Enough with the double-digit blowouts.
Enough with the perfect games.
Enough with the starters sitting out the fourth quarter.
If Laker fans and NBA analysts were waiting for the Lakers to be truly tested, tonight was definitely the night. The young Chicago Bulls, led by future All-Star point guard Derrick Rose (30 points, eight assists), and coached by former Celtics defensive coach, Tom Thibodeau, came into Staples center with their 7-4 record, a whole lot of energy and a whole lot of swagger, and who could blame them? Derrick Rose, fresh off a World Championship gold medal kind of summer, is averaging 25.2 ppg and 8.1 apg. Alongside him is teammate Joakim Noah (19 points, 13 rebounds), a player second in the league in rebounding with 13.3 rpg. The Lakers surely had their hands full with Phil Jackson’s old team, but in the end, showed the visitors exactly why they’re defending champions.
Champions don’t expect perfect games from themselves every night, but they demand the perfect effort and the Lakers put in the work despite not having everything work for them for a change. The home team took this win despite being outrebounded (46-38), despite gathering 12 turnovers, despite shooting just 39.5% and despite a bad game from the most efficient Laker of all, Pau Gasol.
Gasol, coming off a perfect game against the Warriors, was not himself tonight. The Bulls undoubtedly planned to zero in on Gasol, packing the paint and hindering his shot whenever possible and it worked. He went 3-10 from the field for his 12 points and was continuously outplayed and outhustled by a pesky Joakim Noah. His first points came from two free throws late in the first quarter, and he didn’t hit his first field goal until the second quarter. Despite an off night offensively, however, Gasol still lived up to his double-double average, collecting 11 rebounds, and in addition, blocked five shots, assisted on four field goals and had two steals.
Kobe Bryant, hounded all evening by the likes of Luol Deng and Keith Bogans…and let’s face it, by every player on the floor wearing a red uniform, was familiar with Coach Thibodeu’s defensive schemes. With single coverage, he shot the ball or attacked the hoop, going 8-18 from the field for his 20 points. When double-teamed, Bryant is skilled at passing out of traps no matter where he’s cornered and tonight he handed out five assists and sent countless hockey passes across the floor, including one pass midway through the fourth quarter that went to Shannon Brown, who passed to an open Steve Blake for three.
With Gasol unable to score at will, Lamar Odom filled in, piling on 21 points on 7-13, going 7-7 from the line and grabbed eight boards. Odom played fiercely tonight, attacking the basket and being rewarded for it with three and-1’s, all of which he converted.
The strength and depth of this Lakers squad was in full display this evening, with Shannon Brown leading the way for the reserves. By halftime, Brown had 18 of the bench’s 23 points and he ended the evening with 21 points on 7-14 from the field and 5-10 from 3PT. In the final quarter, with the Bulls having cut into the Lakers earlier double-digit lead, Steve Blake and Matt Barnes hit three consecutive shots from behind the arc and before the Bulls knew what was happening, the lead went from three to 12. In all, the Lakers bench outscored Chicago’s reserves 39-10.
This was a challenging game for the Lakers, probably their most challenging opponent thus far, but it sure showed the league (and probably reminded the Lakers themselves) what they’re made of. They’re not a one-man (or even three-man) team who has no back-up plan when their main scorer(s) has an off night. They’re not a one-trick pony who can only score from inside or only score from the perimeter. What they lack in youth and exuberance, they make up for with patience and veteran know-how. This was the first of many challenges for this team, but they appear poised to meet them head-on. That’s what champions do.
Pre-game Thoughts: The string of sub-standard competition ends tonight. The Chicago Bulls are no Detroit Pistons and they’re certainly nothing like the defenseless Golden State Warriors.
Half-time Thoughts: 49-51 – Good competitive game, and an impressive showing by Chicago’s Derrick Rose (16 points, 7 assists) and Shannon Brown (18 points, 4-6 from 3PTin 14:26 min of play). The Lakers’ defense is yet to find its way into this game. There have been some forced turnovers but in general, the paint’s been an open playground for Chicago. Pau Gasol is getting outplayed and outmuscled by Joakim Noah. He’s only accumulated 5 points on 1-3 and 3 rebounds, which is a little pathetic relative to what he’s capable of. If the Lakers want to win this game, the rebounds and the activity level in general need an upgrade.
Most Thoughtless Player(s) of the Game: Derek Fisher, 0-6 from the field and zero assists. El Capitan was not the most helpful offensively but how much can one really have left in the tank after having to chase Derrick Rose all night.
Most Thought-filled Player(s) of the Game: It’s tough to say tonight with Kobe Bryant and Lamar Odom having big nights, but the Laker bench helped win this one. They extended leads, and in the fourth quarter, tripled their way to a win, hitting four three-pointers in the fourth quarter to get the lead to 83-95.