Under-promise. Over-deliver. That’s what the Lakers did in this first game of the regular season. NBA analysts, Vegas, even some Laker fans, picked the purple and gold to fall to the red, white and blue. On paper (a popular reference in sports), the Clippers SHOULD have won this game. That’s the thing with predictions though – sometimes they’re wrong and tonight was the perfect example.
The Clippers, led by former Orlando Magic guard, J.J. Reddick, exploded out of the gate early, shooting the lights out in the first quarter with 59% from the field. The Lakers, led by Pau Gasol, hung in there, however, answering every Clipper run with a run of their own. It was a competitive game for the first three quarters…until the Laker bench took over.
The fourth and final quarter was all BenchMob, from beginning to end. The Clippers couldn’t keep up and the Lakers took the game, 116-103.
Bench – The Laker reserves scored 72 points a couple of games ago during the pre-season, but at the time, it seemed like a novelty. Of course they scored that many points – the starters didn’t play most of the second half. Tonight, the starters didn’t play a single second of the final 12 minutes because, well, they didn’t have to. Jordan Farmar, Jodie Meeks, Xavier Henry, Wesley Johnson and Jordan Hill took a four-point deficit to start the fourth and turned it into a 17-point lead, the largest lead in the game. There is simply a different energy when the reserves are on the floor. During the Lakers’ last two championship seasons, Phil Jackson referred to the bench players as minute men because they could enter the game and instantly change the pace. That’s what this season’s reserves are – game changers. For three quarters, the Lakers and Clippers were playing at the same level, making the same mistakes and each capitalizing on them. The Clippers were shooting a consistent 50% and the Lakers were getting by on 39% shooting. When the reserves checked in, they were more energetic on both ends of the floor, shooting 65% from the field in the fourth quarter for their 41 points to the Clippers’ 24 points on 47% shooting. Of the seven Lakers who scored in double figures, five were reserves, with Xavier Henry’s 22 points on 8-13 from the field leading all scores. The bench scored 76 of the Lakers’ 116 points. +/- leaders in tonight’s game: Meeks +19, Farmar/Henry/Johnson +15, Hill +17.
Jordan Farmar – His line of 16 points on 6-10 from the field, 2-3 from 3PT, four rebounds and six assists is solid, but what Farmar brings to the team goes beyond his stats. He is a true leader off that bench. With Steve Blake joining the starting backcourt with Steve Nash, Mike D’Antoni has entrusted the reserves or any combination of players to put on the floor with him, with Farmar. Just based on the pre-season games in which he played, and tonight’s contest, it appears that Farmar has not only accepted this challenge, he’s relishing in it, taking pride in his position on the pine, and that is key. Knowing his role, and the bench’s role, in the success of this team and taking off with it, is what will help this Laker team.
Pau Gasol – Hoping for a redemptive season, Pau Gasol grabbed hold of tonight’s game from the opening tip, scoring 11 of his 15 points in the first quarter alone. With Kobe Bryant out indefinitely, and Nash seemingly nursing a new body part each week, Gasol must be the captain, the anchor, the foundation of this Laker team. He got his double-double with 15 points and 13 rebounds, not to mention four assists, but it wasn’t his production alone that was gratifying. It was how free, comfortable and loose Gasol played out there. He even hit the first three of the season for the team. If that’s not a good sign for the Spaniard, what is?
Rebounds – The Lakers were lacking in the glass department all pre-season, but they sure chose a good place to start changing that. They outrebounded the Clippers tonight 52-40, led by Gasol’s 13 boards. Their 18 offensive rebounds led to 30 second chance points, 14 more than the Clippers.
Threeball – Against a team full of shooters, the Lakers say, “touché.” 14-29 from downtown for the purple and gold, which kept them in this game.
Rest for the Starters – No starter played more than 24:29 minutes (Gasol), which is a good thing since the Lakers are back at it tomorrow night against the young Golden State Warriors.
Nick Young and Shawne Williams – Nick Young had a slow start tonight, and ended up with 13 points, but as a combo, the two new Lakers went just 4-15 from the field to scored their combined 16 points.
Defense – Offensively, the Lakers appear to be covered, but there were times tonight when they looked scatterbrained and just plain lost on the defensive end. They were constantly left to eat Clipper dust. If not for the Clippers’ lack of half-court play, this game might’ve been different.
It’s only the first of 82 games, but it was a game that many predicted would be a relatively easy victory for that other L.A. team. With the departure of Dwight Howard in the summer, the still-rehabbing Kobe Bryant and the slew of new players on single-year contracts, it wasn’t difficult to guess who would have a tougher start to the new season. After all, the Clippers now have former Boston Celtics championship-tested head coach, Doc Rivers leading the way and the majority of last year’s team is still here. Fortunately for the Lakers, none of that mattered tonight.
The Lakers are the underdogs this season, but it has been an identity they have embraced since before training camp even began. They know that no one is expecting much of anything from them. Truth be told, they know that they’re expected to make very little noise at all. When you’re expected to be quiet, however, the noise may just be that much louder to anyone who doesn’t expect to hear it.