A wire-to-wire win…and by double digits.
It’s been so long since the Lakers have met any of those criteria, dropping six games in a row to end a most unfortunate year. In their first game of the new year, however, they didn’t resemble the team that looked wounded and hopeless in those losses. Tonight, they played with energy, resolve and a whole lotta fight.
After one quarter, they led 30-12. At one point in the second quarter, they had a 20-point advantage. They shot 55% in that first half and only allowed Utah to shoot 36% from the field. Leading the charge was starting point guard, and newest member of the team, Kendall Marshall and a rejuvenated Pau Gasol.
They led by as many as 21 points, and, despite allowing the Jazz to get within four points of the lead, they never stopped fighting back and in effect got their first win of 2014 – a 100-99 victory.
Kendall Marshall – What a way to debut in a starting role for the former Tar Heel! Marshall showed no hint of jitters, opening the game with a three-pointer, two free throws and an assist to Gasol. With the Lakers’ three point guards sidelined, Xavier Henry (a dynamic player but not a point guard by any stretch of the imagination), was handed the responsibility of floor general and it just didn’t fit. Simply put – it’s not his true position. Marshall, however, is a pure point guard, learning in just a couple of weeks since his arrival, his teammates’ idiosyncrasies on the floor. Hitting Jodie Meeks and Shawne Williams with long passes down the court or across the arc so they could shoot from their sweet downtown spots. Getting the bigs the ball in just the right areas in the paint so that all they have to do is catch and shoot. Marshall finished with an impressive and new career-high 20 points on 8-12 from the field, 15 assists, six rebounds and a single turnover. One turnover in almost 41 minutes of playing time.
Pau Gasol – Appearing to have recovered from his upper respiratory infection, the resident Spaniard showed tonight what he can still do, and he can do A LOT. 23 points, 17 rebounds, three blocks and just two turnovers – that’s what Gasol offers this team. It’s games like tonight that make you wish you could copy his performance and paste it onto the next game and every game after that. He had the energy to clear the glass and play active defense. He shot with confidence, and in effect, accuracy. He led the game with a +18.
Starters – Led by Marshall and Gasol, the starters really got the job done. Rarely do they overshadow the reserves this season, but being that the starting five is made up of usual bench players (Nick Young, Robert Sacre, Jodie Meeks, Kendall Marshall), it makes sense they impacted the game the way they did. Young scored just five points entering the last quarter, and then exploded for 11 points to close the game. Sacre only scored four points, but grabbed 10 rebounds and blocked a shot. Jodie Meeks was just 3-10 from behind the arc, but he chipped in 18 points, not to mention six assists and three rebounds. He was also responsible for the play of the game, in which he grabbed the defensive rebound, fell to the floor and, despite Richard Jefferson and Enes Kantar toppling over him to grab the ball, Meeks managed to slide it from under the dogpile to pass it to Young, who dunked it on the other end…and-1!
Wesley Johnson – 11 points on a perfect 5-5 from the field. Boy was Johnson due for a good offensive game. Add to that a block and two steals for a well-rounded night.
Defense – Their four steals and six blocks are just part of the story. In a defensively-solid performance, the stats are just the fruits. The energy, the spirit, the determination – these are the seeds. Johnson’s steal that ended with his basket on the other end; Sacre’s block of Gordon Hayward’s layup; Young, Marshall and Meeks with the full-court press that ended with a Jazz turn over – all are the results of playing defense from the beginning, with the right attitude and the right energy.
Victory – There’s no telling whether this is the beginning of a winning streak, but that it ended a losing streak is something.
Second Chance Points – Though the Lakers outrebounded Utah, they still gave up 12 offensive rebounds that resulted in 25 second chance points.
The Lakers may be missing six players due to injury, but they didn’t play like it tonight, and hopefully they’ll continue to play as such for longer than just one game. So far, it looks like Kobe Bryant’s Tweet holds true – 2014 > 2013.