The 10th seed in the Western Conference – that’s where the Lakers sat before tonight’s game; and based on how they’ve been playing lately, it’s where they deserved to be. After dropping three games in a row and four of their last five, Kobe Bryant said they needed a win - ANY win against ANY team. Well tonight they got their win, and not just against any team. It was the Clippers on the Lakers’ home floor and for the first time in four tries (the two pre-season games included), the purple and gold finally handed a loss to their neighbors down the tunnel.
The game was chippy, as most Laker-Clipper games have been the last couple of seasons. Six technicals were handed out, there was one ejection, Metta World Peace was one swing of an arm away from getting T’d up himself when he got tangled up on the floor with Blake Griffin, and even Pau Gasol was talking trash with Chris Paul. Pau Gasol…talking trash. If the resident white swan talking trash doesn’t do it for you, I don’t know what will. Gasol backed up his talk with some excellent play though, as did four other Lakers who scored in double figures.
It was definitely a group effort tonight on both sides of the court, and in the end the Lakers pulled themselves out of that 10th spot in the West to go up to the 8th. As has been the case this season for the purple and gold – baby steps.
All-in – Five players in double figures for the Lakers, led by Kobe Bryant. But it wasn’t all Kobe all the time. At half-time, Bryant only had eight points on 3-7 but finished with 24 points on 7-17, grabbed seven rebounds and handed out six assists. He had zero turnovers in the first half, but gave the ball away seven times in the second. This one negative aspect of his game aside, however, he had a great night. He wasn’t in a hurry to score at the outset, setting up teammates, moving the ball and playing defense for a greater part of the first two quarters. The last five minutes of the game, however, he went to work. He hit a jumper that gave the Lakers a one-point lead, sent a pass to Metta World Peace at the top of the key for a three-pointer, then drew a double team and jump-passed to Andrew Bynum who scored on a hook shot that gave the team a five-point lead. He then finished off the game by hitting some late-game free throws to secure the victory.
Pau Gasol – 17 points in the first half alone, Gasol was aggressive from the get-go. The ball he wanted, the ball he got. He scored on jumpers just inside the arc, danced around Reggie Evans and arrived at the hoop for an unguarded finger roll. But it wasn’t just about scoring for Gasol tonight. He also grabbed 10 rebounds, handed out four assists (including one lob to Andrew Bynum for a dunk), had one steal and a block. He only scored seven points in the second half, most likely due to Bryant’s surge, not to mention Bynum’s. But the fact remains – Gasol took 13 shots and converted nine and he got to the free throw line eight times for his 23 points. If Gasol is this aggressive on offense all the time, the Lakers wouldn’t have such a difficult time racking up wins.
Andrew Bynum – It wasn’t just his 19 points on 6-11 that helped win this game for the Lakers. It was Bynum’s presence on defense. It’s true – DeAndre Jordan couldn’t stop him. Bynum hook-shot, dunked and hit 7-10 from the free throw line for his production, but it was the four blocks and that big body that made all the difference. With just over 30 seconds left in the game, Bynum received a pass from Bryant that he laid up to give the Lakers a five-point lead. He then ran back on defense and blocked Jordan’s shot. A consistent, well-rounded game is Bynum’s challenge this season. His 19 points were great, but his six rebounds could have been, say, 16. But we won’t dwell on that too much tonight.
Andrew Goudelock – The Laker rookies, Mike Brown said, have been given a challenging responsibility – backing up veteran Steve Blake as he recovers from a rib injury. Brown tried out Darius Morris for a few games without too much success, so tonight came Andrew Goudelock’s opportunity and boy did he come through! First he scored on a floater, then hit a three-pointer in the first quarter. He had the exact same sequence again in the second quarter. He took a hard flagrant foul when Clipper, Mo Williams clotheslined him on his way for a shot, but the rookie walked away and calmly hit the two free throws that followed. He finished with 14 points on 5-8, including 2-3 from behind the arc. He played just over 20 minutes in the game and will probably rack up moreso over the next few games if he continues such play.
Metta World PEACE! – Three points on 1-4 – that’s all MWP contributed to the Laker’s scoreboard…technically anyway. Metta did more tonight than his points column could ever tell. In just over 38 minutes of floor time, World Peace rebounded (five), blocked a shot, took two steals and led the team with seven assists. But over and above his box score, was the energy and passion he provided his teammates and the crowd. After knocking the ball from Blake Griffin’s hands, he screamed and pounded his chest all the way down the court, Griffin looking back at him dumbfounded. After hitting the three off of Bryant’s assist, World Peace pounded his chest at the crowd again. Late in the game, he blocked Chris Paul from scoring on what would usually be an easy lay-in. THIS is the player the Lakers and their fans miss; the one who gets excited and inspired after a good defensive play; the one who isn’t afraid to fight Reggie Evans crazy with some crazy of his own. Hopefully, this wasn’t a one-time appearance because if there’s anything the Lakers need to pull themselves out of this rut, it’s a little Old School Ron Artest. World Peace’s best stat tonight was a +20 to lead the game.
3-point shooting – It was bound to happen SOME TIME this season. The Lakers actually shot 50% from downtown, thanks to Kobe Bryant (2-4), Derek Fisher (3-4) and Andrew Goudelock (2-3).
It’s hard to find faults after such a hard-fought win, but a low point worth mentioning would be Josh McRoberts and his ejection. The Clippers, this season, are a successful team thus far, and they’ve built a swagger that borders on cockiness, and it’s best to let them be. Reggie Evans, who comes off the bench for DeAndre Jordan, was ribbing at Metta World Peace, harassing Gasol and finally got to Josh McRoberts. McRoberts may have been reacting to Evans’ provocation, but as is the case in this game, the player who reacts is usually the player who is penalized, and McRoberts took the bait tonight. It’s fine to play with passion, with enthusiasm, but sometimes it’s best just to stay focused on the game at hand, not on the opposing player who’s probably just jawing up some nonsense.
It seems so long since we’ve seen the Lakers play well that we’d forgotten how the team looked when Pau Gasol was scoring, Metta World Peace was producing (anything!), Kobe was shooting less than 20 shots and the three-pointers were actually falling. The Lakers were even fighting back tonight, not letting the swaggerific Clippers throw them off their game (well, except Josh McRoberts). There was some fight in that them Lakers tonight. Let’s hope it’s here for the duration of the season.