1. McGee, Nuggets Bring High-Energy Effort
The Lakers know the only way the Nuggets can beat them is if they outhustle and outrun them. Denver did all of that to build what proved to be an insurmountable lead in the first half, and as an added bonus got McGee as we've never seen him before. How does 16 points, 15 rebounds and three blocked shots grab you?
Most of our exposure to McGee came from YouTube clips of his various misadventures with the Washington Wizards. McGee provided a whole new reel Friday night. After Ty Lawson zipped past and shot over a lackluster Lakers squad to show 13 first-half points, McGee came on and scored eight points to go with nine rebounds in the first half. That was eight more points and four more rebounds than Andrew Bynum provided.
Bynum woke up in the second half, when he had 18 points and seven rebounds to bring the Lakers as close as four points. But McGee didn't vanish, with eight additional points and six more rebounds himself, and in the third quarter the two engaged in a big-man duel the likes of which we rarely see in the NBA anymore.
"I was really timid in the first two games," McGee said. "I wanted to be extremely aggressive in this game."
That was the story of this game. The young Nuggets finally reached the necessary level of aggression. The Lakers didn't respond in kind.
Ever since the Lakers dominated the opener, Denver coach George Karl has been lamenting his team's lack of playoff-level output in that game. He spent much of the subsequent time talking about the intensity required this time of year, and was at it again Friday.
"When we win," a confident Karl said before the game, "Game 4 is going to have to take more energy than Game 3. Game 5 is going to take more energy than Game 4. You have no idea how it happens, but it's more. It's always more."
It will take more from the Nuggets only if the Lakers decide to put more into it themselves. They played the first half of Game 3 as if it were February and they were about to head into the All-Star break.
There's a time for coasting. There's even an artful way to do it during the regular season.
"The gig is, you've got to play harder than your opponent," Karl said. "Sometimes your opponent is not playing at a high intensity level. You get a [a team playing its] fourth in five nights, you get [an opponent on a] back-to-back, you don't have to go 120 percent. In the playoffs, you have to go over 100 percent."
In the regular season you can get away with outplaying a team for only 12 minutes, as the Lakers did in the third quarter of Game 3. On an ordinary night, that might be enough. Get it close again, count on out-executing the Nuggets in the half-court game, get the win and move on. That doesn't work against a team that was desperate to extend its season past Sunday.
The Lakers didn't play enough of their game Friday. They didn't maintain what got them the 2-0 lead in the series.
"I basically lived in the post and the elbow the first two games," said Kobe Bryant, who shot 9-for-19 in Game 3. "We got away from that. Pau [Gasol] as well. You saw me on the perimeter way too much. We can't to do that. We've got to kind of stick to our ground-and-pound game, which is me in the post, Drew in the post."
Denver outscored the Lakers in the paint, 52-32. The Lakers came with a regular-season effort in the playoffs.
"It happens," Lakers coach Mike Brown said. "I don't know if it's as much the lack of intensity on our part as opposed to Denver being desperate and the crowd getting into the game early on and giving them energy. Next thing you know, you look up and you're down 15."
Said Bryant: "[Lawson] got into the lane and they also shot the ball extremely well during that stretch."
That doesn't account for Denver's 31-18 rebounding advantage in the first half. That's not a hot hand, that's faster-moving feet, more active bodies. It's Kenneth Faried playing with the energy that got him 15 rebounds and 12 points. It's a 19-10 fast-break advantage for the Nuggets.
The notion of the Lakers slowing their roll and intentionally dropping a couple of games to fulfill Metta World Peace's seven-game suspension before the Oklahoma City series starts sounds fine and good, until Kobe sprains an ankle in Game 6.
These playoffs have already seen Derrick Rose, Iman Shumpert and Josh Smith go down in games (not to mention Amare Stoudemire going down postgame). Joakim Noah was on crutches after Friday night's Bulls-76ers game. Denver's Al Harrington caught an elbow and broke his nose Friday. Would any sane coach volunteer for additional games right now? "Get out and get on" has got to be the mantra.
