“He’s a strong kid and he’s got a big heart,” Pau Gasol said of Andrew Bynum. “I trust his will to fight through this.”
And by through this, Gasol meant the hyperextension of Bynum’s surgically repaired right knee. Yes, he stepped on DuJuan Blair’s foot, fell to the ground and sat there for a time, grabbing his knee…again. It’s a played out scene, true. But unlike previous instances, Bynum did walk to the locker room on his own and he assured Phil Jackson at half-time and the media after the game that he was feeling good. His MRI tomorrow (which will force him to miss the last game of the season up in Sacramento) should provide more insight into the severity of the injury.
In the meantime, Bynum was the third Laker added to the list of missing players in tonight’s game. With Steve Blake out with the chicken pox and Matt Barnes down due to soreness in his own surgically repaired knee, the Lakers worked a skeleton crew with rarely used Joe Smith and Theo Ratliff cracking the rotation in the first half. The Spurs, meanwhile, did the same, but the non-participation of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobli were intentional. It didn’t, however, keep the game from being a close one.
Stu Lantz said during the broadcast that the Lakers lately just haven’t been able to appreciate prosperity and it was glaringly obvious in the few double digit leads they gave up. With the understaffed (and undersized) Spurs, the Lakers (AGAIN!) continued to toss up perimeter shots rather than playing their inside game. A team with skillful scorers in 7-foot Pau Gasol and 6’11” Lamar Odom should not be attempting 19 three pointers in a game. Eventually, however, they reminded themselves and followed suit.
With three players out, players had to make do with the long minutes. Taking on the most was Pau Gasol, who played over 40 minutes in tonight’s game. He had 17 points on 7-12 and picked up his rebounding with 17 boards. He also had five assists, one block and zero turnovers. Whether Kobe Bryant is the team’s anchor is beside the point. Gasol is, simply put, their cash cow on offense and the Lakers don’t take enough advantage of him. He just makes good things happen when he’s got the ball in his hands. His eyes are sharp when it comes to reading his teammates’ positions and setting them up for a shot. He can shoot just as easily from 17-19 feet away as he can around the rim. He can even run the break when he has the opportunity.
When it comes to running the break, the Lakers are fortunate to have two big men who can take care of it. Lamar Odom is another piggy bank for this team. With some of his teammates out of commission, the Lakers need him to do more, and so he did, going off for 21 of his 23 points in the second half. He was 9-18 for the game, grabbed seven rebounds and handed out four assists. If the importance of his role as a sixth man on this Laker team was not solidified tonight, who knows what voters are looking for. Odom, who played over 36 minutes, led this team to end that losing streak at five games. His shots came from the perimeter; they came from the paint, from the free throw line. As he usually does in every game, Mr. Versatility did it all tonight.
Sitting on 15 technical fouls, Kobe Bryant chipped in 26 points on 8-21, hit all nine of his free throws, grabbed six rebounds and sent off four assists. Bryant drew his third personal foul right before the first half ended and he was not happy, yelling after the officials and then slamming a towel onto the ground when he got to the bench. But he managed to play with the five fouls and the Lakers got their win.
Tomorrow is the final game of the season – wow! It may be the last game up in Sacramento for the Kings and the Lakers need to win that game to assure them the 2nd spot in the Western Conference Standings. Yes, it would have a been a nice battle to watch had the Spurs and Lakers been fighting for the #1 seed in the West, but things didn’t turn out that way and, as Pau Gasol said in his post-game interview about Bynum’s injury, and as we fans must face after this unusual end to the regular season, it is what it is.
Pre-game Thoughts: Steve Blake is out indefinitely with the chicken pox. Matt Barnes is out again with knee issues. Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobli are all planning to sit this game out. Really, there’s no telling what this game will bring. All we fans want is a Laker win.
Half-time Thoughts: 45-45 – So it wasn’t enough that Steve Blake and Matt Barnes are out indefinitely, but Andrew Bynum stepped on DuJuan Blair’s foot and hyper extended his knee so he’s been added to the list too? And after leading by double digits to this San Antonio Spurs B-team, the Lakers seem to have lost some mojo and are now even at half-time. Kobe Bryant got his 3rd foul before the 2nd quarter ended and the momentum is all Spurs going into the second half. Lakers shot 40% compared to the Spurs’ 33%, and after the allowed on 15 points to their opponent in the opening quarter, let them have a 30-point second. The Lakers absolutely need to get it together to win these next two games if they want to keep the #2 seat in the West. They look uninspired and dejected after that first half. They need to recover, and quickly.
Most Thoughtless Play(s)/Player(s) of the Game: DuJuan Blair’s foot – get out of Andrew Bynum’s way, for goodness sakes! Just kidding! (Come on, Laker fans, laugh – it’ll be okay). The Lakers, in general, were thoughtless in spurts tonight. Why, against a downsized and significantly smaller San Antonio team, would you jack up perimeter shot after perimeter shot…after perimeter shot? The Lakers could’ve iced this game in the second quarter if they let Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom do all the scoring inside. Heck, Theo Ratliff could’ve gotten some scoring opportunities if he wanted had the team stuck to their post game. Instead they let the Spurs hang around, and they had to work that much harder to eke out this win, on the first night of a back to back. Hopefully this lackadaisical, non-sensical way of playing their game doesn’t carry over into the playoffs.
Most Thought-filled Play(s)/Player(s) of the Game: Lamar Odom – where would the Lakers be without their utility player, stepping into whatever position they need him to fill. 21 points in the second half? Give him the Sixth Man of the Year award already.