waiting for him to play. He had countless tip-ins and offensive rebounds. Even though the offense wasn’t necessarily running through him, he dished out six assists anyway. Pau was a defensive beast last night as well, and performed excellently. When he’s playing the way he was last night, the Lakers are an extremely dangerous team. There really isn’t a more skilled big man in the league than Pau Gasol. We just hope he continues his exceptional play throughout the playoffs.
Steve Blake – Blake proved his worth last night. On previous occasions, we have seen Blake hit clutch shots and make big plays. However, in a Game 7 situation, Steve Blake came into the game focused and ready to contribute. Not only did he contribute, but he was one of the heroes as he connected on 5-6 three-point baskets en route to 19 points. Every time Kobe found him, Blake seemingly delivered. After Derek Fisher’s departure, Los Angeles has been looking for that assassin spot-up shooter, and it appears as if Steve Blake is ready to step into that role. Words cannot explain how crucial Blake was to last night’s victory, but he should definitely receive all the credit in the world for the victory in Game 7.
Metta World Peace – Fresh off of a 7-game suspension, World Peace picked up right where he left off. Not only did he connect on four three-pointers, but more importantly he was a defensive beast. Whether he was guarding Danilo Gallinari or Andre Miller, World Peace let his presence be felt. Metta was involved in almost every play, and was the team’s defensive coordinator. He altered so many plays and deflected so many shots that caused turnovers and led to easy fast-break points. The Lakers–not known for their transition basketball–looked like a run-and-gun team last night; and a lot of that was a result of MWP’s tenacity. We truly cannot express how important his defense was, but it was possibly the best defensive game World Peace has played as a Laker. Without him, the Lakers probably wouldn’t have won the game. It was the perfect timing for World Peace to return to the court.
Andrew Bynum – Bynum didn’t have a dominant offensive performance with 16 points, but his 18 rebounds and six blocks told the real story. Many critics have pointed at Bynum’s immaturity this season, but last night he shut them up, at least temporarily. When it comes to big games, Bynum has typically stepped up. He knows his role when it really comes down to it, and he delivered in a huge way last night. He won’t get the acclaim he deserves, but he was the defensive anchor. When he and Pau Gasol are playing at the level they were on Saturday, the Lakers are an almost unbeatable team.
Kobe Bryant – Kobe also had a relatively quiet night offensively. However, his impact won’t show up on the stat sheet. Bryant played the role of a quarterback the entire night–which was unexpected to say the least. Many expected Kobe to take over late, but he didn’t. Time after time he read the defense and kicked the ball to the correct player–playing completely under control. He almost seemed too passive in a way. But, when the time came, he drained a huge three-point basket with under a minute to play to essentially seal the game. We all know he was waiting for that opportunity, as once he hit the dagger he celebrated by high-fiving celebrities along court-side. The Black Mamba once again proved his greatness, especially in the playoffs. Other players may be considered better throughout the season, but there is no one better player in the playoffs than Kobe Bryant. The guy just knows how to get what he wants from his team, and knows how to win. With him in the lineup, there is always a chance to win, and win big.
Matt Barnes – Perhaps Matt Barnes is still suffering from his ankle injury towards the end of the regular season. The positive here is that Metta World Peace is back, and will allow him to get some rest. However, Barnes will be sorely needed going forward. We hope he will be healthier and can make a bigger impact in the next round against the Oklahoma City Thunder. He was a crucial player off the bench, and was the most reliable reserve at one point. He and World Peace were tag-teaming opponents on offense and defense for a stretch late in the season. Hopefully Barnes can get back to playing the way he was, because the Lakers will desperately need him going forward.
The Fire – Last night, the Lakers had the fire that has been missing for several games. They were focused in and imposed their will on the outcome of the game. Even though it was against the Nuggets, when the Lakers are playing as engaged as they were last night, they are virtually unbeatable. We truly believe that the Lakers have the best starting lineup in the league. That goes a long way in the playoffs, as a key five players normally receive the bulk of the minutes. This definitely goes into the Lakers’ favor, and is a potential disadvantage for deeper teams. It’s going to be hard, but the Lakers have the talent to beat anybody put in front of them. They just have to be engaged and on the same page. Second round, here we come!