George Karl summed up Saturday’s thrilling Game 7 playoff battle between the Lakers and Nuggets at Staples Center. The Denver coach said the Lakers’ size proved to be too much for the Nuggets’ speed.
Size over speed. That was the difference between the Lakers advancing to the next round and the Nuggets going home. And one sequence was the defining moment of the night.
It happened with about seven minutes left in the fourth quarter with the Lakers clinging to a 76-75 lead. Kobe Bryant missed a short jumper from the free throw line, but Andrew Bynum kept the play alive when he tipped it off the backboard. Then came a incredible tip drill by Pau Gasol. The 7-footer had his hand on the ball seven times before finally securing the rebound and a put-back for a 78-75 Lakers lead. Gasol jogged back to the other side of the court belting out a primal scream that riled up the Staples Center crowd.
The play summarized how the Lakers were able to eliminate the pesky Nuggets in the first round, it also energized a Lakers squad that seemed to have lost some of their mojo after an embarrassing Game 6 loss in Denver two days ago.
“You just saw the hunger,” Lakers guard Steve Blake — who had 19 points off the bench — said about Gasol’s remarkable effort. “On that one possession it looked like he fought for like four, five taps before he finally got. And when he made it man he flexed his muscles, gave us some hope, some confidence and energy.”
It was a complete turnaround for Gasol, who had just three points in Game 6. In Game 7, however, he finished with 23 points, had 17 rebounds, six assists, and four blocked shots to power the Lakers to a 96-87 victory.
“We just played hard throughout the game, and pounded the boards,” Gasol said. “We stuck with it. Our energy and intensity was a lot better on both ends of the floor.”
He added, “I just wanted to bring a better effort than what I brought in Game 6. I’m not a player than can put up three points and three rebounds in one game. So I just made a conscientious effort of coming out harder and play at the fullest from the beginning.”
The other half of the Hollywood Hills, Bynum, also had a more determined effort on the boards. Bynum grabbed 18 rebounds, 11 on the offensive end. He and Gasol combined for 20 of the Lakers’ 24 offensive rebounds in the game. Bynum also had 16 points and six blocks.
“[The Nuggets] made a conscientious effort to double team me from everywhere so it left them open under the basket for second-chance opportunities. Because of the rotations they were able to seal down low and get second and third chances at the basket,” said Kobe Bryant, who had 17 points and a team-high eight assists in 45 minutes.
“We also did a much better of utilizing me on screen-and-rolls. Rolling Pau and rolling Andrew,” Bryant said. “They were catching the ball on the move, and the defense can’t just sit on them.”