Odom Leads Lakers to Game 5 Win Over Nuggets

Through four games of this Western Conference Finals series, and through three quarters of Game 5, the Lakers and the Nuggets played to a virtual standstill. But L.A. opened the fourth quarter on an 11-0 run, and behind a 19 point, 14 rebound performance from Lamar Odom, the Lakers defeated the Nuggets by a score of 103-94.

These two teams are about as even as you can get through five games of a playoff series: they were tied at two games apiece coming in, and found themselves knotted on the scoreboard after the first, second, and third quarters of this one were finished. The Lakers owned the fourth, however, and outscored the Nuggets 27-18 in the final period to seal it.

Kobe Bryant had been the focus of the Lakers' offense through the first our games of the series, but Game 5 was different: Bryant finished with just 22 points on 13 field goal attempts, thanks largely to a change in the Nuggets' defensive strategy -- one that was, in retrospect, not that wise.

George Karl made the decision that he wasn't going to let Kobe beat him in a pivotal game that might decide the series. He sent double teams at Kobe any time he touched the ball in the second half, no mater how far away he was from the basket. But it wasn't a good strategy, considering that Kobe is among the best in the league when it comes to passing out of a double team to find the open man. Besides, the Nuggets had played the Lakers evenly to this point in the series, and putting their defense into a scramble mode just didn't seem to be the best decision, especially on the road where the Lakers' role players would tend to be at their best.

Lamar Odom was the biggest contributor off the bench, and his 19 and 14 effort was huge in the Lakers' victory. Pau Gasol, after calling for more touches after L.A.'s Game 4 loss, didn't really receive any, yet managed to finish with 14 points, 10 rebounds, and five blocked shots.

Carmelo Anthony led all scorers with 31 points, but it took him 23 shots to get there. The Nuggets' bench players that killed the Lakers in Game 4 -- like Chris Andersen and J.R. Smith -- were (predictably) a non-factor once the series shifted to L.A. The two combined to go just 4-of-17 from the field for nine points, after Smith by himself dropped 24 in the teams' last meeting in Denver.

The Lakers seem to be extremely evenly matched with this Nuggets team, so they're going to have their hands full when they head to Denver on Friday for Game 6. But even if they drop that one, they'll still have the reassuring comfort of the home court advantage, should the teams be forced to meet on Sunday for a Game 7.

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