Nuggets Play With Passion, Lakers Shrug, Denver Wins

The Nuggets even the Western Conference Finals 2-2, it's now a best of three.

For the first time this series, a game wasn’t decided in the final minute.

Rather, this one was decided when Denver came out of its locker room desperate and hungry, while the Lakers came out a little tired.

The result was a 120-101 Nuggets victory that evened the series at two games apiece heading into Wednesday’s game-5 in Los Angeles.

Denver was aggressive from the opening tip, taking the ball to the basket and pounding the offensive glass. Denver had 34 shots that were dunks or layups, twice the number of the Lakers. A lot of those came on the 20 offensive rebounds the Nuggets grabbed inside.

They Lakers could not keep Chauncey Billups in check, as he drove into the lane where he seemed to score or draw a foul every time. Billups' penetration pulled Lakers defenders out of position — particularly Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol — and that was part of the reason Denver rebounded 39 percent of its missed shots. Billups ended up with 24 points to lead Denver.

The Lakers did a good job holding Carmelo Anthony in check — he was just 3 of 16 from the field. But in his place Kenyon Martin had 13 points and Nene had 14 as the Nuggets kept getting good play from their role players.

Not so much for the Lakers — the combination of Kobe, Gasol and Bynum shot 54 percent, and the rest of the team shot 26 percent. Bynum and Gasol were 14 of 18 on the night but went long stretches without getting shots.

The Lakers did make runs, closing the gap to two points in the third, but they could never get over the hump and as the game wore on. Instead Denver pulled away.

"We were seven points down in the fourth quarter. We were doing fine,” Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. “(But) we were tired. It was noticeable ... Their energy was better."

During the regular season the Lakers were able to win 65 games because of a commitment to defense (although that was inconsistent) and seemingly every role player stepped up and made a key play at some point. In game four, and throughout this series and much of the last one, the bench has been non-existent. Lamar Odom was in disappearing mode.

If the Lakers are going to return to the Finals, that is going to have to change in the next three games.

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