There’s a headline we saw almost never (okay, maybe just never) last season – the Lakers led with their defense. And Coach Mike D’Antoni, for all the jokes he endures about being a purely offensively-minded coach, was emphatic in his show of disdain of the team’s lack of defense, spurring the great run in the end.
The Kings led by as much as 10 points, and won every quarter until the fourth. Going into the final quarter, the Lakers were down by just four points, and thanks to their intensified defense in the final stretch, they got the win, 106-100.
Team Effort – Highlighting a single player who impacted the game most is a losing battle. The Lakers have been so good at maintaining a balanced effort, especially in wins, that singling out one player is, at best, unfair. Again, they had multiple contributors tonight. Six players scored in double figures, every player who saw the floor, except for Shawne Williams, handed out an assist and everyone worked the glass (despite getting outrebounded 51-36). Leading the way offensively were Pau Gasol and Jodie Meeks, who each scored 19 points. Meeks went 5-6 from behind the arc, including two key threes in the waning minutes to seal the victory. The Laker bench, despite missing Jordan Farmar, still scored 31 points playing just four players led by SwaggyP’s 14 points, while the Kings’ reserves, having played six players, scored 37 points combined. Leading the way around the Laker offense was none other than Steve Blake, who raked in 10 assists and has contributed to the success of this team the way we all hoped, and still hope, Steve Nash would/will. Blake’s bounce passes leading to easy buckets has become his staple and his teammates are ready to cut when they know the pass is bouncing their way. Robert Sacre, getting his first start this season, was effective in his debut, chipping in 11 points on 5-7 from the field, grabbed five rebounds and blocked two shots. All that energy cheering from the sidelines was finally put to use out on the floor. A nice stat displayed during D’Antoni’s post-game interview sums up the team’s collective efforts thus far – the Lakers have handed out 20+ assists in 12 consecutive games, which is the longest streak in the league.
Defense – The Lakers got to an early lead to begin the game, but failed to stop the Kings until the final quarter. Small and speedy Isaiah Thomas had 14 first-half points and DeMarcus Cousins put in 13 himself. They gave up 12 points from nine turnovers in the first two quarters, and allowed Sacramento to score too easily at the rim, with points in the paint 26-16 in favor of the home team. Midway through the third quarter, however, the Lakers bared down their defense. Cousins went just 2-10 for his seven second half points, and in 10 minutes of second half action, Thomas went 0-4. The Kings’ 17 turnovers turned into 24 Laker points. Sacramento was forced into 10 turnovers in the fourth quarter alone. Leading the way defensively was Wesley Johnson. He blocked Thomas’ attempt to score on a floater late in the game, and with just a minute left in the fourth, managed to steal the ball from Ben McClemore, which resulted in Young’s jumper that gave the Lakers a 103-97 lead. Of the Lakers’ 10 steals, five belonged to Johnson.
Fighting Spirit – The injury bug seems to have hit the Lakers again, but instead of players putting their heads down to mope, they’re lifting each other up, picking up the slack when they can and helping their teammates move along. With both Nash and Farmar out, Blake played 39 minutes tonight, and despite being injured himself (sore elbow on his shooting arm), he did what he always does – run the floor. Going 5-13 was probably not his plan, but the 10 assists have become his regular expectation.
The Lakers put in a great effort, despite falling behind. It’s hard to fault them after a win that took as much heart as tonight’s did.
Despite the inability to close in the first few games of the season, what the Lakers have developed over time is this “never say die” attitude. They may be down, but they don’t count themselves out and it begins and ends with how much they enjoy playing for each other.
As soon as Nick Young threw that behind-the-back pass to Pau Gasol for a top-of-the-key jumper, the Kings were gonners, and not just because of one Laker. The Kings fell at the hands of Jodie Meeks’ three pointers, Steve Blake’s assists, Wesley Johnson’s steals, Robert Sacre’s blocks, Gasol’s rebounds and Young’s confidence. With Kobe Bryant set to return to the active roster in Sunday’s game against Toronto, the Lakers can give their opponents another reason to fall.