The last time the Cleveland Cavaliers were in town, the Lakers beat them (to a pulp) by 55 points. Tonight, the Lakers decided (consciously, subconsciously – who can tell?) to make the game more challenging, so they played a nearly flawless first half, and then played a flaw-filled second half…until it was time to actually win the game.
After such a successful first half, with excellent ball movement, efficient scoring and just all out activity, the Lakers walked into the third quarter with an 18-point lead and not much else. The ball stopped moving, the offense stalled, the defense was lackadaisical, and the home team found themselves up by just eight points after three quarters.
Yes, Kobe Bryant had another monster 40-plus game – which is incredible! But tonight, he may not have needed it. After a bad shooting night in Utah two days ago, Gasol and Bynum’s offense was humming in the first half tonight and it’s a shame they didn’t get the ball into their hands quite as much as they should have in the second half. Nevertheless, the Lakers eked out their ninth victory, fifth win in a row, despite dealing with a variety of injuries to some important players.
First Half (everything) – As far as their offense went, the Lakers shot 78% in the first quarter and 65% for the first half. Kobe Bryant already had 24 points on an excellent 9-13 from the field. Pau Gasol’s jumper was falling and it was nothing but net each time. Andrew Bynum, despite what appeared to be turning his ankle in the first quarter (gasp!) was fine to finish the game. He was 6-6 from the field for his 12 points, completely taking advantage of Anderson Varejao. And the huge reason for all this efficiency?…
Ball Distribution – The Lakers handed out 18 assists on 24 made field goals in the first two quarters, led by veteran, Derek Fisher and his 10 dimes. In all his 16th seasons, this is the most “point- guarding” we’ve seen from Fisher. He set up Bynum for an alleyoop, passed to an open Gasol for a jumper, received an inbounds pass from Matt Barnes, who instantly got the ball back from Fisher on a back cut to a hoop. In over 30 minutes of playing time, Fisher had his hand in 10 baskets and didn’t commit a single turnover. Gasol had four assists himself, enjoying the rare opportunities he gets to lead a break, which he got a chance to do today. He grabbed a defensive rebound at one point and harried towards the other side where he tossed it to a waiting Matt Barnes. A 7-footer running a break may sound odd, but for the Lakers, it’s just another weapon. The Lakers finished with 30 assists on 37 made field goals.
Kobe Roll – For the third game in a row, Bryant was on fire. Burnin’, flamin’, smokin’ hot fire. There was no stopping him, no getting in his way, though Anthony Parker did try. But the hoop, especially in the first half, might as well have been a great big lake. It is games like tonight where we are able to fully appreciate Kobe Bryant’s offensive repertoire, which is quite extensive. There also appears to be a difference in Bryant these last few games. Injured wrist aside, he appears to really be enjoying himself. He even went 4-7 from behind the arc, a place Bryant has struggled from this season.
Starters Not Named Kobe – It was another double-double for Gasol, 19 points on 9-16, 10 rebounds, four assists, one steal and one block. If there is just one item to point out from the last few games, he has been absent from the free throw line. It may sound like nitpicking, because clearly, Gasol is just giving Bynum space in the paint to operate so he shoots from farther out. But even when he is playing center, he’s choosing to shoot jumpers rather than getting to the hoop with the possibility of getting fouled.
Andrew Bynum – Another double-double for Bynum as well, 15 points 11 rebounds, three assists, a steal and three blocks. Bynum started the game so strongly, but he was just not taken advantage of enough (or in most game when Bryant goes off). The Lakers are not getting their full value out of Bynum just yet, and they need to do so and soon, while he’s still young. There are only so many possessions to go around and when Bryant’s offense is clicking, it’s hard to take it away from him.
Matt Barnes – 15 points on 5-10. One thing that Barnes hasn’t done this season is disappoint. The man is clearly letting his coaching staff and teammates know just how much he can do, and he can do A LOT. There are many items under Barnes that can’t be quantified – like his ability to anticipate passes, his activity on the floor on both sides of the court, his defensive capabilities. The unfortunate side is that it seems the more he succeeds in the starting line-up, the worse Metta World Peace seems to perform with the reserves. Obviously, MWP’s performance isn’t Barnes’ problem, but World Peace could take a note from his fellow forward’s efforts. It’s not about the points with Barnes. For him this season, it’s just been about staying alert, making the right play, and the easy scoring seems to find him easily this way.
Derek Fisher – The other four starters may have scored in double digits, but Fisher’s got a double-digit stat that’s just as impressive – 10 assists. With Steve Blake out for the next 3-4 weeks, and rookie Darius Morris still, well, a rookie, Fisher will undoubtedly be playing even more minutes, which I’m sure won’t be a problem for the NBA’s current Iron Man.
Defense – The Lakers allowed just 36% shooting in the first half, and only 13 Cavs points in the second quarter. Andrew Bynum blocked three shots and Bryant and Fisher had three steals apiece. For the game, the Lakers only allowed 92 points on 38% shooting.
Second Half (almost everything) – After such an efficiently-played first half, the Lakers came into the third quarter and did everything opposite of what they did in the first two quarters. The ball just stopped moving. Derek Fisher, who had 10 dimes in the first half had none in the second; not a single assist. And Gasol and Bynum’s early contributions? They stayed exactly that way – early. After 12-points in the first half, Gasol scored only six more points for the rest of the game. Andrew Bynum, who began 6-6 from the field, hit just one more field goal in the third and fourth quarters. Bryant’s scoring spree is amazing, and for the most part, his attempts were good shots, but there was a string of time in the third quarter when his jumper just wasn’t there and he should have passed it. Instead, he continued to go at it solo and the large Laker lead continued to reduce.
Lack of bench contribution – 36-4, that was the disparity in bench production from the two sets of reserves tonight. With Steve Blake out for the next 3-4 weeks due to a rib injury, rookie Darius Morris will be getting a lot of playing time backing up Derek Fisher. Jason Kapono, Josh McRoberts and Troy Murphy all returned to the active roster tonight and Mike Brown decided to play all of them, but unfortunately, the results were not very impressive. One line-up consisted of rookies Darius Morris and Andrew Goudelock, Pau Gasol, Devin Ebanks and Troy Murphy. With this combination of players, the Laker lead went from 18 points to six. It’s a tough call for the Laker Coaching Staff to find a line-up that will work until all the injured parties are back on the bench and Steve Blake is directing traffic and running the offense again. With injuries to Blake and Josh McRoberts (who tried to play, but got just under four minutes of playing time in the first half and never returned to the second), Mike Brown has no choice but to take full advantage of the roster that he DOES have available to play, and though Morris is still just a rookie, he did have four assists tonight and will undoubtedly continue to grow his game with the playing time he’ll be receiving from Blake’s absence.
Turnovers – Again with the 18 turnovers! In due time, this carelessness is going to cost the Lakers more than a game or two.
The Lakers made this game much harder for them than it had to be, and they won’t be able to afford to do it often so hopefully this is as far as that process goes. Next up on the schedule are the Clippers, which should be one excellent battle.