And this is why Phil Jackson wasn’t impressed with the team’s 7-game winning streak. Expectations for this Lakers team are high, as they should be, so a winning stretch against mostly sub-par teams was nice, but not remarkable. The theme over the last few weeks, however, was that the Lakers were finally starting to find their groove, playing more focused basketball, trying out a revamped defensive system, etc. But just when they appeared to have turned a real corner in all areas that needed improvement, they came into today’s game and simply went back a step.
After one quarter, the Lakers were fortunate to be down only by five points, considering they shot just 39% to the Clippers’ 52%. They met resistance in multiples each time they came close to the hoop, and their defense was ineffective, with the Clippers beating them 14-8 in points in the paint and the threeball falling for the home team. Despite Blake Griffin’s three fouls in the first half, the Clippers fared more than just well against the Lakers.
They rebounded aplenty, refusing to allow the Lakers more than one chance at scoring and the Lakers put up little resistance, grabbing just 11 offensive rebounds. Pau Gasol (13 points on 5-7, eight rebounds) and Lamar Odom (10 points on 4-8, six rebounds), typically rebounding hoarders, had a combined three offensive rebounds in today’s game. THREE.
Going into the third quarter, Kobe Bryant (27 points on 8-17, nine rebounds, five assists) had just eight points, but as he’d done before, went off on a 14-point scoring run that put the Lakers up 67-55 on a three-pointer. Bryant got everything he wanted with a smaller Eric Gordon guarding him. He scored on fadeaway after fadeway, each time taking the momentum with him. It appeared, at that point, that the Lakers were setting the table for their winning finale. Instead, they got served with plates full of feisty.
Blake Griffin (18 points on 7-20, 15 rebounds, three assists) had just two points when the Clippers went down 12. His long streak of double-doubles and his team in jeopardy of losing, he simply bucked up and played and it paid off. He hit a pair of free throws, scored on a hook shot, dunked and with the help of Eric Gordon (30 points on 13-20, six assists, four steals), cut the double-digit deficit to just three points before the final quarter. With Gordon’s buzzer-beating corner three, the Clippers closed the third with all the momentum. They simply out-hustled, out-played, and just plain out-energized the defending champions.
Before the fourth quarter, John Ireland noted that Phil Jackson specifically told the team to get in Eric Gordon’s way. Gordon, for his part, absolutely torched the Lakers. Whether he went against Ron Artest, Kobe Bryant or Shannon Brown, it was no matter. He still managed to hit two wide-open threes and a dunk in the fourth, negating the Lakers’ efforts to hold on to however small a lead they had to begin the final quarter.
Andrew Bynum was the only other bright spot, other than Kobe Bryant, in this game. He scored 18 points on 7-11, grabbed 13 rebounds and blocked three shots. Had Pau Gasol or Lamar Odom had a similar contribution, this game might’ve ended in the Lakers’ favor.
Add this to the list of losses that should never have happened. The Lakers played their way out of their 31st win tonight, and with just over five seconds of game time left, added insult to injury when Lamar Odom and Ron Artest (along with Blake Griffin and Baron Davis) were ejected after a non-situation turned into more (caused by Davis’ unnecessary need to appear like the leader of this Clippers team).
Much more challenging competition awaits this Lakers team. Let today’s game be just another lesson on the art of closing out your opponents.
Pre-game Thoughts: The Clippers beat Miami because the win clearly meant more to them than the Heat. The Lakers better not make the same mistake Miami did.
Half-time Thoughts: 45-44 – It’s been a hard-fought game for both teams, with the Lakers playing catch-up for a good part of the game, the switching leads. Neither team is shooting efficiently, but the Lakers are getting to the free throw line to stay close. Blake Griffin has been contained due to foul trouble (has 3 already), but Pau Gasol shot just 3-8, meeting multiple defenders each time he’s by the basket. Gasol leads the Lakers with 11 points but is only 3-8. Eric Gordon leads all scores with 13 points. Lakers also need to limit the Clippers’ second chance points.
Most Thoughtless Player(s) of the Game: Pau Gasol – Blake Griffin was playing with three fouls and had produced just eight points coming into the fourth quarter and Gasol simply allowed him to make up for it. Yes, defense is a team effort, and no, Gasol isn’t a defensive stopper, but DO SOMETHING to take Griffin out of the game. Draw fouls, keep a body on him Honorable mention – Baron Davis, for escalating a non-situation into four ejections with just over five seconds left in the game.
Most Thought-filled Player(s) of the Game: L.A. Clippers, for refusing to be intimidated