There it was again, that unmistakable ear-to-ear smile coupled with the emphatic bear hug. He seems the happiest Laker when the game ends with a win, and the most excited to greet his teammates when the final buzzer sounds. Maybe it’s because he’s turning out All-Star caliber performances each night. Maybe it’s his double-double dominance that opposing teams don’t seem to know how to control. Or maybe he’s just glad to have lasted these 37 straight games in uniform on the floor rather than in street clothes on the bench. And if there’s anything the Lakers need this season to get themselves through, it’s this version of Andrew Bynum – the one on the active roster who is carpe dieming the heck out of his season.
The two road losses last week were more than unfortunate – they were downright embarrassing and preventable. But since time travel has yet to make its way beyond the world of Marty McFly and Doc Brown, there is no reason for the Lakers to dwell on what was, rather than what is, and what IS is the rest of this shortened season and they began anew, after the 1-2 road trip, today with their longtime rivals, the Boston Celtics.
The Lakers started out how they’ve usually started these last few games – dominant early, getting to a 15-point lead almost mid-way through the second quarter. Boston couldn’t get their offense going to start the game and the Lakers, despite shooting twice as well percentage-wise as the Celtics, could have capitalized if not for their turnover-happy afternoon. Before halftime, their lead had turned into just two points and two minutes into the third quarter, their lead turned into a deficit.
The third quarter was a constant back-and-forth with four ties and eight lead changes in 12 minutes, and the game came down, as the last few Lakers-Celtics contests have, to the final seconds. In the end, the Lakers took it.
Battle of the Big Threes – Miami may have the hottest Big Three this season, but there’s nothing like a war between Garnett-Pierce-Allen and Bryant-Gasol-Bynum. Ever since that pathetic 2008 Finals exit, there’s one team that the Lakers will always toughen up their game for, and that’s the Celtics. Boston’s big three combined for 44 points against L.A.’s 59 and you can chalk most of that to the Lakers’ 42-30 dominance in the paint, their 42-34 effort on the boards, which led to their 17-8 advantage in second chance points. Bryant-Gasol-Bynum also attempted nine more free throws.
Kobe Bryant shot 34% during the Lakers’ last road trip, and today he appeared doomed for a repeat performance, but after shooting just 4-11 from the field and 2-3 from the free throw line for his 10 points, handing out three assists and committing four turnovers in the first half, Bryant came into the final two quarters with a greater sense of what he had to do to get this win. In the second half, he hit 6-9 from the field, including 3-5 from behind the arc, handed out four assists (including what turned out to be the game winning dime to Andrew Bynum), and committing just a single turnover in 24 minutes. Bryant never left the floor in the second half and he wouldn’t have had it any other way. He shot 9-20 for his 26 points, but he didn’t force his offense as desperately as he did in the previous three games, and that made all the difference. He finished with the final Laker stat that shows his all-around effort in this contest – a block of Paul Pierce’s three-point attempt that might’ve tied the game. Bryant didn’t aid his team with this scoring today. He aided them with his trust.
Pau Gasol – Talk about right place at the right time. With Bryant and Bynum sucking up all the attention of late, Gasol is often (and ignorantly) ignored by opposing defenses. He scored on a few occasions today based purely on his acumen on the floor. He knows when to set the screen, when to dive, when to take the open jumper. His 13 points on 5-11 is less than what he normally shoots, but his 13 rebounds and five assists are the Lakers’ bread and butter. He was more than his stat line today, however. He had the two defensive rebounds in two possessions when the Celtics had a chance to take the lead, and when Rondo passed the ball to Ray Allen in the closing seconds, it was Gasol who got in his way and forced him to pass.
