The Lakers led 2-0, then 4-3 to start the game. Then they fell behind by as many as 14 and then scraped their way back up to get within 3 in the fourth quarter. That’s as close as they got after then giving up six straight points to the Knicks en route to another loss on the road. So much for a 4-2 trip.
For all that Kobe Bryant tried to do last night in saying he didn’t know who Jeremy Lin was, or what “Linsanity” meant, he knows full well now. It may have only been a week since the Harvard alum started catching New York’s – heck, the NBA’s attention, but based on this small sample of play, the Knicks appear to have been revived by the unlikeliest of characters. Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire would do well to get behind this kid when they get back on the floor, because unlike them, Lin has been able to do something to the Knicks that they haven’t been able to do since they arrived late last season – lead.
There would be no 61-point games for Bryant. No epic comebacks for the Lakers who have beaten this Knicks team in nine previous contests. None of those shenanigans would rock Madison Square Garden tonight, not on Lin’s watch, and certainly not when the Lakers left their momentum from a hard-fought game against the Celtics back in Boston. There was no sign of that team tonight. No movement in their offense, no grit in their defense. They arrived in the Big Apple at 3 am and they played like it, which is absolutely no excuse for a poor effort but it was what it was and they paid for it with yet another loss.
Jeremy Lin – If only he wore a purple and gold jersey, because 38 points on 13-23, seven assists, four rebounds and two steals? The Lakers could’ve used some of that tonight. The young point guard was on fire and he was fearless, which made all the difference. In the first quarter, it was the Lakers – 15, Jeremy Lin – 10. If the Knicks are smart, they wouldn’t even give the injured Baron Davis a second glance, not if Lin continues to play the way he has been of late.
Matt Barnes – 5-6 from the field for his 11 points, plus six rebounds, a pair of assists and a steal. For the second game in a row, Barnes showed what he can contribute to this team, and is perhaps vying for Coach Mike Brown to give him back the starting small forward position. With Metta World Peace still seemingly incapable of creating any type of offense (for himself or his teammates), and since he can’t exactly go back in time to call on old school, lockdown defensive prowess, Ron Artest, he’s a greater liability on the floor than Lebron James in the fourth quarters of a playoff series. Barnes may not have the girth of World Peace defensively, but he’s still a slasher who can score, a mover who anticipates rebounds or seeks to steal. It may create further confusion for Coach Brown to change the starting line-up and bench rotation yet again, but MWP hasn’t been able to do much good coming from either position so why not give the nod to Barnes?
Kobe Bryant (second half) – All he had were 10 points from 1-6 from the field and 8-9 from the free throw line in the first half. The Knicks (playing defense? What?!) gave Bryant little to no room to operate and he looked too exhausted to get through it for most of the game. In the second half, he put up 24 points on 10-23, even hitting a three-pointer to get the Lakers within even the slimmest of chances to win the game, but when you’re the only one fighting for the victory, the effort is practically futile. After five 40+ games against the Knicks in this building, and one record-breaking evening in 2009, Bryant walked off the court at Madison Square Garden in a rare state of loss.
LOW POINTS – where to begin?!
It all boiled down to two problems – offense and on defense. Being that these are THE components of a basketball game, it’s difficult not to lose when a team can’t seem to execute either.
Offense – The Lakers shot 22% in the first quarter. 22%! Four made field goals in 18 attempts. They kept the score even for the last three quarters, 70 points apiece. If not for that 22-15 deficit in the first 12 minutes, however, this might have been a different type of game. Unfortunately, it took so long for the Lakers to get going offensively, that by the time they established any type of scoring flow (and by “scoring flow” I mean making two baskets in a row), the Knicks had built themselves and their crowd up to a level that the Lakers simply could not meet, could not overcome. On 80 possessions, they converted just 30 shots for 38%. Nothing was falling for the Lakers – not threes (6-24), not hook shots, not mid-range jumpers, not even layups. It almost seemed like a fairy was standing guard on the rim of the Lakers’ side batting away all the shots. John Ireland said it best when he claimed the Lakers couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn. Maybe it was the Knicks’ defense, shocking a sentiment as that sounds. But this is the most active and energetic New York’s defense has ever looked since Mike D’Antoni took over. Nine steals and 33 defensive boards – how about that? Maybe it was the Lakers being tired and lazy. They handed out 13 assists but committed 17 turnovers, many unforced and just completely careless.
Andrew Bynum, in particular, was disappointing on the offensive end. After a 16 and 17 game against the Celtics, he went 1-8 tonight for three points (13 rebounds and three blocks aside). It looked like he was being trapped with a double team for the first time. Tyson Chandler and the Knicks did a good job of crowding Bynum in the paint because, to this point, he is still trying to figure his way out of it.
Pau Gasol scored 16 points on 6-10 and grabbed 10 rebounds, but after a 10-point 4-7 first half, he obviously didn’t do much more. Part of it was foul trouble. With still 7:32 minutes left in the third quarter, Gasol had picked up his fourth foul and had to sit out for awhile. Being the only other Laker during that part of the game to have double digit points (Bryant was the other with 20 after three quarters), Gasol may have made a difference if he could remain on the floor.
Defense – The high pick-‘n’roll – the Lakers KNEW they had to prepare for this before tonight. Mike Brown mentioned it in a pre-game interview, but still they did little to nothing to defend it. Jeremy Lin did just about everything he wanted on the floor, whether it was penetrating for layups, spotting up for a three or driving and then kicking out to a teammate. The Lakers’ help defense, especially, looked slow; or perhaps the right term is asleep. There isn’t much more to be said when you can’t defeat a New York Knicks team who is missing their two best offensive players.
Just when we thought the Lakers could build on something, they do everything to tear it all down. Last night in Boston should have been a signature win to pave the way for more victories played with the same effort and intensity. Instead they came into this game lethargic and apathetic. Or maybe a better term for this Lakers team this season is enigmatic.