Steve Blake passed inside to Metta World Peace. MWP tried to muscle up a shot and was fouled. He kissed his biceps and headed to the Laker bench where Coach Mike Brown was waiting, calling out for Blake as MWP approached. Brown addressed MWP while pointing at Blake, “Did you tell him, ‘Thank you?’” he asked the new Laker sixth man. “Yeah,” MWP replied as he and Blake exchanged a smile. New coach. New team. New attitude. And you know what they say – sometimes change is good, and though it took two pre-season and four regular season games, it seems the goodness is finally starting to materialize and in all the right places.
The Laker defense was stopping, their offense was flying and, in stark contrast to the Knicks, appeared to have more weapons with which to fight. It may have been the Kobe Bryant show for a good part of the game, but 28 points does not make a victory. Bryant had help in heaps and on both ends of the court.
Laker free throws – It’s one thing to miss a handful, but to miss more than one third, and at one point four in a row? It’s a good thing this wasn’t a close game like Christmas Day against Chicago when the Lakers missed 9-20 free throws and lost by one point.
Laker 3rd Quarter offense – After shooting 72% in the first half (79% in the second quarter alone), the Lakers went stagnant to open the second half, making just 7-21 from the field for 17 points, after scoring two 30+ points in the first two quarters. Kobe Bryant scored 13 of his 28 points in the third on 5-8, but other than him, the rest of the team shot just 2-13. Despite shooting just 35% themselves in the third quarter, the Knicks managed to cut the deficit to just eight points entering the fourth.
Knicks/Lakers free throw disparity – The Lakers attempted 22 free throws compared to the Knicks, who attempted almost twice as much with 41. The Lakers outscored the Knicks in the paint but fell in love with their success on the perimeter. They went 9-16 from behind the arc, which somewhat explains the disparity – they just plain didn’t place themselves in a position to get to the line.
Josh McRoberts – Is everyone starting to really like this guy?! Talk about hard worker! 10 points on 4-7, six rebounds, one assist, three steals, two blocks (one a commanding swat of Amar’e Stoudemire’s shot) and zero turnovers. As he’s shown since Day 1, he’s ready to work. His awareness on the floor is keen, constantly receiving passes in traffic and converting lobs. He received a low bounce pass from Bryant, which he dunked. Followed through on a lob from Steve Blake. In the first quarter, he hit two free throws then ran the other way and took a charge. McRoberts exudes a nose-to-the-grindstone type of individual. The Lakers haven’t had a player like him since the man he’s been nicknamed after, “McRambis.”
Lakers’ first half offense – 72% shooting from the field through two quarters against a defense-less Mike D’Antoni team may not be much of a surprise, but it was the quality of shots the Lakers were getting that set them on such an offensive high. They were getting the majority of their shots from around the paint, for one. Whether it was McRoberts catching a lob, or Bryant throwing a bullet pass to a streaking (and wide open) Matt Barnes who laid it in, the Lakers made good, high percentage attempts. They also shot the three-ball well – 5-6 in the first half and 9-16 for the game.
Kobe Bryant – He turns the clock back every few games, doesn’t he, folks? Banking in a long three, dancing around Renaldo Balkman, pulling up for a jumper over his buddy, Carmelo Anthony, splitting the defense, faking and then getting to the hoop like he’s 23 not 33. All the while with a torn ligament in his shooting hand and a knee he described today as 95% good. With Kobe Bryant (28 points on 10-17, four rebounds, six assists, one steal and one block), sometimes there are more questions than answers and Reggie Miller used the perfect phrase after Bryant hit that long three, “Are you kidding me?!”
Pau Gasol – 16 points on 7-12, 10 rebounds, five assists and two blocks. Not to mention his excellent defense on Amar’e Stoudemire who went just 4-17 from the field. The last two games are the most active Gasol has been on defense since the Lakers won their last title against the Celtics.
Defense – Allowing a team to shoot just 31% from the field is no easy feat. The Knicks’ big three of Carmelo Anthony, Amar’e Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler are scorers and tonight they went for a combined 13-34 from the field. The Knicks didn’t shoot above 39% in any quarter, saving the fourth and final quarter for the worst, 21.4% from the field for 10 points in 12 minutes. There’s only one word to describe the Laker defense right now – active. No players are lollygagging about, which has made their rotations much quicker to react.
Laker Bench – 40 huge points from the reserves tonight compared to the Knicks’ bench’s 17. From Metta World Peace, to Steve Blake, to Matt Barnes, to newcomers Jason Kapono and Troy Murphy – it’s a bench full of veterans who aren’t always looking to score or take over, but will score when the opportunity arises and tonight opportunities abound! 40 points worth of opportunities.
The Lakers appear to be clicking on both sides of the court, and with the addition of Andrew Bynum beginning with Saturday’s game, they should be clicking even more. Josh McRoberts will head back to further strengthen the reserve unit and the team will be complete to compete.