Andrew Bynum – After a solid first half, Bynum went to the locker room before halftime after appearing to hurt himself after a collision with Ray Allen. Moving rather gingerly, or so it appeared, in the third quarter, and scoring just three points on 1-4 from the field, it seemed he would be in for another one of those moments; those “freak accident resulting in another lost season” type of moments…until the fourth quarter. If there’s one thing Bynum’s learned this season, it’s to play with his ailments. Diagnosed after halftime with a bone bruise, Bynum continued to fight through and he was successful, dominating over (and through) the defensive efforts of Kevin Garnett who looks half the width of the young center. He is no match for the Big Ticket, especially in his final shot. Bryant, asking that he be the decoy on what would probably be Lakers’ final possession, and that Bynum get to work inside. Backing Garnett in, Bynum puts one over to give the Lakers their 97-94 game winning lead. And he also had 14 rebounds.
The Big Fourth – Alongside each team’s core was their next greatest advantage, and for Boston, it was none other than Rajon Rondo, who went off for 24 points and 10 assists. The Lakers’ asset today was Metta World Peace. After this game, there is no argument that World Peace’s most productive games have resulted in Laker wins. Today he contributed 14 points on 4-8, including 3-5 from behind the arc. World Peace gave in something greater to this game than his stat line, however, and that was his grit. Getting tangled up with Pierce in the third quarter, MWP would not concede and got in his face, only to be pushed back by Kevin Garnett (who was probably looking to start another bar fight). But instead of fighting back with his fist, he fought back with a steal and fast break dunk, followed by a corner three.
4th Quarter Effort – After giving up yet another large lead, the Lakers spent the fourth quarter making sure that would not affect their desired outcome of this game. Their defense was solid, allowing Boston to shoot just 9-24 from the field, but their best efforts came in the final two or so minutes. After Ray Allen hit a three pointer to give the Celtics a five-point lead, they came up empty on four straight possessions in which the Lakers took advantage, scoring eight straight points in the process. Instead of chucking up three pointers, the Lakers hit high percentage shots – a 15-footer from Bryant, followed up a lob inside to Bynum, which was followed by a pull-up jumper in the paint from Bryant again, and then Bynum’s hookshot over Garnett.
With 15.5 seconds left in the game, and the Celtics down by three, the Lakers really went to work. Rondo passed to Allen who, in the process of pulling up for a three pointer, met the seven-foot wall that is Gasol, and he was forced to pass it to Pierce. As Pierce gathered himself for another game winner, Bryant and World Peace surrounded him, and his attempt was met by Bryant’s hand.
Three-Point Shooting – Ranked 29th in the league in shooting from the behind the arc, it’s always a pleasant and welcome surprise when the Lakers put in a good effort from downtown. Today they shot 8-16 with contributions from Metta World Peace, Kobe Bryant, Derek Fisher and Andrew Goudelock. The team didn’t fall in love with the three in this game, which is how it should always be when their inside game is 10 times as effective, as it was today.
Turnovers – They never learn, and the Lakers are fortunate to have come out of this game with a victory considering their 18 turnovers, 11 of which came in the first half. Boston shot just 40% in the first half and the Lakers 51%, but the difference was their 11 turnovers. Boston shot just 25% in the first quarter to the Lakers’ 53% and were only down 10 points because of the Lakers’ turnovers. Those 18 giveaways resulted in 21 fast break points for the Celtics.
Free throws – The Lakers attempted 14 more free throws (26) than the Celtics (12), but they missed nine, more than a third. In a game as close as, every point counts. Those 26 free throws are a reward of the team’s inside game, and they would have been an even greater advantage had more of them been converted. The Celtics, whose inside game took a hit when they sent Kendrick Perkins to the Oklahoma City Thunder, don’t get to the line as often as they used to and the Lakers could have racked up some easy points from that charity stripe to take full advantage.
Based on their recent performance on the road, many have lost faith in this Lakers team, or at least refuse to invest any compliments until they can get more proof outside of Staples Center. Home wins, to some, don’t seem to matter as much as road victories do, but here’s some news – they’re victories nonetheless. Their dismal road record is inexplicable, yes, but they’re not completely incapable. It’s true that the Lakers seem to have to pick themselves up and start over with every win that follows a loss, but at least they still HAVE the will to pick themselves up after a loss.