Oh curses, shmurses. That’s two in a row at the Rose Garden for the Lakers (including last season). Me thinks I feel the turning of the tide, and hopefully for good this time. This is how Champions pursue victory after all – by being patient yet persistent; cautious yet confident.
The Lakers could have taken their early 10-2 lead to start the game and run with it. Instead, they allowed the Blazers to go on a 9-0 run to take the lead; a lead that would jostle back and forth for much of the first quarter until the home team captured a lead that would last for the greater part of the game. But not even a double digit lead in the fourth quarter could force these Lakers to mail it in. That’s not how they operate, and thank goodness for that.
One reason for Portland’s success early in this game was Lamarcus Aldridge. In the first half alone he had already scored 18 of his 29 points on 8-10 from the field. He also grabbed 14 rebounds and had three steals. Whether guarded by Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom or Andrew Bynum, Aldridge was in his own world, scoring from wherever, whenever and over whomever he pleased. Having taken on leadership responsibilities in place of the injured Brandon Roy, Aldridge’s play of late left everyone wondering why he wasn’t included on the All-Star team.
Playing just as well behind Aldridge were Nicolas Batum (22 points on 7-16, 4-9 from 3PT) and Wesley Matthews (22 points on 9-18). Unfortunately, other than these three Blazers, the home team didn’t get much from anyone else.
Lucky for the Lakers, their roster is stacked with players who, you know, can do stuff. And at the top of the heap tonight for putting out his right stuff was Ron Artest. His first three to put the Lakers on the board should have been a warning signal to Portland – CAUTION: WILL SHOOT FROM BEHIND THIS LINE AND SCORE. Artest put up 24 points on 8-13, including 5-6 from beyond the arc! He also had six rebounds, four assists and two steals.
Kobe Bryant was 4-15 in the first half but went 10-16 in the second. His clutch mentality (no matter what that Blazer fan Henry Abbott says) is unmatched. With the Lakers behind by seven points, he threw a pass to Artest for three. He then followed that with back to back fadeaways that tied the score and gave the team a 5-minute long chance at victory in the city that has been so strangely difficult for them. In overtime he hit yet another jumper and converted all six of his free throws.
With just over 19 seconds left in overtime, the Blazers had a chance to inch closer to the score when Pau Gasol (18 points on 8-15, 14 rebounds, five assists and a block) was called for a foul and Aldridge was given two free throws…both of which he missed, thereby cementing his team’s demise.
It wasn’t the easiest, most seamless win for the Lakers (because that honor goes to the 55-point blowout vs. Cleveland), but it was probably one of their hardest fought victories. These are the types of wins that are encouraging; even moreso than the occasional blowout. While double-digit wins are fun and less stressful, it is the ability to overcome deficits or play tenaciously in tight games that show the most character. Tonight, the defending champs trailed in just the first quarter, tied Portland in the second, and then won every quarter thereafter, including overtime. They shot 11-18 from behind the arc, hit 13 of their 15 free throws.
The Lakers made adjustments all game long, despite the bad calls, the missed calls, the flurry of turnovers (16), etc. They provided themselves the best chances to win this game by strengthening their defense, running their offense properly, and rebounding. Sometimes, it really is just that simple.
Pre-game Thoughts: Hit 40 before you hit 20 – That was Phil Jackson’s message to the team. Get to 40 wins before you get to 20 losses. Not the best place to encourage this since a win at the Rose Garden has become the impossible dream for the Lakers, but they won it last season, and that was without Kobe in the line-up. Maybe the tide is finally turning…maybe.
Half-time Thoughts: 41-47 – The Lakers had an early 10-2 lead but in typical game-at-the-Rose-Garden fashion, they eventually trailed and continued to do so until the break. Neither team has played perfectly, but it’s obvious who is locked into this game more and it’s not the players in purple and gold. Portland’s Lamarcus Aldridge already has 18 points on 8-10. Lamar Odom was hit with his third foul with still four minutes left in the second quarter so Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol will more than likely play more minutes to compensate. Kobe Bryant is 4-15 from the field but has five assists. If the Lakers want to give themselves a real chance to win this game, the defense has to be quicker, the rebounding has to improve, and the turnovers have to stop.
Most Thoughtless Play(s)/Player(s) of the Game: It sounds like such a cop-out to blame officiating but some of tonight’s calls (and non-calls) were so out of this world ridiculous that it bears mentioning. If Rudy Fernandez’s clear out of bounds call was actually called, an overtime wouldn’t have been necessary. Lamarcus Aldridge AND Joel Pryzbilla hacking Andrew Bynum AT THE SAME TIME with a referee standing three feet away and no free throws? That was just as bad too. But in the end, the Lakers got the win. Just goes to show that it is indeed possible to play through questionable officiating.
Most Thought-filled Play(s)/Player(s) of the Game: Kobe Bryant was clutch down the stretch but the Lakers won this game due to the play of Ron Artest. That run to end the fourth quarter may have been punctuated by Bryant’s back to back field goals, but it was Artest who kept the team in this game.