Kobe Bryant: 'It's a lesson to learn'

LOS ANGELES -- Going into Game 5 of the Los Angeles Lakers' first-round series against the Denver Nuggets, center Andrew Bynum said close-out games in the NBA playoffs are "actually kind of easy."

The Nuggets proved to Bynum and the Lakers that they're anything but.

Denver won 102-99 on Tuesday to pull the series to 3-2 in favor of the Lakers with Game 6 coming Thursday.

Nuggets coach George Karl took Bynum's quote and not only used it as bulletin board material, but spliced it into the pregame video his team watched as motivation.

"It just gave me an opportunity to philosophize, which I think you know I like to do," Karl said after the game. "I think it's hard to win. I've been blessed to win a few series, and it's hard to win the next game and it's the hardest thing in the world to win the fourth game. I don't care who you're playing, if it's the eighth seed, it's hard to win that fourth game."

Bynum, who finished with 16 points and 11 rebounds after making his confident declaration, was asked after the loss whether he regretted making the statement.

"No," Bynum said. "We didn't get out to a good start and we lost, so I guess the same holds true."

Bynum scored the first bucket of the game to give L.A. a 2-0 lead, and the Lakers never held the lead again. They trailed by as many as 15 in the fourth quarter before a furious rally on the heels of Kobe Bryant's outside shooting (43 points) cut it to one. The Lakers finally lost by three after Ramon Sessions' potential game-tying 3-pointer with 1 second left failed to fall.

Bynum said, "I didn't let my team down tonight," but added, "It's been tough getting the ball." He took just eight shot attempts Tuesday.

"The adjustment for me is going to be to somehow get the ball and do something with it," Bynum said.

Bryant was asked whether he felt Bynum should adjust what he says before games in the future as well.

"I don't think it makes any difference," Bryant said. "Did it pump them up? Probably. Would they have come out and played with that kind of energy anyway? Probably. We didn't execute. They obviously played harder than we did. So, it's a lesson to learn. You never want to give anybody bulletin (board) material to begin with, but if you're going to be a champion, you got to play through that type of stuff."

Lakers coach Mike Brown said he didn't have a problem with Bynum's statement, as long as his All-Star center performed well enough to make his claim come true.

"If a guy wants to say that, then, in my opinion, he's got to back it up," Brown said. "If you're going to step out and say that, then he's got to back it up, but we've all got to get his back and try to help him back it up."

So, Brown was asked, did Bynum back up what he said?

"We did not as a team," Brown said. "JaVale McGee had 21 (points) and 14 (rebounds); he impacted the game. We didn't do a good job with our team defense. We didn't do a good job with our team offense, and you got to give Denver credit for winning the game."

Lakers co-captain Pau Gasol said the pendulum has swung in terms of the team's demeanor after Tuesday's loss.

"There's certainly not overconfidence now, but going into this game, I think we might have thought that the game was going to go a little different than it did, and we shouldn't approach a game like that," Gasol said. "It should have been a game that when you have a team down, you want to put them down and keep them down and not give them any life, and that's exactly what we did (Tuesday). We gave them life."

The No. 3-seeded Lakers went into Tuesday leading the No. 6-seeded Nuggets 3-1 in their best-of-seven series and can advance to the Western Conference semifinals to play the waiting Oklahoma City Thunder with one more win.

Karl, who is coaching in the playoffs for the 21st time in 24 seasons as a head coach, has plenty of experience getting his teams prepared to play in elimination games.

"I think it's substantially magnifying the confidence in your team and getting ready to play," Karl said before the game. "There's no question everybody knows what the worst result is, but I get excited about what could be if we win (Tuesday). I get excited about how this team could grow up pretty quickly."

Karl cited the 1993 Western Conference finals, in which his Seattle SuperSonics trailed 3-1 and were able to force a Game 7 against the Phoenix Suns, and the 1996 NBA Finals, in which the Sonics forced Game 6 after trailing 3-0 to start the series against the Chicago Bulls, as examples of his teams' never-say-die attitude.

"I can't deny the passion and the will," Karl said. "The fight is key."

Now it's the Lakers who will have to show fight on the road or risk extending the series to a winner-take-all Game 7.

"I've been in this position before," Bryant said. "A lot of guys on the team haven't been in this position before. It's important to remind them that, 'Yeah, this sucks, but it's not the end of the world.' You got to go up there in a tough environment, gain some experience and earn your stripes."