What do you call a win that is technically a win, but doesn’t feel like a win?
Okay, there’s no word for it, but watch tonight’s game and you’ll have all the explanation you’ll need.
After running over the Clippers, getting run over by the Warriors, and then losing a large lead and falling to the Spurs, the Lakers came into this game needing to put something solid together. 48 minutes of complete effort on both ends of the floor and, at the very least, a whole game’s worth of sound decision-making and focus.
In the first three quarters, it certainly looked like the Lakers were headed towards a good win. Xavier Henry, forehead all stitched up after Friday’s collision with Wesley Johnson’s knee, moved up to the starting line-up in Nick Young’s place and injected his typical energy onto the floor. The threes were falling, they were aggressive on the defensive end, and led by as much as 21 points…but then that blasted fourth quarter came and they fell apart.
Atlanta took advantage of the Lakers’ loss of focus and went on a huge run to tie the game in the closing minutes of the fourth. If not for a blocking call on Paul Millsap in the last few seconds, this game might’ve gone another way, but the Lakers managed to hold on 105-103.
Xavier Henry – From the pre-season and into the first four games for the real season, Henry has been the Lakers’ most consistent player. Today he was inserted into the starting line-up alongside Steve Nash, Pau Gasol, Steve Blake and Shawne Williams. At first, it seemed almost a shame to take him away from the second unit, who have been such a highlight and energy-infuser for the team, but both Henry and Young (13 points on 5-9, four assists, four rebounds) thrived in their switched roles tonight so the Lakers’ coaching staff may stick to this line-up for awhile. Henry also hit some timely shots. With the Laker lead dwindling down to just seven points, Henry scored a three. When the lead went down even further to five points, henry hit a jumper. And when the lead was just a deuce, henry hit both of his free throws. He finished with 18 points on 5-11, 2-4 from downtown.
Jordan Hill – It’s a real mystery how a player with Hill’s energy, desire to collect rebounds and notable defensive efforts could only play 13:36 minutes. Hill’s prowess on the glass is reminiscent of Lamar Odom’s efforts as Laker. Like Odom, Hill seems to see the ball’s path and gets there in time to take it away from someone else. His last effort came in the final seconds of the fourth quarter when Gasol missed a hook shot. Fighting for the offensive rebound soon after was Jordan Hill, who popped up to put the ball in the hoop for a final attempt at winning the game. Hill’s basket didn’t count, and his stat line of six points, five rebounds, one assist and one block in 13 minutes of floor time doesn’t shatter any records, but his efforts in those 13 minutes on the floor are what made all the difference.
Assists (1st-3rd Quarters) – The Lakers handed out 27 assists in the game; 25 of which came in the first two quarters. It’s not surprising why they shot 50% for the game up through that point. It’s because they were sharing the ball, making plays and their turnover count was at a mere eight. 25:8 assist to turnover ratio.
Threeball (1st-3rd Quarters) – 9-18 from behind the arc by eight different players (including Gasol!). The three-point shot has actually been good to the Lakers thus far this season. They’re eighth in the league, in fact, from out there.
Pau Gasol and Steve Nash – It’s hard to place Gasol and Nash in either category. They both had productive games – the Spaniard with 16 points, 13 rebounds, two assists and a block that kept the Hawks’ hot-shooting Kyle Korver (22 points on 8-10, 6-6 3PT) from hitting the final shot; and the starting point guard with his most productive game this season, 13 points six assists, three rebounds, and zero turnovers. However, as a combo, they shot just 10-29 from the field (34%), and in that fourth quarter were a combined 1-8, Nash handed out just one assist and Gasol didn’t collect a single rebound. Without Kobe Bryant on the floor, Gasol and Nash are the leaders by default on this team, yet in the closing minutes of the game, the lead continued to dwindle during their watch and they couldn’t seem to figure out how to turn it around.
4th Quarter Focus – …or lack, thereof. The Lakers were still ahead by 12 points after three quarters, but couldn’t handle 12 more minutes of solid play. They allowed the Hawks 50% shooting, and were outscored 27-17 in the the fourth quarter. It was bad enough they couldn’t stop Atlanta from scoring, but they themselves couldn’t put the ball in the hoop, shooting a pathetic 4-21 from the field, 0-7 from behind the arc. The only bright spot in the final quarter was the 9-10 free throws.
This game, similar to Friday’s contest against the Spurs, was a winnable game. Though the Lakers got the win this evening, it’s difficult not to see how they almost didn’t. They gave up a double-digit lead against San Antonio, similar to tonight when they lost all of a 21-point advantage. They got careless in the end, started freewheeling on both ends of the floor, and Atlanta was one Kyle Korver jumper from forcing overtime. We can say this now because it truly is – it’s still early, and all the issues that the Lakers are encountering can still be solved over the course of the season. However, best not to spend the entirety of the next 78 games trying to figure out.