The final buzzer sounded and Andrew Bynum, with a towel over his shoulders, elbows bent with fists tightly closed in front of his chest, approached his teammates coming off the floor with that childlike, Christmas morning smile. He greeted each player one by one with, “We got a win. We got a win.” It’s only been two losses since their last victory, but Bynum and his team have gone through a lot this week – embarrassing losses, trade talks continuing to swirl around their most prominent players, players venting to the media about their state. He knows they didn’t add any more championship banners with this win, and they didn’t get the road trip record they had anticipated when they left L.A. But they did win tonight, and they won playing the right away…in the second half anyway.
For a team trying to recover from back to back losses to two awful teams, the purple and gold sure came into tonight’s game with very little energy or purpose. What opposing team wouldn’t take advantage? Not the Timberwolves, who ran off a 16-6 lead in what seemed like a blink of an eye, as the Lakers sludged through the first quarter, looking poised to help Minnesota break their 18-game losing streak against them. All this without the services of Kevin Love, who sat out tonight’s game due to back spasms.
The Lakers looked listless on defense, failing to communicate, and thereby giving up uncontested layups and dunks. The rebounding reflected the effort (or lack there of), and the Wolves capitalized with a 12-2 advantage in second chance points. On offense, the Lakers were even worse, unable to hang on to the ball long enough to make a play. They had seven turnovers in the first 12 minutes alone and 11 for the half. It was one careless pass after another, and though they cut a 14-point Minnesota lead going into the half, there was still so much to adjust if they wanted to get out of Minnesota with a win…and they did just that.
They played a second half that looked the exact opposite of the first, which in essence means, they played how they should have been playing in the first place – with energy, ball movement, aggression and a little bit of smarts didn’t hurt either.
Andrew Bynum – This kid is just money – 26 points on 11-15 from the field, 10 rebounds, three assists, a steal and a block. Minus his four turnovers and 4-8 from the free throw line (hey, he made half, right?), Bynum was, again, a mark of dominance and everything good about this Laker team right now. Getting his 26th double-double of the season in 36 games, he muscled up shots in a crowd, earned a handful of and-1’s because of his aggression at the basket, and in one play, dribbled a quick step around Darko Milicic down the baseline and got an uncontested dunk. He also blocked Ricky Rubio on one end then ran the length of the court to receive a lob from Derek Fisher for an easy basket. The knock on his game tonight would be his defense on Nikola Pekovic, who produced 25 points on 8-14 and 13 rebounds on his watch. With mere seconds left in the game, and the Lakers holding on to a three-point lead, Bynum jokingly skipped to bench between Kobe Bryant’s free throws, laughing with this teammats. Yes, it had been awhile since his team warranted any sort of jubilation.
Workin’ on up – In his post-game interview, Kobe Bryant joked that since since they failed to maintain lead in the two games before tonight, they figured they’d change it up and work backwards this time. Ha ha, Kobe. Don’t do it again. Give the Lakers credit, though. They played most of the first half in a daze then came out swinging in the third quarter, rattling off an 8-0 run immediately cut the lead to just a single point. Back to back threes from him and Derek Fisher (who hit three threes in that third quarter!), not to mention a wide-open dunk in transition, quickly erased the large lead. The Lakers held Minnesota to just 20 points in that third quarter to even up the score before the fourth. Opening the final 12 minutes was Steve Blake passing to Bynum for a hoop and the Lakers’ first lead since 2-0 to start the game.
Everything about the Lakers’ second half was worlds better than the first. Ball movement was noticeable, for one. After assisting on just 9 shots in their 19 made field goals in the first half, they assisted on 13 of their 20 makes in the second. Pau Gasol, with a double-double, 12 points and 11 rebounds, also handed out four assists.
The defense was especially ramped up in the second half as well. Minnesota scored 58 points in the first half, but only scored 44 points in the second. Derrick Williams had 17 points on 7-13, having his way with Gasol, but only managed to score five more points on 2-6 in the last two quarters.
Kobe Bryant had quite a second half as well. After the first two quarters, it appeared his struggles from the last two games had remained, and he went 4-14 from the field for his 12 points. But like he always does, he found his way in the second half, scoring 22 points on 7-12, including 2-4 from behind the arc. In the first half, Bryant couldn’t find the bottom of the net from even two feet away. It appeared that even his post-game was starting to give up on him. But he figured it out eventually, like he always does. He even managed to hit the 29,000 point milestone in the process.
Bench – Because the Lakers’ big three is such a huge part of their offense, the reserves are often looked at as the weakest point. No, they don’t score dozens, but they’re not completely incapable of contributing what they can. Blake, scoring his first points of the entire road trip with a long two tonight, handed out 16 assists on this road trip and only committed three turnovers in three games. He may never be asked to do for this team what Chris Paul does for the Clippers, what Steve Nash does for the Suns or what Tony Parker does for the Spurs, but he is a steady hand that still helps manage and execute the Lakers’ offense and they’re a different team when he’s active.
Matt Barnes, who celebrated his 32nd birthday today, had eight points, five rebounds, an assist, a steal, a block, zero turnovers and the wiles to inject this team with energy with a mere cut to the basket here or an offensive rebound and putback there.
Josh McRoberts, who has warmed the pine with Troy Murphy subbing into that four spot, was inserted into the line-up to, as Coach Mike Brown said, to provide some energy on the floor and he couldn’t have done a more effective job. His dunk from Steve Blake’s lob alone brought teammates to their feet, and his seven rebounds, two assists and block didn’t hurt either.
Point Paints – 54-40 in the Lakers’ advantage – as it should always be.
The Win – the highest high point of all. This was the game many marked to be the Lakers’ loss on this road game, if a loss HAD to be HAD. But they
First half energy – as in there was very little of it. There were spurts here and there, but for the sustained 24 minutes, it was like lazinesss had taken over. No rotations on defense, no communication to warn of back-cutters. Maybe the road trip had finally reached them.
Turnovers – The Lakers handed over the ball 11 times in the first half, and improved to just seven in the second. Still, 17 turnovers is too much for one game
So the Lakers ended what many assumed would be a 3-0 road trip into just 1-2. Life outside of Staples Center has not been kind to this team, and it remains a mystery why they can play so dominantly for a short string of time and then completely lose sight of the sources of their success right after. We thought we had this team figured out, but they are an enigmatic crew, and will most likely remain so for the forseeable future. In any event, we can enjoy this victory until the next game – Boston on Sunday afternoon.