May 19 - STAPLES CENTER - LOS ANGELES. - Kobe Bryant had 18 of his 40 points in the fourth quarter including 6 free throws in the final 30 seconds and grabbed a crucial rebound to secure the Lakers victory 105-103 over the Nuggets in the Western Conference Finals opener.
Kobe added 6 rebounds and 4 assists and in an extremely physical game he had a personal battle with Carmelo Anthony who had similar numbers with 39 points, 6 rebounds and also 4 assists. Kobe started defending Chauncey Billups (5 points in the first half) and then switched to Anthony and also did a good a job on him despite the weight difference.
The Nuggets missed a great opportunity to steal L.A.'s home court advantage but looked bad at the end while the Lakers started the game as a tired team but did all the right plays when it counted and of course Kobe Bryant took advantage of not having to deal with Artest and Battier.
The Nuggets dominated the game in the first quarter leading by as much as 13 points, 27-14 with less than 2 minutes left in the period but the Lakers slowly closed the gap in the second until two free throws by Josh Powell gave them their first lead of the game with 1:09 remaining. Denver was leading again, 54-52 when Kobe assisted Derek Fisher on the corner for a buzzer-beating three-pointer that made it 55-54 in the first half.
In the third, neither team led by more than five points. Fisher, who ended with 13, scored 7 consecutive in a Lakers 9-0 run for a 70-66 lead but the Nuggets answered closing the quarter with a 10-4 run to enter the fourth up 76-74 and they in fact led for most of the final period, but nobody could contain Kobe who scored at will and assisted Fisher again for a three that put L.A. ahead 97-96 with 2:30 left.
From then on Denver committed a couple of mistakes and the Lakers capitalized them to the maximum, Ariza had a key play stealing an inbound pass and the game looked over when Kobe made two free throws for a 103-99 lead with 10 seconds left, but Chauncey Billups made a 3-pointer 4 seconds later. Then Kobe made two more free throws and grabbed the rebound when J.R. Smith intentionally missed his. Kobe netted 15 points in the final 6:48 of game.
Gasol added 13 points and had another strong game on the boards grabbing 14 rebounds, six of them on the offensive end while Bynum started as center and as usual committed foul after foul to end with 5 of them and 6 points in almost 16 minutes. Both had problems dealing with the Nuggets' big men Nene (14 points and a couple of spectacular dunks) and Kenyon Martin (15 points), particularly in the first half, but Denver missed 12 free throws for a .657 percentage and lost 14-4 in the offensive rebounds category, giving up 22 second-chance points.