For a moment, it was like déjà vu. Three pointers raining in from everywhere, it seemed – from Brandon Jennings’ hands, Earl Boykins, Drew freakin’ Gooden. Milwaukee Bucks? Looked like the Phoenix Suns for minute there. The only difference was that after hitting 6-10 from downtown in the first half, the Bucks actually went cold, going 3-14 the rest of the way. And the Lakers? They didn’t fall in love with their three as much as the home team did, though such couldn’t be said of Shannon Brown, who shot 4-5 himself from behind the arc. No, the threes didn’t make this game what it was, but the D sure did.
The Milwaukee Bucks boasted a formidable defensive reputation coming into this game. They’ve held teams to 43% shooting, haven’t given up more than 91 points a game and they’d won four of their last five contests. It has been an impressive beginning for a team coming off their first playoff appearance in years. Tonight, however, those stats were pushed back by the defending champions who shot 54% to accumulate 118 points.
Kobe Bryant was all business in this game. His first field goal was off a Derek Fisher deflection that earned him an easy fast break basket plus a free throw. He also went coast to coast for two, threw in a leaning jumper here, a double team with Matt Barnes there, which resulted in another and-1, a touch pass to Pau Gasol for an uncontested dunk, and suddenly he had 31 points on 10-23, was a perfect 11-11 from the free throw line, had seven rebounds and three assists. Bryant did everything needed of him in Milwaukee tonight, except a buzzer beating game winner.
Helping carry the load, however, it was another productive night for Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom, 31 points on 13-24, 17 rebounds and 10 assists. Now with Theo Ratliff out of commission for the next 4-6 weeks, the Lakers’ frontline has thinned further and the Gasol-Odom tandem poured in almost 80 minutes again this evening.
At the Lakers’ beck and call, however, is a hardworking bench who know how to grind it out. Matt Barnes, getting 27 minutes of burn, was not only a spark offensively for the Lakers (nine points on 3-4, 2-2 from 3PT), he was the defensive leader off the bench with four of five of his rebounds on the Bucks’ side of the court and, though he’s only credited with one, blocked Andrew Bogut’s many attempts at a hoop from under the basket late in the fourth quarter.
Shannon Brown, who appears to improve even further with each game, scored 21 points on 7-9, including 4-5 from downtown. Each time the Lakers’ lead was reduced, Brown would hit a timely three to bring the lead back to double digits. His confidence in his shooting ability, and his ability as a player in general, is light years from where it was a season ago and the Lakers are better for it.
Steve Blake (six points on 2-3 from 3PT, two assists and a steal) may not have a box score to compete with the Chris Pauls or Deron Williams of the league, but he plays a veteran role on this team that is invaluable to the success of this season for the Lakers and Phil Jackson and Derek Fisher know it.
Even Devin Ebanks, who tapped the ball from under Corey Magette’s arm and earned himself a dunk and one, and Luke Walton who didn’t score but handed out three assists, are reasons why this Lakers’ bench is so dependable, and the Lakers will need them more than ever on these road games.
The Lakers were and are fully aware of how they let their last two games slide against Denver and Phoenix – defensive deficiency. Their offense had been clicking so soundly that they, though momentarily, took for granted that there is another side of the court. Tonight, they may have scored 118 points, but they won by locking down on shooters (again, they kept Milwaukee to 3-14 from behind the arc in the second half) and though they were outrebounded, they were by only seven.
The road is where a team can measure themselves against themselves and so far the Lakers are standing tall.
Pre-game Thoughts: Let’s try to avoid a 3-game losing streak.
Half-time Thoughts: 57-59 – These Milwaukee Bucks are no flash in the pan it seems. They’ve built on being a playoff team from last season and, shooting 55%, are showing the defending champions they’re here to play.
Most Thoughtless Player(s) of the Game: Whichever official called Lamar Odom on a flagrant-1 for hit the back of Drew Gooden’s arm. Flagrant-1? Really?
Most Thought-filled Player(s) of the Game: The Lakers bench, no question! The Renegades didn’t just fill in empty minutes. They played defense, they scored, and built that lead going into the 4th quarter. 39 points, 10 rebounds, seven assists, four steals and a whole lot of hustle.