“We got the W,” Pau Gasol said. “He can have the highlight.”
“He” refers to Blake Griffin, and as far as highlights go, he creates several in every game. Unfortunately, posters do not a victory make. Playing to your strengths and playing for and with your teammates – that’s what gets the win. Despite occasional lapses in judgment, the Lakers did just that. They used their strengths properly, and they got the win because of it – Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol’s size and skill, Kobe Bryant’s killer instinct, Ramon Sessions’ speed and decision-making on the fly, a supporting cast of defenders, rebounders and playmakers.
This was a meaningful game for both teams on several levels – the Pacific Division title, which could guarantee a favorable playoff seeding, the winner of the series tiebreaker should playoff positioning require one, and most of all, bragging rights as the better L.A. basketball team. As far as the Lakers are concerned, however, the Clippers hadn’t taken anything away from them except a little attention.
While the Clippers were crowned L.A.’s hot new team when the season began, the Lakers were basically shoved aside for being old, washed up and past their chance at attaining another championship. Funny thing about old people though – they often don’t give a hoot what the young ‘uns are doing – at least old man, Kobe Bryant, didn’t.
Blake Griffin dunked over Pau Gasol twice, knocking him down both times, and then hovering over him in the latter play. He also pushed Gasol on the back as the Laker forward went up for a shot in transition, which knocked him into the line of photographers sitting on the floor. Clearly heated for scarcely getting any calls in his favor, Gasol received a technical for complaining to the officials. Ramon Sessions, who felt he was getting the same treatment from Chris Paul, received a technical for showing his frustration for the lack of calls as well. On both occasions, Kobe Bryant channeled his inner Derek Fisher to calm both teammates. He pulled Sessions aside before he ran his mouth into a second technical. During a timeout, he basically told Gasol and Bynum to let their playing do taunting, and for doing just that, they got the W.
Andrew Bynum – Whatever was ailing Bynum before this game, physically or emotionally, he appeared to be somewhat recovered, opening the game with the Lakers’ first seven points. The young center was a beast out there and DeAndre Jordan and the Clippers couldn’t do a thing about it. After missing last night’s game, Bynum pulled out all the weapons from his arsenal tonight (even that doggone three pointer he attempted to end the third quarter, which he missed, though he claimed he was fouled). Hook shots, layups, drop-steps, face-ups, heck, even free throws – he scored in every which way tonight racking up 36 points on an efficient 13-20 from the field and 10-12 from the charity stripe. He also grabbed eight rebounds and blocked four shots. Not his usual jovial self at the onset, Bynum took a page from the Kobe Bryant Book of Business and went all pro tonight, saving his smiles for the chestbump he gave teammate Ramon Sessions after a layup late in the game, and he saved another one during a conversation with Blake Griffin after his push on Gasol; a mild confrontation that the officials felt was necessary to separate. After receiving a long pass from Pau Gasol and then scoring on a dunk, Bynum looked over to the Clipper bench, staring the team down before he went on his way. He knew that they knew – there was no stopping the A-Train.
Kobe Bryant – He scored 16 points on 7-10 from the field…in the first quarter. If that wasn’t a signal of things to come, who knows what was. Bryant finished with 31 points on a very efficient 13-19 from the field, 2-3 from downtown and 3-5 from the free throw line. Caron Butler and Randy Foye were no match against Bryant’s seemingly indefensible baseline jumper. He hit two in a row late in the fourth quarter, one to take back the lead and another to double their two-point advantage with 43 seconds left in the game. He tossed up a reverse layup in a crowd, and in addition to the scoring, collected five rebounds and handed out six assists. If that 3-20 game did anything for Bryant, it seemed to have re-energized his offense. His defense, however, could use some work.
Ramon Sessions – His four turnovers aside, Sessions stood his ground against Chris Paul and the Clippers. Finishing with 16 points on 6-13 from the field, 2-2 from behind the arc and 2-3 from the charity stripe, Sessions also handed out eight assists, collected six rebounds and took a pair of steals. He’s rather fearless, this Sessions, at times sprinting down the court with seemingly wreckless abandon, only to dish out to a teammate for an easy hoop, which he did often tonight. And with his team hanging on to a small two-point lead and just 47.4 seconds left in the game, Sessions dribbled around the white jerseys and laid it up to bring the lead to four. He should have gotten an and-1, there’s no doubt about that, but he walked away instead, met with an amazed Kobe Bryant and chestbumped by a very excited Andrew Bynum.
Late-Game defense – The Lakers were all about their offense in the first half, shooting 56% from the field. They allowed the Clippers just 44% shooting in the first two quarters, but they faltered to begin the fourth. When it came down to the final minutes, however, their defense resurfaced. In the final three and the half minutes, the Lakers outscored the Clippers 10-4. Sessions got a steal from Eric Bledsoe. In the ensuing possession, Metta World Peace stole the ball from Chris Paul, Bryant blocked Caron Butler’s three point attempt, and then with 11 seconds left, World Peace, again, forced Paul into his final turnover of the game.
Lost Lead – Yes, the Lakers lost a 15-point lead, but they lost it to a good team. These weren’t the bottom-feeding Detroit Pistons or Washington Wizards. The Clippers are a legitimate playoff team and not expecting them to make a run would be futile. It was the speed with which they took down that double-digit lead however, that was the issue. In the first two minutes of the fourth quarter, the Lakers’ 11-point lead was down to three. With Gasol on the floor, the Lakers attempted five jumpers, including two three pointers. Again, working against the system always results in small failures such as this. Of those five shot attempts, Gasol, the tallest and most skillful player on the court, attempted one jumper.
Defensive Covers – It’s how Chris Paul likes it – drawing Gasol or Bynum on a switch and then getting his way. Bynum blocked one or two of Paul’s shots, but in general, neither seven-footer could and will ever be able to keep up with CP3.
And then there was Caron Butler. He went just 1-5 in the second half but in the first half, Butler went off for 23 points on 8-13 from the field, including 3-4 from downtown. Bryant was constantly leaving him alone, as was Metta World Peace and Matt Barnes when they were on the floor. Butler had the hottest hand in the first half and the Lakers did very little to contain him.
Despite losing a 15-point lead in the fourth quarter, the Lakers continued to fight with some feisty play from their starters and reserve Matt Barnes. Bynum played through his sprained ankle, Bryant played through a bruised shin and Gasol managed despite bursitis in his left elbow. In the end, injury or no injury, the Lakers came into the game and played with a purpose, a focus and for that they got their victory and perhaps a little attention back from their hallway rivals.