Kobe Bryant drew in a double team then kicked out a pass to Derek Fisher who hit a wide open three pointer to give the Lakers a 58-51 lead in the third quarter. Bryant gave Fisher a look as they double-slapped hands after. It’s a look we’ve seen him give his co-captain often. It’s a look that says, simply, “I can always depend on you.”
A similar exchange occurred in Game 1 when Fisher passed to Bryant who scored one from behind the arc that gave the Lakers a 16-point lead in the same quarter. In both instances, however, the Lakers’ leads were short-lived, quickly followed by a Mavericks run that the defending champions could not, did not counteract. Both instances ended in disappointing, we-almost-had-it type of heartbreaking losses, because the Lakers really did “almost have it” in both games. Unfortunately, no Kobe Bryant game winners have come through, and no Derek Fisher clutch shots have occurred. For the Lakers to have won any of these three past games, they didn’t need miracles. They just needed the effort all around.
After telling the media that he thinks his team has trust issues, Andrew Bynum came into this game with that familiar swagger and enthusiasm he’s developed since the All-Star break. He reminded everyone tonight that he can most certainly be trusted. Bynum is fully aware of his body at this point – where it aches, where it’s injured – and he simply doesn’t give a flying fig. He scored 21 points on 9-16 and grabbed 10 rebounds. He even stole the ball from Dirk Nowitzki and ran his own fast break for a dunk. Tyson Chandler was no match for his dominance around the hoop and he was that, dominant. Unfortunately, after scoring his 21st point on a free throw in the first two minutes of the fourth quarter, Bynum didn’t get the opportunity to score the rest of the game. Again with the Lakers shutting the door in opportunity’s face.
Kobe Bryant, looking very relaxed, had a good, solid game. He put in 17 points on 8-16 from the field, choosing to get his teammates involved early, handing out six assists in the process. Still optimistic about their chances in this series, Bryant said that the team played well in both Games 1 and 3 but just committed “some of the dumbest defensive mistakes he’s seen all year.”
Yes, defense was definitely lacking in those closing minutes of Game 3, but the Lakers did well enough of it to get the stops to get those leads. There were other areas you could place under the “problems” category. One such lingering issue since the beginning of the playoffs has been the play of Pau Gasol. It’s difficult to place blame on one player, and claim that he would make all the difference but, well, it’s true. When one player has had as huge an impact as Gasol has had in winning the past back-to-back championships, a sudden drop-off in his play will indeed be felt, and the Lakers have been feeling it since Game 1 against the Hornets. Jalen Rose said it best after the game – Pau Gasol has been invisible in these playoffs. That New Orleans series would’ve been a sweep if he put in more effort. And this Dallas series sure wouldn’t be 3-0 in the Mavericks’ favor if he showed any interest in actually winning, but his demeanor on the court, his post-game interviews riddled with the words, “I tried…” are not what you need from one of the leaders on the team.
In three games, Gasol has accumulated just 28 points on 10-22 and 21 rebounds. He can score and rebound in those numbers in ONE game, but over three games? In this game, Gasol had just five points in the first half, and he finished with a mere 12 points on 5-13 and eight rebounds. Dirk Nowitzki can thank Gasol for the numbers he’s posting in this series. Tonight he burned the Spaniard, not to mention the rest of the Lakers, for his 32 points on 12-19. Defense against the German talent has been minimal from Gasol. Even Phil Jackson, usually very calm, got in his forward’s face numerous times throughout the evening, pounding him in the chest to get a point across. There is something not right with Gasol and it’s showing up in his game. It’s as if he’s lost his confidence, barely fighting for rebounds, refusing to drive into the lane to score in the paint, not mention the number of errant passes he’s thrown.
This is unfamiliar territory for the Lakers who, in the past three seasons, have been excellent in closing out close games. Even Lamar Odom (18 points on 8-16, 6 rebounds, 3 assists), who filled in at the small forward position for the suspended Ron Artest, says that their struggles in this series as a team are unexplainable. Andrew Bynum’s solution? “It’s not only 1 person that wins… We’re supposed to do it together.” The Lakers have one more chance to prove they can give the Mavericks a fight. One last chance for Pau Gasol to engage himself into the fabric of this team. One more chance for the defending champions to finally play like it. In 7-game series, it’s finally come to this, so quickly – Win, or Go Home.
Pre-game Thoughts: Forget all the analysis, all the predictions, all the gossip since Game 2. Forget everything. The plan for the Lakers is a simple one – play together for 48 minutes. One team, one mind. With Ron Artest serving a one-game suspension, Lamar Odom has been inserted into the starting line-up in his place. The three big man line-up isn’t a common sight for the Lakers, but all options considered, this appears to be the optimum choice. The Lakers have quite the uphill battle, being down 0-2 and then down a starter, but if there were any time to test out their mental strength as defending champions, tonight would be a good time.
Half-time Thoughts: 51-47 – Well the Lakers look better tonight. With the exception of Pau Gasol who’s got just 5 points on 2-6 in almost 22 minutes of play, every player has come in and played with some purpose and Andrew Bynum is leading the way. Despite two early fouls, he’s already got 14 points on 6-10; even stealing and scoring on a fast break dunk. Dirk Nowitzki is the same as he’s been in this series, scoring a too easy 18 points on 7-12. The Lakers have dominated the paint, 34-12, and that is why they are ahead in this game and that is what will win this game for them – their inside play.
Most Thoughtless Play(s)/Player(s) of the Game: 4th quarter collapse and inability to maintain leads – They did it in Game 1 and they did it again tonight. The Lakers built a lead then lost it. Then they couldn’t close the game out despite having even the slightest lead with so little time left on the clock. The Lakers literally handed Game 1 and 3 to Dallas and now they are paying dearly for it, being down 0-3.
Most Thought-filled Play(s)/Player(s) of the Game: Andrew Bynum – even after getting his fourth foul, and Phil Jackson trying to sub in Pau Gasol, Bynum refused to leave the floor. If that’s not a testament to how far this kid has come from previous injury-riddled seasons, I don’t know what is. He did it all tonight – scored, defended and his energy was exactly what the Lakers needed. Unfortunately, they forgot about him in the fourth quarter and that, too, cost them dearly.