…literally. Like candy on Halloween. The Lakers had home court advantage, they received a nicely wrapped Dallas meltdown to end the first half (four points on four free throws with not even a whole second on the game clock!), they built a 16-point lead in the third quarter, they got 36 points from Kobe Bryant and even a double-double each from Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom. The Lakers had every advantage handed to them in order to take this first game in the series with the greatest of ease, but in the second half of the third quarter, subconsciously decided they wanted a greater challenge. Well, here’s to the new tradition of losing the first game of a new series, Lakers! You’ve certainly earned it.
Dallas came into Staples with all the confidence in the world, and how could they not with an owner like Mark Cuban who’s got a loudmouth like his guard Jason Terry’s? The match-up to watch out for, however, was Pau Gasol vs. Dirk Nowitzki, two 7-foot Europeans known for their offensive abilities but credited very little for their defensive “efforts.” Despite his 15 points, 11 rebounds, seven assists and one block, however, Gasol couldn’t hold a candle to Nowitzki’s 28 points, 14 rebounds, three assists, two steals and block. Neither player defended the other very aggressively, but Nowitzki certainly made Gasol work harder than Gasol did him. Nowitzki shot from everywhere, over everyone and there was very little the Lakers did to counter him. He’ll be a nightmare for Gasol and even Odom to check in this series, and if the Lakers can’t stop him, they’ll have to attempt to stop everyone else around him, which is no easy task either.
The battle of the benches is clearly in Dallas’ favor and tonight’s 40-25 advantage makes it glaringly clear. Beyond Lamar Odom (15 points on 5-10, 12 rebounds), the Killer B’s have yet to gain their shooting touches back from when the Lakers began the season 13-1. Matt Barnes is excellent at cutting to the basket for easy hoops, but when the ball isn’t moving, and especially when it’s not moving inside-out, there is very little opportunity for him to get those easy points. That lack of ball movement can be attributed to poor decision making, especially by Shannon Brown, who seems to know very little in the offense other than dribbling away the shot clock and then attempting a bad shot. Steve Blake attempted one shot which didn’t go, grabbed one rebound and handed out zero assists. To say the Laker bench would’ve made a difference in this game is an understatement. Avoiding losing even the slightest lead on their watch would have been an accomplishment and they couldn’t even take care of that tonight. Andrew Bynum (8 points on 3-8, 5 rebounds) was on the floor with the reserves for the majority of his minutes, which is telling considering his stat line.
Yes, the Lakers have Kobe Bryant, who was on attack mode from the tip to the final buzzer. Bryant scored 15 points in the third quarter alone, on his way to 36 points on 14-29, five rebounds, a steal and a block. When Bryant is in scoring mode, he’s relentless, accounting for his zero assists for the game. He, too, is guilty of wasting possessions, shooting early in the clock and raking up isolations rather than moving the ball and running the offense. This isn’t a new circumstance, but with Gasol handing out seven assists, and the Lakers as a whole assisting on 13 of their 20 made field goals in the first half, it should have been a greater part of the game plan. That last second game winner attempt by Bryant looked like a sure thing, but it shouldn’t have been necessary in the first place.
Phil Jackson stated that the Lakers lost this game in the third quarter when they stopped playing, and he couldn’t be more right. Losing large leads – it’s not a new issue for this Lakers team. And when you allow a 16-point lead to drift into a deficit on your own home court during the second round of the playoffs, you deserve to lose. As it’s been said often about the Lakers, the only team that can beat them is themselves, and tonight they threw one mean punch right into their gut.
Pre-game Thoughts: New team, new match-ups. The Dallas Mavericks have the size to match the Lakers’ length so the Laker bigs need to work that much harder inside. They do still have the advantage inside. Pau vs. Dirk is a huge match-up that Pau absolutely needs to step up for.
Half-time Thoughts: 44-53 – If there were any fear that the Lakers would start this series as lazily as they did the last can feel at ease…at least for awhile. Pau Gasol looks like he’s making up for his lackluster performance in Round 1 with this 9 point, 6 rebound, 5 assist, 1 block first half. Kobe Bryant leads the game with his 12 points, aggressive from the get-go. Dallas’ mini meltdown to end the half gave the Lakers four free throws to gain that 9-point lead, but the Mavs will be primed to make up for it in the second half.
Most Thoughtless Play(s)/Player(s) of the Game: Where and with whom to begin? Lakers’ perimeter defense (or lack thereof) that allowed Dallas to shoot 45% of their three pointers? The line-up that allowed that 16-point lead to dwindle in the third quarter? Pau Gasol’s “defense” on Dirk Nowitzki? The bench’s inability to match the efficiency of their counterparts? Ron Artest’s incessant need to jack up threes? Andrew Bynum allowing the Dallas defense to dictate his game instead of the other way around? Yes…yes…yes…yes to all of it!
Most Thought-filled Play(s)/Player(s) of the Game: Kobe Bryant for being so aggressive, but that late possession where he just dribbled away the shot clock and then decided to drive it in and pass at the last second instead of shooting and getting fouled just resonates too loudly. Still, can’t ignore his 36 points.