JaVale McGee didn’t get the start, but he got to play for 28 minutes, making the most of them, finishing with the impressive stat line of 16 points, 15 rebounds and 4 blocks, helping the Denver Nuggets beat the Los Angeles Lakers 99-84 and get back into the series, making it 1-2 Lakers.
No more Kostas Koufos and very little Timofey Mozgov. McGee is the most talented big man on this Nuggets team, and for once, he acted the part. With Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol playing in front of him you wouldn’t expect him to dominate the way he did in Game 3, but so much talent has to explode at one point. McGee, along with Kenneth Faried (12 points, 15 rebounds) dominated the boards 54-44.
It wasn’t some incredible shooting night from the Nuggets. They shot pretty bad – 39.8% from the field. The Lakers were much worse, with 37.2% and a dark day from beyond the ark, hitting only 6 of 24. As you might have guessed, this wasn’t one of Bryant’s finest performances. It also didn’t stop him from shooting and shooting, very Carmelo Anthony like, just on the other side of the country.
After averaging 34.5 points in the first two games, Bryant finished with 22 while shooting 7-23 from the field. Bynum and Gasol didn’t dominate, being just OK, combining for 34 points and 19 rebounds, but struggled to create and dominate when McGee was on the court. The +/- numbers tell it the best; Bynum was -16, McGee was a game high +30.
No points off the bench isn’t a new problem for the Lakers, but when no one in the starting lineup is able to put his mark on the game, that problem because rather grievous. Only nine points from two players on a very short rotation, while the Nuggets enjoyed 39 points from McGee, Andre Miller, Al Harrington and Corey Brewer. Ty Laswon led the scoring with 25 points and 7 assists.
How big a setback is this for the Lakers? Title contenders shouldn’t be beaten this easily by an inferior team. But the Lakers were never really title contenders. They’re a good team, that has improved this season, but they lack a couple of things to make them better or at least equal to the Thunder and Spurs. No bench, problems with their defense and certain bad habits of Bynum and Bryant can get in the way.
Now there’s JaVale McGee and the hot Denver Nuggets, who didn’t even shoot the ball that well. They just played lightning quick like they’re used to, with more support in the paint than what they’re used to. Sure, the Lakers will be better prepared for JaVale McGee next time, at least offensively, but they’ve got to get it going on with someone besides the obvious suspects. Bryant needs to trust the guys around him a bit more, as weird and impossible as it sounds.