DENVER (AP)—The Denver Nuggets don’t just need work on their inbounds play. If they’re to bounce back from a second last-minute loss to the Lakers they’ll also have to play to the rim Monday night and not the crowd as they did in Game 3.
Instead, they talked about how they tried too hard to rile up their crowd, an ill-suited strategy that resulted in them missing 22 of 27 shots from outside the arc and shooting a playoff-low 39 percent while losing at home for the first time in 75 days.
“We’d go up seven, eight points and trying to get the building to erupt,” Martin said. “We’ve done that so much during the season and throughout the playoffs. So, we figured that’s the way it was going to be. And it’s not always going to be that way. You’ve got to grind it out sometimes, take the tough two or get to the line and score points that way.”
Billups agreed the Nuggets “shot some bad 3-point shots at bad points of the game, just taking chances, trying to hit the dagger,” and vowed that would change for Game 4 Monday night.
In their half-dozen blowouts at the Pepsi Center in these playoffs, the Nuggets had turned their crowd into a major factor by using their transition game, pull-up 3s, kick-outs and rim-rattling dunks to turn tight games into runaways and their arena into a jet engine.
Against Los Angeles, however, the 3-pointers rimmed out all night, allowing the Lakers to stick around long enough for Kobe Bryant(notes) to win it for them in the fourth quarter with a little help from Ariza, who also stole the Nuggets’ inbounds pass in the final minute to seal Game 1.
“I think we got caught up in the emotion of the moment of a great crowd, a great challenge,” Nuggets coach George Karl said. “I think we tried to hit too many home runs rather than just take a single here, a double here and win the game that way. We tried to hit too many bombs.
“We’ve got to challenge the Lakers to play defense on every possession. I think we took too many shots where they didn’t have to play defense.”
The Nuggets were simply too excited about playing in front of their boisterous crowd for the first time since eliminating the Mavericks 10 days earlier, and that resulted into too many bricks.
“Being home and just knowing how great this crowd is when we make 3s, when we make dunks, I think we may have put too much into that and wanted to feed off of that too much instead of playing a little smarter,” Billups said.
The Nuggets had hoped playing at the Pepsi Center would give them some leeway to atone for mistakes, “but we can’t bank on that,” Billups said. “We’ve got to play the right way, like we’ve been playing the entire playoffs.”
Which means being more patient, getting to the basket and attacking the rim.
The Nuggets had come to expect big games from Anthony, who had averaged 35 points in his previous five games, but he had an off night, shooting 4-for-13 for 21 points, just three after halftime.
“It was just one of them nights that the shots didn’t go down,” Anthony said.
For anyone, it seemed, except the guys who aren’t paid for their points.
The Lakers have their own issues, including Ariza’s sore hip and groin and Bryant’s banged-up body. And they got off to a slow start Saturday night. They know if not for the Nuggets’ bad shot selection, they could very well be the ones facing a 2-1 hole.
“We’ve got to come out with more focus, more energy and really just execute a lot better in the defensive end of the floor,” said Bryant, who characterized the team mood as “still a little edgy, a little upset.”
Bryant needed an IV after the game Saturday night and said that was the most exhausted he’d ever been after a playoff game.
“For two, three years now I’ve been playing nonstop,” Bryant said. “Then, the physical series we had against Houston and these guys grabbing and holding more than the Houston series. It’s been a really physical series. They’re making me work for everything, so it’s a combination of all that.”
Still, Bryant scored 41 points, including 13 in the fourth quarter.
“I couldn’t tell,” Anthony said. “But that says a lot about the way we’re playing, how the series is going, it’s a tough series. Both teams are battling, competing.
“We’re expecting a long, exhausting series.”
To get that, the Nuggets will have to fix their inbounds play and take better shots, two things that would really give their fans reason to cheer.