Instead, the Lakers plain got beat.
2. Around The Association
Recap | Box score
That was a furious, unlikely, insane comeback: Down 67-53 with 10:15 remaining, and with an offense so anemic it would have benefited from iron supplements, the Sixers came roaring back. Led by 10 points from their center (more on him below), ice-water-in-the-veins foul shooting and a defense tight enough to turn coal into diamonds -- which, as a matter of fact, it did -- Philly outscored Chicago 26-7 the rest of the way to steal the victory and the 2-1 series lead.
MVP: Hero to goat to hero: Spencer Hawes played a crazy game of poker Friday. After hitting a circus 3-pointer and a deep 2 to kick-start things, the center missed eight straight shots before closing like gangbusters with 10 points, including a go-ahead 20-footer with 2:11 left, in the final 10:15. He finished with a game-high 21 points and 9 rebounds.
X factor: Defense. After a surprisingly fast and loose start to this series, Philly and Chicago -- two rough-and-tumble teams that hang their hat on their "D" -- played the sort of game we expected. The two combined to shoot under 36 percent from the floor and each withstood extended offensive droughts. With no dominant scorer left standing, expect more of the same from here on out.
Recap | Box score
MVP: Jeff Teague. Without Teague's 16 second-half points, Joe Johnson doesn't get a chance to have a couple of difficult late makes to boost the impact of his 29-point, 28-shot night. The Atlanta point guard also encouraged several of Rajon Rondo's 15 missed shots and six turnovers to keep the Hawks in the game.
X factor: Ray Allen. With Avery Bradley (shoulder) unable to finish the game, Allen's 13 points in 36 minutes off the bench made up for the loss of Bradley's defensive presence.
That was lacking urgency: In the first two games, Larry Drew rested Teague, Johnson and Josh Smith all at once for about 10½ minutes total. The Hawks scored seven points during those stretches. In Game 3, Teague and Johnson both sat for 4:20 of the first half. The Hawks didn't score a single point in that stretch.
Recap | Box score
MVP: Javale McGee probably earned himself a bigger contract with his 16-point, 15-rebound game off the bench. Most impressive? He ended the game with a +30 and had only one head-scratcher of a fast break. He and Kenneth Faried (12 points, 15 rebounds) are potentially fearsome.
X factor: Pamela McGee's glower power from the baseline was more than a match for whatever the Lakers could dish out. You're telling me you'd take it hard to her son's team if she might be waiting in the parking lot?
Defining Moment: Although Lawson came back down to earth, his incendiary first quarter (13 points on 5-for-7 shooting) was the essential reason the Nuggets got out to a 30-14 lead in the first frame. They never trailed after going up 14-12.
3. Friday's Best
4. Friday's Worst
Lakers' bench: Matt Barnes went 2-for-9 from the floor for a total of six points and Steve Blake made 1 of 4 shots for three points off the bench. The rest of Los Angeles' reserves combined to go scoreless. A whooping nine points from the non-starters is not exactly a winning formula on the road.
5. NBA Video Channel
6. Tweet Of The Night
7. Quote Of The Night
"Then, finally, I told him: 'Just be a scorer. Just attack.' And I thought that freed him up."
-- Celtics coach Doc Rivers, on Rajon Rondo, who didn't have a basket in the first half but finished with 17 points.
8. Allen, The Sixth Man
9. Hawes Leads Rally
Spencer Hawes scored 10 fourth-quarter points in the 76ers' win over the Bulls. It was only the third time in his NBA career -- regular season or playoffs -- that Hawes reached double-digits in points in the final quarter of a game. In his previous two games, both in the regular season for the Kings, Hawes' team was getting blown out, one loss by 16 points and the other by 18 points.
10. Highlight Of The Night