Kobe Wins Duel With Carmelo, Lakers Take Game 1

Carmelo Anthony played Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals like a man on a mission, and that mission was clear: to dominate, and to help his team jump on the Lakers early, and put them in a hole from which they'd never recover. Anthony accomplished most of that mission, but Kobe Bryant ensured the last part wouldn't happen. Bryant poured in 18 of his 40 points in the fourth quarter, and the Lakers pulled out a gritty 105-103 win over the Nuggets at Staples Center.

Anthony started the game by scoring 16 points in the first quarter, one in which the Nuggets led by as many as 13 points. The Lakers obviously had trouble matching Denver's energy after winning a Game 7 just two days before, while the Nuggets had been waiting for this series to start for the last six days.

In that series against the Houston Rockets, the team that was leading after the first quarter went on to win in all seven games. The Lakers were able to break that streak on Tuesday, and got back into the game fairly quickly with a 15-8 run that spanned from near the end of the first quarter until there were about three and a half minutes gone in the second -- which was, by the way, the stretch that Kobe Bryant was on the bench getting some rest. The Lakers took their first lead of the game with just over a minute left in the first half, and Derek Fisher made sure L.A. kept it by hitting a three-pointer at the halftime buzzer. Fisher started the game 0-for-6 from the field, but finished it by hitting five of his last seven shots.

The game went back and forth for most of the second half, with the Nuggets extending to a seven-point lead with just over seven minutes to go. The Lakers were able to put together a 15-7 run over the next five minutes, and took the lead on another three-pointer from Fisher. And with the Lakers leading by two with 30 seconds to play, Trevor Ariza flew in front of an inbound pass from Anthony Carter, and got the steal which ultimately sealed it.

Bryant's 18-point fourth quarter countered Anthony's 16-point first, and the duel between the two was really fun to watch. Bryant defended Anthony in the fourth quarter, and it was an extremely physical battle on both ends of the floor that we should look forward to seeing for the rest of this series.

The Nuggets have to be more disappointed than usual by this game's final result. They did a lot of things right: they jumped out to an early double digit lead, Carmelo Anthony was dominant, Pau Gasol was held in check offensively and was really outplayed by Nene and Kenyon Martin all night, and besides Bryant's 40 and 13 apiece from Gasol and Fisher, no other Laker managed to score more than seven.

Yet the Lakers got the victory, and it was one that was gritty, hard-fought, and extremely well-deserved. L.A. didn't have anything handed to them in this one: they took it from the Nuggets, on a night where Denver arguably played as well as they have for the majority of the post-season.

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