“You don’t want to coach effort,” said Bernie Bickerstaff, Lakers assistant coach, turned head coach for the day in place of recently-fired Mike Brown.
In six words, Bickerstaff summed up an underlying issue that has plagued this Laker team since last season. Sometimes the effort in their game was there and sometimes it wasn’t. A coach can only do so much to get the victory when the guys wearing jerseys are the personnel paid to actually play. Somewhere between his hiring last summer and his firing this morning, Mike Brown lost the ability (if he ever really had it) to pull effort from his players and it showed in the inconsistency of countless circumstances that surround this “built-to-win-now” Laker team.
From the trial but mostly error of the Princeton offense, to the lack of defensive intensity (despite being know as a defense-first coach), to the ragtag rotation of playing time – Brown over-coached and it did nothing but produce complex situations that players could not comprehend. Tonight, after an eventful day, Bickerstaff said his only goal was to coach this game against the Warriors and try to get the win, which he did, by letting the players play.
“We played free tonight,” Dwight Howard said after the game. “We didn’t think too much.”
Asked what the difference was between tonight’s game and previous games, Antawn Jamison shared in Howard’s sentiment, saying simply, “We [weren’t] thinking.”
Yes, basketball is a thinking man’s game, but players can’t give way to their analysis by sacrificing their instincts, and that is what the Lakers were noticeably suffering from. “Paralysis by analysis,” James Worthy called it.
Tonight, Bickerstaff let the players play the game, and in the process the bench got more burn and produced, Pau Gasol and Kobe Bryant were aggressive on both ends of the floor, and as a result, they got the win.
Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol – Talk about some excellent captaining. Bryant and Gasol, needing to guide this team after an emotional day, led by example and everyone seemed to follow suit. Bryant led the way with 27 points on 10-18 from the field, grabbed nine rebounds, handed out seven assists and had a pair of steals. He hit 2-4 from beyond the arc and, in a no-way-did-he-jus-do-that-move, took off on one leg by the baseline and tossed a floater from practically behind the backboard, in the air and hit nothing but twine.
Pau Gasol – With Dwight Howard in foul trouble, Gasol spent over 40 minutes on the floor, but in that time, managed 14 points, 16 rebounds, a pair of assists, a pair of blocks and a steal. Gasol’s activity and aggressiveness was showcased all night. He was constantly in David Lee’s way (who scored just 10 points on 3-10), crashed the boards, hit his mid-range and ran back on defense. Most telling stat of the night for the Spaniard – a game leading +26.
For a team that needed stability in the wake of firing a head coach, their captains did them proud.
Bench – Probably the only other aspect of the Lakers that experienced as much vitriol as Mike Brown, are the reserves. Young and relatively inexperienced, the bench rarely got any burn in Mike Brown’s tenure. Tonight, however, Bickerstaff played six reserves, led by productive games from Darius Morris and Jordan Hill. Morris, getting the most out of Steve Nash’s absence, finished with 10 points on 3-7 from the field, collected five rebounds (both stats a career high), handed out five assists and managed a steal.
Jordan Hill was, again, the Lakers’ energizer off the bench. He went 5-5 from the field for his 14 points, had four rebounds and a block. Even Jodie Meeks, who was dropped momentarily from the rotation in favor of Devin Ebanks, got over 15 minutes of playing time and contributed seven points and two steals.
Antawn Jamison, who has looked uncomfortable so far this season, got into the game with his six points, seven rebounds, and singular block of Richard Jefferson’s attempt to score; a block that ignited the crowd and a very proud Metta World Peace, who shoved Jamison after the defensive play. For the night, the Laker bench produced 37 points to the Warriors’ 23. The difference was a better flow to their game as a whole, due to the extended playing time which, let’s face it, is the only way to build their confidence.
Defense – The Golden State Warriors average just over 98 ppg on 45% from the field this season. They scored just 38 points in the first half, and only managed to reach 77 points on 34% shooting for the game. The Lakers were very active on the other end of the court tonight. Heck, even Darius Morris was contesting shots.
But to allow a team to score just 22, 16, 17 and 2 points in each quarter respectively, they were doing something right, and that something was their effort and activity. The Lakers grabbed 42 defensive rebounds, keeping the Warriors to just 10 second chance points. Despite racking up 16 turnovers of their own (an improvement from their last 25-TO night), they also forced Golden State into 19 turnovers themselves.
Life goes on – Truth be told, the Lakers played like nothing had happened today; like their coach wasn’t just fired and that management still has to find a replacement. Veterans Bryant, Gasol and Jamison all stated that in their long NBA career, days like today are nothing new, and that they’ve learned that all they can do is work harder after to keep their teammates on the same page.
Metta World Peace – It look 11 tries and three quarters, but MWP finally got a field goal to go in. He didn’t have the most efficient night, which is putting it mildly. He chipped in 10 points but shot just 3-14 from the field. To be fair, he did collect seven rebounds, handed out two assists and had two steals, but his shot was so off tonight that even the crowd was encouraging him on.
Dwight Howard – Plagued by foul trouble, Howard didn’t do much; just six points, eight rebounds, a pair of assists and a pair of blocks, which shouldn’t happen too often.
The Lakers played the first of six consecutive home games, most are against seemingly non-playoff teams. It is imperative that, no matter who takes over at the helm or when, that these next few games be won to bring that 2-4 record (and the team) to a more respectable level.
In the meantime, we all wait with bated breath for the next press conference that announces the new head coach. Based on the “We want Phil” chants at the game tonight, it’s safe to say who the fans want to see.