That Tree Trifecta of Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom were never on the floor at the same time in today’s game, but as the Utah Jazz know all too well, any two-man combination of the trio is more than a handful.
Having to account for Kobe Bryant, who shot an efficient 12-19 for 31 points, is hard enough, but to have to stifle, or at the very least limit, the power of length that the Lakers own has been, and was today, too much for the Jazz.
The Lakers shot a blistering 79% from the field in the first quarter. The Jazz decided to defend Kobe 1 on 1 and they paid for it with him starting 5-5.
Ball movement and alert and active defense was key in their success early in the game. In one sequence, Pau Gasol blocked a shot, Lamar Odom rebounded and raced cross-court, bounce-passed to Bryant, who quickly touch-passed it back to Odom, who proceeded to fingeroll in an easy 2 points and the foul. He missed the free throw (a common downside to the Lakers’ stat sheet in the playoffs), but it brought the score to 15-24, Lakers. At that point in the first quarter, the Lakers had shot 12-14 from the field.
The rest of the first half was just as efficient, with the bench coming in and giving the Lakers an even greater lift. Luke Walton and Lamar Odom both attempted and converted on the team’s first two three-pointers to increase the home team’s lead to 14.
Bynum’s role with the second unit has been established of late, drawing in the defense inside, which opens up the perimeter to a slew of offensive options. Able to see over the two or three opponents hindering his space, he assisted on a wide open 18-footer from Jordan Farmar.
As Bryant stated in his post-game 6 interview last week, the two teams know each other’s offensive and defensive plays so well that no scouting reports were necessary to prepare for this second round match-up.
For the Lakers, the issue of keeping another talented point guard at bay is nothing new. Deron Williams, as tough as he is savvy, may have hurt his elbow in the last round against Denver, and he may have fallen on a sore shoulder twice in today’s game, but he still managed 24 points and 8 assists. Not accounting for Jazz’s other players, however, is something the Lakers need to plan for. C.J. Miles and rookie Wesley Matthews can be credited (along with the Laker bench) for their comeback in the fourth quarter.
The Jazz surged ahead in the fourth with both Deron Williams and Carlos Boozer sitting on the bench. It wasn’t as difficult a task, with the Lakers unable to score on a field goal until six minutes into the quarter. With the road team suddenly up by four, Bryant did his work, scoring 11 of the Lakers’ 23 fourth quarter points. Bryant shot over numerous outstretched Jazz hands (pun totally intended), drove to the basket with very little to no resistance (!) and when he missed, Odom was there to grab the offensive rebound and quick lay up.
In the end, the Lakers went on a 15-6 run in the last four minutes to get a 1-0 lead in the series.
In his post-game interview, Odom expressed frustration at the reserve unit’s disappointing play in the final quarter. He cited a failure to communicate as the greatest factor, but sounded determined to remedy the situation before the next game.
Phil Jackson stated that he wanted to give the bench players a chance to right their wrongs, to see if they could pull themselves out of their inefficiency so late in the game. With the Jazz suddenly down by only a point in the fourth, he had no choice but to pull them out, with the exception of Odom, in place of the starters. Jackson stated that he also gave Odom an opportunity to make up for his slightly disappointing play in the first half by getting into foul trouble. And did Odom ever make amends!
Bynum played a little under 25 minutes and admits that jumping and landing creates discomfort in his knee, but his presence on the floor, along with Gasol and Odom, will be the source of the Jazz’s demise in this series. The trio combined for 42 points, 34 rebounds, and 7 blocks. If the Lakers continue to capitalize on their advantages (length and Kobe Bryant), improve on some extras (bench help and free throw shooting), this will be a very short series in favor of the defending champions.
Pre-game Thoughts: A 1-0 lead and Andrew Bynum still intact — that’s all we can ask for in this first game of the 2nd round.
Half-time Thoughts: 45-53 – The Lakers were dominant for the most of the first half, but they continue to let the Jazz work their way in. The home team should be up by 20 right now.
Most Thoughtless Player(s) of the Game: Lakers bench — they gave the team a boost in the first half, running the offense and playing defense to increase the lead to 14. In the second half, they allowed the Jazz to take the lead.
Most Thought-filled Player(s) of the Game: Pau Gasol and Kobe Bryant both had efficient and dominating games, but tonight’s spotlight shines on Lamar Odom, for his hustle and determined play in the fourth quarter. Odom’s box score will never amount to the impact his presence has on the floor.