Lakers won 120-112, which means the absence of two things – defense and tacos for the Staples Center attendees. Based on how lackluster the Lakers’ play has been of late, however, the fans may not have minded tonight’s game so much, tacos or not.
It was an entertaining game, with the Lakers leading by as much as 15 points and then losing it (of course), and the Golden State Warriors doing what they do best – score in bunches. It was a game of runs. Each time the Lakers built up a respectable lead, the Warriors would score on a fast break or hit the open three pointer. They even took over the lead in moments, but the Lakers would race back with another one of their own runs.
With Andrew Bynum rolling his ankle and then leaving the game before the end of the first quarter, Pau Gasol took over the frontcourt with considerable contributions from reserves Josh McRoberts and Troy Murphy. Kobe Bryant’s shots were falling after yesterday’s abysmal shooting, and Ramon Sessions was huge again leading the floor with not only his playmaking, but his scoring as well.
Despite the momentary lapses (which have become much too common this season), the Lakers always found a way to get back into form to come out with the victory.
Ramon Sessions – With Andrew Bynum nursing a rolled ankle (and a bruised ego – more on that later), Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol welcomed an alternate member to the big three in Ramon Sessions. 23 points on 7-10 from the field, including 2-3 from behind the arc, plus nine assists, three rebounds and just three turnovers in almost 33 minutes? This kid is nothing if not efficient. His vision on the court is keen, which is the least you could ask of any point guard, but his quickness in reacting to what he sees is the key. He sent a one-handed bullet pass to Bryant under the hoop for a quick layup, drove into the paint and passed sideways to Gasol for a dunk and handed off to Troy Murphy for a three pointer. Oh, and he scores too, and not just from the perimeter, though he’s not bad from there either. A great number of Sessions’ points came in the paint where he is not afraid to visit. His speed alone is something that opposing defenses must contend with. With 6.6 seconds left in the first half, he inbounded the ball to Gasol, who handed it right back to him, and he literally sprinted from one end of the floor to the hoop for a layup in about four and half seconds. Where has the league been hiding this guy?!
Pau Gasol – Mr. Double-Double finished with 26 points on 11-17 from the field, 11 rebounds, six assists (second to Sessions) and three blocks. He did just about everything tonight, which is how it should be. Since Bynum’s emergence this season, Gasol has taken somewhat of a back seat, doing more than just filling in, but giving his young teammate more room to dominate. Tonight, however, the Lakers needed their co-captain to be aggressive and he did just that by, again, not settling for jumpers or awkward floaters, but really getting to the hoop and dunking to make sure those two points were his. And those six dimes are just a reminded that he’s got more up that arsenal of his than hook shots and mid-range jumpers. Gasol’s court vision is just as sharp as any point guard out there, and his size is an even greater advantage.
Kobe Bryant – When you start a game 0-15 through three quarters in one game, there’s really no way to go but up, and boy did Bryant rise to the occasion tonight. As soon as he hit his first two jumpers to open the game, it was obvious he was determined to make sure yesterday’s shooting woes would not bleed into today’s. He went 16-28 from the field for his 40 points, including 3-3 from downtown. He also handed out five assists and collected three rebounds for a well-rounded game. It was night and day compared to the frustrating game he had against the Hornets, which seems so long ago despite the mere 24-hour turnaround. As Coach Mike Brown observed, Bryant made shots tonight that he missed yesterday. Except for one one-handed fall-away, obviously unintentional hook shot, in which he was also fouled, all of Bryant’s attempts in this game were typical of his shooting repertoire – fadeaways, stepbacks, jabfake up-n-unders. Hopefully it’s the first of many more efficiently-shot games.
Murphy and McRoberts – Talk about true examples of staying ready. With Bynum out for the last three quarters, Troy Murphy and Josh McRoberts put in some quality minutes; more quality than their stat lines could ever tell. McRoberts scored just two points, but it was on a spectacular putback of Sessions’ missed floater. He literally came out of nowhere, right past three or four Warriors, and two-handed dunked the living daylights out of the ball. And his singular assist came after leading a fast break (yes, McBob can apparently lead fast breaks) and tossing a no-look pass to a cutting Kobe Bryant for a layup. Those were just the icing on top of his eight rebounds and the energy he brings each and every time he hits the hardwood.
Troy Murphy scored eight points on 3-5 from the field, 2-3 from downtown, but it was his 11 rebounds, which tied the most in the game along with Gasol, that stood out. Murphy, as a player, is quite cunning. He’s not the most athletic, but he’s a shooter and a mover, always in the right place to receive or go after a board. He also lead the game with a +18 for the night.
Mr. Downtowns – 10-19 from behind the arc? Not bad for the third worst 3-point shooting team in the league, right? Golden State hit 11-21 themselves, the third BEST 3-point shooting team in the NBA. Every Laker who saw the floor, other than Gasol, Bynum and McRoberts hit a three. It’s too bad Bynum didn’t make it through the rest of the game. His luck from back there might’ve changed tonight.
Rebounds – A 50-29 advantage for the Lakers, with 15 coming from the offensive end. Rebounds do indeed equal effort, and the Lakers pulled out a victory based on that tonight.
Defense – The Lakers had three 30+ quarters and the Warriors scored 36 points in the fourth. When you’re scoring as proficiently as the two teams were tonight, who needs defense right? Well, it would’ve helped the Lakers maintain those double-digit leads (yes, leads with an “s”), but they played very little of it tonight. No one was closing in on the shooters, which is how the Warriors kept coming back up after getting down. With two minutes left in the game and the Lakers up by six points, Richard Jefferson hit an open three-pointer because Metta World Peace drifted away from him, and by the time he closed in, it was too late. World Peace hit a three pointer of his own to make up for Jefferson’s shot, but with under a minute to go, Klay Thompson was left in the corner without a single white jersey within five feet of him, and thankfully he missed. But he hadn’t, it would’ve been a three-point game with 51.5 seconds left. The Lakers’ defense has been nothing short of absent the last few games. Again, they allowed a team to score over a hundred points. The defensive efforts require more efforts.
Andrew Bynum – The rolled ankle and the absence for the final three quarters was not the low-point in this game. It, in fact, seemed to bring the energy of the team UP. Frankly, it’s Bynum’s attitude that’s bringing this team down. He came out and said he doesn’t participate in huddles (since when? He used to before) and he has not been participating in pre-game layup lines either. Is he still sore that Coach Mike Brown benched him in last week’s game? There just appears to be some dark cloud hanging over this young man, and it’s not exactly hard to see since, in the last few games, he’s the last player to get back on defense, at times jogging instead of running. The replays of his 10+ minutes on the floor today showed him mulling around on either side of the court, looking like he’s half-trying to be engaged. Maybe this rolled ankle is a sign; a timeout of sorts, if you will. That’s what you give to children who are acting up, and Bynum’s attitude of late is exactly that.
The Lakers played a fun game tonight against the Warriors, but with 14 games left in the regular season, the fun needs to be tempered and the focus needs an upgrade. If they can’t take the number two seed away from the San Antonio Spurs, they have to continue to win to keep the Clippers at bay in the Pacific Division. It’s almost time for the real season to start, and the Lakers don’t look as solid as they once did earlier in the season. There’s a lot to work on, and they have the next three weeks to figure it all out.