Kobe Bryant dribbled baseline and faded away for a jumper over Portland’s Brandon Roy to give the Lakers a five-point lead with just over 30 seconds left in the game. He punched his fist down as he turned to the Laker faithful, yelling words probably not allowed on this blog, and grabbing his jersey like he didn’t know what else to do to channel his energy and passion for moments like this. In the Lakers’ next possession, after the Blazers had drilled a three to get within two points, Derek Fisher calmly dribbled around Rudy Fernandez and stuck a mid-range jumper to give the team a four point lead, holding his left hand steady posing as he ran backwards, reminiscent of his 2009 Game 3 performance against the Orlando Magic.
Did the Lakers miss Andrew Bynum? Yes. Did they practically sleepwalk through the majority of the game? Yes. Were they going to let this Portland team really think they could win a few games, let alone the series in the post-season if these two teams met? That would be a definitive he…ck no; not on the Bryant-Fisher watch.
It’s not as if the Lakers aren’t familiar with playing without Andrew Bynum. He’s missed such long stretches of games since his arrival that the Lakers have had two identities each season: with and without him. This season since the All-Star break, however, the “with Bynum” version of the Lakers appeared to have gotten an upgrade. The team had been feeding off of his defensive energy while the opposition had become reluctant to enter the paint in his presence. For most of tonight’s game, it appeared the Lakers dependence on Bynum’s defense was greater than they thought. But when it counted, towards the end of the game, the Lakers finally prevailed.
Subbing into the startling line-up for Bynum was, as per usual, Lamar Odom. His case for the Sixth Man of the Year Award should, if it isn’t already, greatly considered. Mr. Versatility can coordinate the half-court with the starters or run the break with the reserves and tonight he did everything. He scored (16 points on 8-11 from the field!), he worked the glass (11 rebounds), kept the offense going (6 assists), and played defense (2 steals). When he wasn’t putting back a missed Derek Fisher jumper, he was hitting a jumper from the corner. He sent a bouncepass to Pau Gasol for a dunk, heaved a ¾ long pass to Shannon Brown for a dunk and 1, then he hit a cutting Kobe Bryant with a pass for a short jumper. On a night where his teammates could not find their rhythm on offense, Odom gladly sang them his tune. At the risk of sounding corny and cliché – it was, quite simply music to their ears.
Pau Gasol, filling in in the middle, was not his usual, consistent self on offense, shooting just 6-15 for his 14 points. Gasol’s shots were just unable to find the bottom of the net, but still, big brother did little brother, Bynum proud. Gasol collected 13 rebounds and blocked two shots, adding in a trio of assists for a balanced game. He also wore himself down chasing Lamarcus Aldridge (18 points on 8-17) around.
Kobe Bryant and Derek Fisher, who combined for 30 points on 12-26, didn’t have one of their more efficient scoring nights, but it was their performance at the end of the game that forgave everything that came before it. The final 2:30 minutes of the game went like this: Bryant steal and dunk; Fisher steal and driving layup; Bryant defensive board and floater; Bryant fadeaway; Fisher jumper; Lakers win. With Bryant still nursing (but obviously not coddling) a sprained ankle and both players constantly being barraged with talk of their “decline”, it’s safe to say the Lakers’ captains certainly earned their stripes.
Phil Jackson noted that Matt Barnes’ buzzer-beating three-pointer to end the third quarter started something special. Riding that momentum, the Lakers defended Portland into a 14-point, 28% shooting fourth quarter. And after allowing Nicolas Batum to go off for 19 points in the first half, the Lakers held him to just six points in the second.
That 13-4 and 10-0 run to end the 2nd quarter, not to mention the 9-point lead by Portland, did not deter this veteran squad from fighting for their almost flawless post-All-Star game record. With balanced scoring and more active defense, the Lakers got this win not because they played one of their perfect games, but because they’ve perfected the art of closing them.
Pre-game thoughts: With Andrew Bynum suspended for two games, let’s see how the Lakers fair without their defensive stopper in the paint.
Half-time thoughts: 48-44 – The Lakers had a 9-point lead and thought it’d be enough to keep Portland at bay…until the Blazers went on a 13-4 run, and then a 10-0 run to end the quarter to take the lead. The Lakers are getting outrebounded 23-18, 10-6 in offensive boards giving Portland a 14-6 advantage in 2nd chance points. Their protection in the paint is not nearly as formidable without Bynum and they’re doing nothing against Nicolas Batum, who leads all scores with 19 points on 8-10. Kobe Bryant leads the Lakers with 10 points on 4-8. If the Lakers want to keep the Blazers from exacting revenge for that win in Portland, they need to do more work on the offensive glass and be more aggressive at the hoop. Too many missed bunnies.
Most Thoughtless Play(s)/Player(s) of the Game: The Lakers…until the last six minutes of the fourth quarter – It’s like they wanted to conserve their energy for the final few minutes before playing any lockdown defense, driving to the basket, and rebounding the ball.
Most Thought-filled Play(s)/Player(s) of the Game: Kobe Bryant and Derek Fisher may have been money in the clutch, but if it were not for Lamar Odom, the Lakers may not have even been in the position to win the game. He’s the only Laker who shot more than 50%, plus the double-digit rebounds, plus the leader in assists for the game.