Pau Gasol walked down the regular line of teammates before the game, hugging and bumping chests along the way. Whatever words were uttered by him and Kobe Bryant after yesterday’s loss against the Suns, it didn’t matter much come game time. Trade bait or not, when that ball is tossed up, you can either choose to live in what could be or live in what is. Tonight, Gasol and the Lakers chose to live in what is and found themselves on the receiving end of a victory.
In the first quarter, the Lakers stomped on the Blazers to the tune of 29-7. Seven points – that’s all that Portland managed to score in those first 12 minutes. They opened the game with a three pointer, then scored just four points in the next 11:41, shooting just 18%. The Lakers defended them well, but the Blazers also missed a slew of high percentage shots, not to mention wide open opportunities, and the home team gladly took advantage, with excellent ball movement that had their offense humming.
In the second quarter, the Lakers continued their surge, hiking up the lead to 37-7, and conceded just eight points before going into halftime with a 22-point lead. But as is their M.O., they squandered all but 10 of their once perfectly sound lead, yet still managed to hold on for the win.
Laker First Quarter – Offensively, they shot 12-24 for 50% from the field, assisted on 8 of the 12 made field goals and had just two turnovers. The ball movement was a sight to behold in those first 12 minutes, as was the effort on second chances. First, there was Andrew Bynum passing off to Kobe Bryant, who dribbled to the corner then spotted a cutting Bynum, who received the ball back for a dunk. Then there was Bryant about to attempt a three, then out of the corner of his eye, caught Gasol running to the hoop, so Bryant passed it off to him to finish at the rim, virtually untouched by anyone in a black jersey. Towards the end of the quarter, Bryant missed a jumper, but right there to slap the ball into the hoop was Matt Barnes. The Lakers couldn’t have played a better offensive game, they were moving so well.
Defensively, the Lakers kept the Blazers to 3-17 from the field for 18% and outrebounded Portland 21-5. In the 14 shots that they missed, Portland grabbed just a single offensive rebound. Of the Lakers’ 21 boards, 14 were on the defensive end, not allowing Portland to any second chance points at all (Lakers had 12 second chance points).
Taking care of the ball (first half) – Four turnovers – that is all the Lakers had after the first 24 minutes, all from Portland’s four steals. The ball never stayed in the same hands for more than a few seconds, and the passes were deliberate and crisp.
All A-Board – The Lakers outrebounded Portland 21- in the first quarter alone, and 51-37 for the night, led, of course, by Bynum and Gasol’s 31rebounds.
Steve Blake – Just call him a marksman, because that’s what he was tonight. As if he was making up for lost time, Blake rattled off 14 points before halftime, hitting 5-6 from the field, included 4-4 from behind the arc. In a rare, woh-he-never-does-that moment, Blake even drove in and scored on a one-handed layup. He finished with 17 points on 6-9. Despite collecting just one assist, he created a number of plays by sending the pass before the pass before the shot. He said in the post-game interview that he’s still trying to get into game shape, but if tonight’s performance was any indication of the shape he’s currently in, then we probably haven’t even seen the best of his game.
Walking Double-Doubles – Andrew Bynum, 14 points on 5-7, hit all four of his free throw attempts, grabbed 19 huge rebounds, handed out a pair of assists and a steal. Pau Gasol had 16 points, on an okay 5-13 from the field, hit all of his six free throws, grabbed 12 rebounds, handed out four assists, and blocked on shot. It was the pair’s typical double-double night, but the only problem was that most of their activity happened in the first half.
Third Quarter Almost-Collapse – The Lakers allowed the Blazers to score 36 points in the third quarter on 60% shooting, which cut their lead to 14 points going into the fourth. Yes, Portland hit 7-9 from behind the arc, which was a huge help in their catch-up, but a more glaring factor was the fact that Gasol and Bynum combined for just eight points on 2-5 from the field (and Gasol’s four free throws). As has been the case on nights when Gasol and Bynum get such little opportunity with the ball, Kobe Bryant is usually the cause. Fortunately, Bryant shot 50% from the field for his 28 points so his possession of the rock was not in vain.
After the Third Quarter, the Lakers continued to go away from what worked in the first half. In 9:23 minutes of floor time, Bynum attempted one shot that didn’t go, and Gasol scored just four points on 1-2 from the field and a pair of free throws. Portland got the lead down to 10 points with just under eight minutes left in the game. With the way they were hitting the threeball (12-23 for the game), those 10 points could have easily been erased, but then Derek Fisher hit a pull-up jumper, which was followed by back-to-back buckets from Bryant. If not for that gargantuan lead early in the game, Portland might’ve stolen one at Staples.
Not LobCity – It was just a fluke when it was happening merely occasionally, but the Lakers, this season, have gotten into a bad habit of over-calculating their lobs and cross-court passes, which result in nothing but wasted possessions/turnovers. The only successful long pass tonight came late in the game when Andrew Bynum, after securing a defensive rebound, threw a one-handed bullet pass straight across the court to Bryant who scored on the other end.
If we’ve clarified anything tonight, it’s that the Rose Garden up in Portland really is a cursed place for the Lakers and Staples Center has turned into a not-so-happy place for the Trailblazers. Next up are two road games against the Dallas Mavericks and the league-leading Oklahoma City Thunder. If they could play with as much energy and purpose as they did in the first half, that sub-.500 road record could turn a corner.