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Kobe Bryant turns in vintage performance as lowly Lakers top Nuggets

Harrison Wind Avatar
December 23, 2015

 

DENVER — It’s the year 2015, Kobe Bryant is 37 years old, worn down, in pain, and one third of the way through the final stage of his illustrious career, but tonight provided a flashback to the same Bryant that tormented Nuggets fans throughout much of the 2000’s.

Bryant led the Lakers to a 111-107 road win and finished with a season-high 31 points, on 10-22 shooting from the field. The surefire first-ballot entrant into the Hall-of-Fame also dished out five assists and brought to life a Pepsi Center crowd full of Laker loyalists that serenaded him with every make, even chanting his name throughout much of tonight’s game.

“He’s still Kobe Bryant,” said Nuggets guard Jameer Nelson who struggled offensively, scoring just five points but did hand out eight assists in the loss. “I don’t know why people go ‘Kobe this. Kobe that.’ he never was a guy who you could say, ‘Well is he shooting it?’ He’s always a threat and no matter who’s on the court and who’s guarding him, you have to give help. He was extremely effective tonight being a facilitator and scorer.”

Like Bryant has throughout his polarizing last hurrah with the purple and gold, he came out tonight aggressive. Bryant played all 12 minutes of the first quarter, which Denver won 34-26, and scored 13 points on 10 shots.

Then, after going dormant for most of the second and third quarters, Kobe erupted once again in the fourth to a tune of 11 points, putting Nuggets faithful through a monotonous routine of Bryant post ups which sucked the life out of the Denver defense and offense in that second half.

“We played three very good quarters of defense,” Nuggets head coach Michael Malone said. “one atrocious quarter.”

Malone got to a point in that second half where he even sent double teams Bryant’s way, trying to break up constant cycle of Mamba post ups, fadeaways, rinse and repeat as the Lakers seized control of what seemed like an unsurmountable Nuggets lead at one point in the first half.

For the Nuggets, the opening two quarters which the Nuggets controlled to the tune of a 64-51 halftime advantage, was in effect the Will Barton show.

After a career high 32 points in Denver’s 130-125 loss to New Orleans Pelicans Sunday night, Barton erupted for 23 first half points.

Barton has been the Nuggets gold mine this season. When Denver’s energy needs a jolt, as it did tonight when Malone was forced to burn an early timeout when the Lakers jumped out to a 8-3 lead after just a minute and a half had passed, he’s come through. The Sixth Man of the Year candidate’s production isn’t an anomaly that can be written off as a hot streak anymore, but something that’s expected from the 24-year-old Baltimore native who finished with 25 points.

“He’s been playing exceptional all year,” Nelson said. “Will’s not hot. Will’s playing well especially offensively. He’s a great scorer and a guy we need on this team to score. He’s going to continue to do that.  It’s not like he’s done it for one day or two days, he’s done it for however many games we’ve played so far. Will has been pretty consistent and probably our most consistent offensive player.”

However after halftime and during the early stages of the third quarter, the second-half collapse which has haunted the Nuggets all season returned.

The Nuggets were outscored 60-43 in the second half and Barton was held to just two points in the final two quarters of tonight’s contest. Barton looked fatigued from carrying the Denver offense on his back for one half, but give more credit to Bryant who stepped up, was asked to guard Barton in the second half and shut down the swingman.

“Will came in caught fire right away,” Malone said. “I’m sure at halftime they talked about adjusting their coverage, getting into him, getting a little more physical, making him work for everything.”

Kenneth Faried chipped in 14 points and nine rebounds, Gary Harris had another impressive offensive game, pouring in 21 points and displaying a jumper and IQ for the game which seems to be growing with confidence.

Rookie Nikola Jokic also had one of his better offensive games of the season, registering 15 points, 10 rebounds and five assists in nearly 30 minutes.

The offense, which has been excelling ever since rookie Emmanuel Mudiay went down, put up enough points again tonight, but as it has been with this team all season – the defense is what will keep this team up at night.

“Defensively we weren’t there at all,” Nelson said. “They got pretty much whatever they wanted.”

WHERE/WHEN

Pepsi Center/ Dec. 22 2015/ Game No. 28

STAR OF THE GAME

Barton got the Nuggets going after a rough opening couple minutes and once he subbed into the game at the 8:29 mark of the first quarter, immediately the Nuggets mentality seemed to shift and finished with 25 points, 23 of which came in the first half.

PLAYS OF THE GAME

We know Jokic is skilled offensive, but do we know just how skilled the rookie is? My feeling watching him play is his ability to pass and his vision might be his best attribute. Malone seems to have him in a box on the court, and little by little, those walls to that box break down and we see plays like the following one. Similar to what we saw him do from the elbow in Summer League as he finds a cutter from way out on the perimeter.

Kobe seals it for the Lakers

https://vine.co/v/iKl6mITvMuZ

 

BY THE NUMBERS

NBA.com
NBA.com

 

QUOTE OF THE GAME

Nikola Jokic on Denver’s forgettable second half:

“We just need to have energy. We just need to move the ball. We just need to play defense. Our offense is good in the last few games, but our defense, 130 [against New Orleans] and 111 points [tonight], that must go lower.”

WHAT’S NEXT

A daunting stretch awaits the Nuggets as they travel to Phoenix (tomorrow night, Dec. 23rd), San Antonio and Oklahoma City before returning home to face the Cleveland Cavaliers. Then Denver heads out on a mini West Coast trip with stops in Portland and Golden State. Brace yourselves.

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