A Laker game on Christmas Day usually means little to even the Lakers themselves. But with a shortened, not to mention accelerated, NBA season, every game, every victory and certainly every loss, counts. Tonight the Lakers started counting down from 66, beginning with their first official loss.
Though fans know not to expect much from the Lakers during holidays, especially Christmas (and especially with the all the circumstances that weren’t playing in their favor lately; namely Kobe Bryant’s injury, Andrew Bynum’s suspension, among other things), there appeared to be a glimmer of hope when Bryant and Pau Gasol combined for 24 of the Lakers’ 49 first-half points and the reserves had outscored Chicago’s bench 19-16 before the third quarter.
Bryant’s injury, despite causing him to commit turnovers from mere ball handling difficulties (he had eight turnovers for the night), did not appear to hinder his ability to shoot. He shot 11-23 from the field and 6-7 from the free throw line for his 28 points, in addition to grabbing seven rebounds and handing out six assists. He scored in the paint, from the perimeter, from midrange. Despite being responsible for half the team’s turnovers, he did everything good that he could to win this game…except maybe shoot every free throw for the team (the Lakers were 3-13 without Bryant).
Pau Gasol, a 75% shooter from the free throw line, was 2-6 for the game and shot just 6-14 from the field. With Andrew Bynum suspended for the first four games of the season, it’s not a guessing game as to who the Lakers would lean on to share the bulk of the load, but Gasol, despite playing just under 38 minutes, managed just 14 points and eight rebounds. He looked hesitant today, often receiving a pass from 15 feet and deciding to dribble or pass rather than take the face-up jumper that has become so second nature to him. And eight rebounds? Troy Murphy played 16 minutes less than Gasol and managed to get eight rebounds. Even Bryant had seven boards himself. Chicago shot just 40% from the field, missing 53 of their 89 attempts, and Gasol managed just six defensive boards. And yes, the three-point shot is something that Gasol has impressed with in the off-season, he’s got a more than fair ability to shoot from midrange, but Joakim Noah was playing with four fouls by the middle of the third quarter, and Gasol continued to take jumpers rather than heading to the basket for higher percentage shots and a chance to be fouled. Based on his afternoon’s free throw disabilities, however, maybe getting fouled may not have been the best idea.
Going into the second half behind by seven points, the Lakers outscored the Bulls 20-12 and even pulled themselves up by 11 points with just under four minutes left in the game. But in those last four minutes, sandwiched between the Bryant layup that gave the home team that double-digit lead and the final buzzer, the Lakers scored just more two field goals (Steve Blake’s three and Bryant’s fadeaway jumper), missed four free throws (Gasol and Josh McRoberts), gave up two layups and a dunk to Chicago and failed to contain the reigning MVP from hitting the winning shot. Derrick Rose opened the first quarter with just 0-1 in field goals and one assist. He finished with 22 points on 9-13 and five assists. Suffice it to say, Mike Brown could use the last four minutes of this game alone for film study on how NOT to close out a game.
It wasn’t the cleanest game, with the Lakers and Bulls committing 17 and 14 turnovers respectively; and it wasn’t a scoring spree by either team. It was, however, a game that the home team could have and should have won. The first of a trio of back to back to back games, there is no time for the Lakers to rest or even dwell in their first loss of the season. The focus now is on tomorrow’s contest against the Sacramento Kings, and perhaps a few hundred free throws in between.
Pre-Game Thoughts: The Lakers haven’t won a Christmas Day game since 2008 against the Celtics. That season, they were coming off an embarrassing playoff exit from the season before; spending their time redeeming themselves and finished with their first of back-to-back championships. It’s funny how things have a way of repeating themselves because today’s circumstances aren’t too different from three years ago. They may be playing under a different coach and have a few new faces in uniform, but their mission to redeem themselves should still hold suit. This team has a lot to prove and the first day of the season is as good a time as any to start.
Half-Time Thoughts: 56-49 – The Lakers started the game well enough, getting to an 8-point lead early in the first quarter. But despite a 14-point half by Kobe Bryant, the Lakers are still out of sync offensively (missing passes) and defensively (leaving Derrick Rose wide open from behind the arc. Rose, despite starting 0-1 from the field and handing out only one assist, quickly reeled off 10 points in the second quarter to give the Bulls a 7-point lead.
Most Thoughtless Player(s)/Play (s) of the Game: Laker free throw shooting (11-20), turnovers (17), defense (or lack thereof). In a game as close as today’s, every possession and every point is crucial and the Lakers failed to excel at excelling at either.
Most Thought-filled Player(s) of the Game: Kobe Bryant had a productive game despite his injury, but it was last season’s MVP, Derrick Rose, who took over this game when his team needed him to do so.