Denver couldn't ask for a better performance out of Carmelo Anthony. As for the other eight guys, Denver cannot say the same. Carmelo had most of ESPN's audience saying "Kobe who?" for much of Tuesday night's game in Los Angeles. But Kobe walked away on top in the end. A trend we see so often with this matchup.
Anthony out-muscled, out-hustled, and out-played the league's second best player (according to Jerry West). "I am a little out of my weight class," said Bryant after the game.
Outplayed or not, Bryant did what he does best in the end -- finishes games. He scored 18 of his game-high 40 points in the fourth, making big shots and clutch free throws in the closing minutes. Melo was just as clutch down the stretch, but his teammates' untimely mistakes, cost the Nuggets the game, and put Anthony's efforts to waste.
With the game on the line, Denver's Kenyon Martin committed two bonehead reach-in fouls, handing the Lakers two points, and guard Anthony Carter turned the ball over on a careless inbound pass to Chauncey Billups in the final seconds.
Denver set the tone of the game early and had the lead late, but let it slip from their fingertips. Anthony single-handedly carried the team. Billups' performance was nothing special. The streaky J.R. Smith couldn't get going. Anthony was forced to handle the scoring (which he did). But it wasn't enough.
The Nuggets also missed 11 first half free throws. Including an uncharacteristic three missed free throws from Billups, who shot 91% on the year.
It's important for Denver to realize that they just may be as good as the Lakers. The Lakers know how to win, but if Denver doesn't mentally lose the game during crunch time, they can definitely win this series.
Let's not take any credit away from the Lakers though. Gasol, Bynum and Odom were dominated by the Denver frontcourt. But the team kept the game close, and made the plays when it mattered. Bryant rose to the challenge of making the big plays down the stretch, and came out victorious once again.
It sure is fun to watch Kobe and Melo battle it out too. Forgot Lebron and Kobe for now. Anthony and Bryant might be even more exciting to watch.
This may shape up to be one of the greatest series of all-time. I know it's early to say, but these teams are just so evenly matched.
Perhaps I'm just being a little Melo-dramatic though.
Image taken from espn.com