Kobe Bryant sitting on the bench in the fourth quarter, wearing his warm-ups, a towel over his shoulders, and a giant smile – what a vision to behold. Playing just under 28 minutes in only the first three quarters, Bryant had every reason to showcase that grin. The Lakers had a huge lead in the final minutes of the game, and no heroics were necessary to close out the dreaded Charlotte Bobcats. What’s not to be happy about?
File this under “games the Lakers are supposed to win.” The Bobcats have the worst record in the league, and though the Lakers have a penchant for showing up listless against sub-500 squads, there is always that hope that they’ll actually play the way they’re supposed to play against bad teams. Tonight they actually did, and got some excellent production from players who have been anything but productive.
Kobe Bryant maybe have stolen the first half with his 24 points on 9-16, and Andrew Bynum may have collected his 11th double-double of the season, but it was the Laker bench who Coach Mike Brown trusted in the fourth quarter after the Lakers lost a 26-point lead in the third.
After shooting 59% for 60 first-half points, the Lakers came into the third quarter a little wayward, lazy and did everything they avoided doing in the first two quarters, like score efficiently. The Bobcats outscored them 22-13 in the third quarter and continued to knock down the huge lead until it was a mere 11 points. With just under 10 minutes left in the game, Mike Brown trusted his line-up of Andrew Goudelock, Jason Kapono, Matt Barnes, Troy Murphy and Andrew Bynum and he was rewarded.
The Laker reserves, with Bynum in the line-up, were privy to the task at hand – move the ball, exploit the dominant inside game of their talented center, and what the heck, hit some threes. And so they went in this merry way, with Bynum abusing the Bobcats in the paint, and the reserves hitting six consecutive shots from downtown. Suddenly that 11-point lead had ballooned to 28 with three minutes remaining, and they never looked back.
Kobe Bryant – Not known for his patience, Bryant lit a fire under himself as soon as the game clock started moving. Leading with such aggressiveness, he scored 24 points on 9-21, all taking place in the first half. He hit back to back threes to open the game, and was 7-11 for 18 points in the first quarter alone. He only grabbed three rebounds, and only handed out a single assist, but it was for a lob to Andrew Bynum. After subbing out of the game with just under 40 seconds left in the third quarter, he never had to check in again. Averaging almost 39 minutes per game, Bryant’s 27:44 tonight was a welcome relief.
Andrew Bynum – With the All-Star voting ending today, Bynum led all Western Conference centers and is most likely going to play in his first All-Star game. Based on his performance tonight, it’s not a wonder why. The Bobcats threw what every team has been throwing at Bynum since he started his season – double teams. Double teams everywhere; under the basket, in the paint, in the corner – basically any time Bynum had the ball in his hands, he’d attract a crowd that teammate Kobe Bryant is all too familiar with. Mike Brown mentioned that even when Bynum doesn’t have the ball, he still receives a large amount of attention. The mere threat of him getting the ball in the paint sends teams in a tizzy, and Bynum did some great work to take advantage of it. On the break, he sucked the Bobcats defense in upon his arrival on the block, so he sent a pass out to Andrew Goudelock, who found a wide open Troy Murphy for a three. Bynum’s showing some excellent footwork as well. Trapped on the baseline, he anchored his pivot foot and managed his way around two Bobcats uniforms to score on a reverse layup. He backed up DeSagana Diop and tossed an unguardable hook shot. He may have converted the Lakers’ 37th lob of the season (six more than the, ahem, LobCity Clippers), but he is so much more than just dunks
Rainin’ Reserves – Mike Brown may have had other theories at work when he moved Metta World Peace back into the starting line-up. Perhaps MWP’s inability to score (especially from behind the arc) was hindering the reserves’ offensive contributions. Based on how the bench performed tonight, he might be on to something. After being outscored 17-10 in the first half, the reserves went to work in the fourth quarter, hitting three after three after three. The Lakers as a team shot just 12-26 from downtown, but take away Metta World Peace and Bryant’s 2-12 and Andrew Goudelock, Troy Murphy, Jason Kapono and Matt Barnes combined for an efficient 10-14 from down there yonder. Who knew the Laker Bench were such marksmen?! In all, the reserves scored 48 points, and everyone, with the exception of Luke Walton, scored. That’s an unusually huge chunk of scoring off the bench, and it may be an anomaly considering how this Laker team has performed as a whole this season, and considering the opponent, but hopefully it’s a performance that gives the non-starters something to build on. The reserves only committed seven turnovers because they moved the ball well, and accounted for 15 of the team’s 26 assists. Every three-point attempt came from a rhythm pass, most times originating from a pass inside. There is a method to the madness, and the reserves might’ve finally figured out a flow today.
Starters’ minutes – Pau Gasol, 29 minutes; Kobe Bryant, 28 minutes; Andrew Bynum, 32 minutes, Derek Fisher, 21 minutes and Metta World Peace, 22 minutes. When the bench is performing as well as they did tonight, why put the starters back in? Now they’ve got some extra, and much-needed rest before the long road trip. Every little bit helps!
Lost lead in the 3rd Quarter – As well as the Lakers played in the first two quarters and the last, they played equally worse to begin the second half. After building a 24-point lead going into the third, the home team allowed the Bobcats to score 22 points over their miniscule 13. There was just a lot of nothing from minutes 25 through 36. The Lakers shot 40% from the field, 0-5 from behind the arc, and they looked like all their energy had been spent. It’s a good thing the reserves were fresh and energetic.
Pau Gasol – It was a more than pedestrian night for Gasol in this game. He had 10 points on 5-12, grabbed nine rebounds and handed out three assists. Since Bryant and Bynum contributed so much offensively, Gasol’s points weren’t too terribly missed, especially with the reserves’ production. It would have been nice to see him play as aggressively and energetic as he was in the Minnesota game, however, but being that the Lakers won, and won big, let’s not dwell on negatives.
Next up for the Lakers is the annual Grammy trip. They’ll be away from the comforts of Staples Center for the next six games, and it will not be an easy journey. Hopefully tonight’s win ignites the team. A 2-7 road record is in need of some repair.