Monday, April 21, 2008

Lakers Gasol Up on Nuggets!

I said it at the time of the trade, and I will reiterate it today. The Los Angeles Lakers acquision of Pau Gasol a few months ago may go down as the best in-season player move the Lakers organization has ever made. Mitch Kupchak has gone from looking like a goat to genius in a short six months, and Kobe Bryant for the first time in a very long time seems to be totally content playing here in Los Angeles.

Prior to yesterday's game between the Lakers and the Denver Nuggets at the Staples Center, I had heard from ESPN and other sources that the officiating had been especially poor in most of the earlier playoff games held this weekend. Sure enough, as I got on the road to visit family yesterday and listened to the first several minutes of the game on the radio, what were the Lakers announcers griping about despite the Lakers getting out to an early 26-16 lead with less than a minute to play in the first quarter? Yes, the officiating! From buying into Vlade Divac-like flops by Nugget players and calling ticky-tack fouls on the Lakers it was apparent from the outset something was up.

After about three minutes or so of watching the game, I was convinced that the refs were trying to give the game to the Nuggets. And not surprisingly the Nuggets proceeded to go on a 27-9 run over the next seven minutes of action to take an eight point lead midway through the second quarter. The "officiating" got so bad that I even turned the game off, telling my Mom "the refs are trying to throw the game." Despite the "officiating," the Lakers though managed to go on a little run of their own, outscoring the Nuggets 11-4 over the next three minutes. The refs decided to then call a "phantom foul" on Allen Iverson against Kobe to give him his third one of the game with 2:51 to go in the half. Coach Phil Jackson took a risk and left Kobe in the game for more than two minutes before benching him with 35 seconds to play in the half. Led by Pau Gasol's 18 points, the Lakers took a narrow 58-56 lead into the lockerroom. In addition to picking up three fouls, Kobe had a miserable first half offensively, scoring four points on just 2-for-9 shooting.

The Lakers halftime lead would have been much larger if the referees had called the game fairly - the Nuggets took 22 free throw attempts to the Lakers' SEVEN in the first half!!! Perhaps Comissioner Stern sent a memo to the officiating crew at at halftime, as the officiating was much more equal in the second half.

Kobe and the rest of the his Lakers teammates, and most especially Gasol, made sure the refs weren't going to have any bearing on the result of this one as they went on a 15-4 run to begin the second half to stretch the lead to 13 points. The Nuggets would never get closer than nine points the rest of the way as the three pronged monster of Kobe, Pau and "L.O." went crazy over the game's final 24 minutes. In his first ever playoff game victory in 13 tries, Gasol truly had a game to remember, finishing with 36 points, 16 rebounds, 8 assists and three blocked shots. Kobe pitched in 28 second-half points to finish with 32 despite only shooting 9-for-26 from the field. L.O. added 16 points, 14 boards and six assists, while Luke Walton chipped in with 17 points and five assists off the bench. Final score: Lakers 128, Nuggets 114.

Game two of the best of seven series will be played at the Staples Center at 10:30 ET/7:30 PT on Wednesday night and can be seen on TNT nationally and Prime Ticket locally.


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