“Mommy, there goes that man again!”
That quote was made popular by former NBA star and now ESPN analyst, Mark Jackson. He described the cutthroat way L.A. Laker superstar, Kobe Bryant repeated attacked the Denver Nuggets’ defense. He drove hard to the paint. He abused guard, J.R. Smith on the perimeter with his deadly, fadeaway jumpers. In all, the so-called, “Black Mamba” scored a game high 41 points and grabbed six rebounds. He also had five assists as Los Angeles won 103-97 to take a decisive 2-1 lead over Denver.
During the game, Laker coach, Phil Jackson berated his team for playing soft on defense and allowing easy baskets. At timeouts, he admonished his players for their lack of effort.
On the other bench, Nugget coach, George Karl begged his team to contain Bryant and not allow him to play one-on-one basketball by driving in for layups. But, Karl made a fatal flaw in his game plan.
He refused to take advantage of his offensive roster. He sat small forward, Linas Kleiza on the bench after his stirling 16 point and nine rebound effort in Game Two. Kleiza played crucial minutes in the first half of Game Three and compiled a quick four points and grabbed five rebounds. However, Karl benched him in the second half for offensive challenged, power forwards, Nene Hilario and Kenyon Martin. Between both players, they scored eight points and had 10 fouls.
The Nuggets played the second half at a 5 to 3 disadvantage. The Lakers always had five, potential scorers on the floor to their three. But, both teams shot poorly from the floor. Each shot under 44 percent for the game. Both teams missed opportunities at the free throw line.
The contest came down to each team’s three best players. L.A. had Bryant’s 41 points, Pau Gasol’s 20 points and 11 rebounds and Trevor Ariza’s 16 points and three steals. The Nuggets settled for Carmelo Anthony’s 21 points, Chauncey Billups 18 and J.R. Smith’s 10. All three Nuggets players shot under 35% for the game.
And somehow, Karl’s team relived a deja vu moment by fumbling an inbound pass with seconds to go in the fourth quarter. They did the deed in Game One; and repeated the transgression in Game Three.
The Nuggets lost their homecourt advantage. They failed to close out two games and put the Lakers back on their heels. They also failed to see the value in Kleiza’s shooting and rebounding in spacing the floor and forcing L.A. to defend five on five.
Game Four at the Pepsi Center (Monday Night)