There it was – that huge child-like smile that comes from having done well on a test at school. In many ways, “child-like” has been a fitting term for Andrew Bynum the last few seasons; having thrown a few tantrums on the court after not getting fouls called in his favor, bullying smaller kids when things aren’t going his way (sorry, J.J. Barea) and more recently doing the “running in the hallways” equivalent and getting a speeding ticket for it. In his third game of the season, however, Bynum showed quite a bit of maturation on the court. His game tonight, as Mark Jackson would say, was a grown man game.
Along with another huge offensive night from Kobe Bryant, Bynum and the Lakers defeated a very scrappy and very able Houston Rockets team with whom, no matter the line-up, they always seem to encounter issues. There are still quite a few problems to address for future games, but in the meantime, the Lakers can revel in all the good they did to get this win.
First-half turnovers – After one quarter, the Lakers shot 61% to Houston’s 38%. After two quarters, the Lakers shot 53% to Houston’s 39%, but were only leading by four points. The cause – 10 turnovers to Houston’s three for the half. The Lakers may have been shooting a better percentage, but going into the third quarter, the Rockets had attempted 16 more shots than the home team. Jason Kapono threw a lazy one-handed pass towards Steve Blake in the second quarter that was intercepted. Kobe Bryant tossing passes in traffic to unsuspecting teammates. Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol would receive a pass then lower the ball towards the floor where smaller players easily took advantage. All were errors that could have easily been avoided had the ball handler and, in some cases, the player receiving the ball, were playing more mindfully. In other words, paying attention, being prepared, taking a step forward to receive the ball rather than remaining static and waiting for it to land into your hands. In the second half, the Lakers took better care of the ball, committing just five turnovers.
Defense – Going into this game, the Lakers were 5th in the league, allowing just 88 points per game. They were 1st in field goal percentage allowed at 39%. Tonight, Houston shot 43% from the field and were one point away from depriving all of Staples Center from getting their free tacos. It’s unclear what the Lakers’ defensive strategy was tonight because no one in a gold uniform seemed to make much effort on locking down Luis Scola (20 points on 10-18, five rebounds, two assists) or keeping Kyle Lowry (22 points on 8-19, 10 rebounds, nine assists) out of the paint. They held 8, 10 and 12 point leads but couldn’t bear down on defense long enough to extend or even hold on to the advantage.
No rebounds, no rings – The Lakers did some glasswork tonight, outrebounding the Houston Rockets 53-38, with Andrew Bynum leading the way, having grabbed 22 of those 53. With the Rockets missing 57% of their field goals, and not converting on 65% of their three pointers, there were enough boards to go around and the Lakers took advantage.
Kobe Bryant – After hitting his first three shots of the game, it appeared Bryant’s shooting touch had returned…until he went 0-5 in the next few attempts. By halftime, he had gone 5-14 from the field, one more attempt than Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum had shot combined, and they were actually hitting a larger percentage of THEIR shots. Fortunately for Bryant, shooting himself out of this game actually worked and he got 37 points on 14-29 out of it. He threw a pass against the backboard to himself, hit a couple of three pointers, a sideways baseline jumper towards the end – he was all over the place and so was Kevin Martin, who had the unfortunate assignment of guarding a very determined Kobe Bryant. It’s not a mystery why such a prolific scorer managed just 12 points on 5-17 tonight.
Andrew Bynum – “It took too long!” was Bynum’s reply to his 21-point, 22-rebound game. After going 8-15 from the field, hitting 5-8 of his free throws, rebounding 22 times and blocking three shots, it’s safe to say it was worth the wait. He had a double-double before halftime, and has just been too much for both Denver and Houston to handle. He’s not just a big body taking up space on the hardwood. He’s a big body with SKILLS. He’s not intimidated by a quick quard like Kyle Lowry, whose shot he blocked; he caught a lob from Derek Fisher and tossed it up backward for a reverse layup; he sprinted back to receive a long cross-court pass from Matt Barnes for a dunk. “I’m excited, I’m happy to get it,” Bynum told Chris McGee on his post-game interview, “but it’s over now. Gotta come back and beat Portland.” Not dwelling or putting too much stock into one accomplishment – I’d say the child’s finally growing up. When asked about Bynum’s big game, Kobe Bryant answered, “There’s more to come.” Kobe Bryant – we hope you’re right!
Mr. Efficiency – Bryant and Bynum have been getting all the attention the last few games, but Pau Gasol has really been putting in the work. Tonight he had 14 points on 8-15 from the field and managed to take eight rebounds away from Bynum. For the season, Gasol is shooting 55% from the field, averaging 17 points about nine rebounds per game. He’s not the flashiest player, not the strongest physically on the team next to Bynum, but it is his steadiness that will continue to help anchor this Laker team into a true contender.
Tonight’s game could have seen more defensive prowess from the Lakers, but the humming of the offense will do. The Rockets, like the Nuggets, are a team that the Lakers often encounter problems with, and there are, of course solutions. Based on tonight’s game, one big answer to every question is Andrew Bynum, no matter what the inquiry. This kid is big, skilled, and after having spent every single season since he arrived somehow sitting on the bench in street clothes, he also looks determined, and that is as good a sign as any of greater things to come from young Andrew.