|Fast Breaks: Lakers vs. Nuggets|
|By Mark Haubner, Special to SI.com|
Denver blitzed the Lakers with big runs at the start of each half to blow Los Angeles out of the Pepsi Center 113-96 in Game 6 on Thursday, forcing a decisive Game 7 at Staples Center on Saturday night. The Nuggets ran out to a 13-0 lead to start the game, finally finding their outside shooting range after bricking their way through the first five games. The Lakers cut the deficit to 54-45 at the half, but couldn't come close to matching the Nuggets' energy after the break. Denver went on a 9-0 run to start the third, and the rout was on. For a team whose biggest advantage is off the bench, the Nuggets dominated Game 6 with the starters on the floor at the beginning of both halves in Game 6.
The tone has been set early consistently in this Lakers-Nuggets series. In five of six games, the winner of the first quarter has won the game, and the initial period has often been a rout, as one team has established a higher energy level. In Game 6, that was obviously Denver, and Ty Lawson was the catalyst. The speedy point guard scored eight points in the 13-0 opening run, and tallied 15 in the first quarter, including 4-of-4 three-pointers after shooting 2-16 behind the arc in the first five games. All told, Lawson had 32 points, five rebounds, six assists and zero turnovers in an aggressive offensive performance.
Game 6 was a thoroughly impressive offensive performance by the Nuggets, with an exceptional mark of 117.1 points per 100 possessions, and sometimes it's as simple as just knocking down shots. After going just 20-87 (22.9 percent) on threes -- including a lot of missed open looks -- for the series, Denver caught fire from downtown in Game 6, making their first five treys to start the games and 8-11 in the first half, finishing 10-20 on the night.
The Nuggets, who were the league's best shooting team on two-point field goals, also made more than 50 percent of their twos (37-71) on Thursday, and it all added up to what was easily their most efficient field-goal shooting game of the series. Additionally, Denver did not commit a turnover in either the first or third quarters, so it's no surprise they were plus-23 in those two periods.
Kobe Bryant fought through a bout of gastroenteritis, but it was Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum who played as if they needed the IVs. Despite being visibly fatigued, Kobe scored an efficient 31 points on 13-23 from the floor and kept the Lakers in the game in the first half.
Gasol, meanwhile, had just three points and three rebounds on 1-10 shooting in 29 minutes. Bynum had a deceptive line of 11 points, 16 rebounds and four blocks. The Lakers' center scored just three points on 1-5 field goals in the first half, and neither L.A. big brought much energy on the defensive. Both players had circles run around them by Denver rookie Kenneth Faried, who hustled his way to 15 points and 11 rebounds, including nine points and six rebounds to put the game away in the first six minutes of the third quarter.
To be fair to Gasol and Bynum, they faced a steady diet of double teams, as the Nuggets defense is entirely focused on stopping L.A.'s Big Three. Denver was perfectly willing to leave the Lakers' supporting perimeter players wide open all night. Ramon Sessions, Devin Ebanks, Steve Blake and Matt Barnes couldn't make Denver pay, shooting a combined 11-29 from the floor, including 2-9 on threes.
One wrinkle that worked well for Los Angeles was no longer going with a Sessions-Blake backcourt to match up with Denver's small combo of Lawson and Andre Miller. The Lakers used bigger defenders like Bryant or Barnes on Miller, who had abused Blake in the series.
Put these last few points together, and the wild card for the Lakers in Game 7 could be Metta World Peace, who will return after serving a seven-game suspension. L.A. needs more punch from the small-forward position than Barnes and Ebanks have provided, and could really use more size to match up with the likes of Miller on the defensive end. We'll see if the mercurial World Peace is immediately ready to roll after being out for almost three weeks.