Actions speak louder than words, but today, the words spoken said more than any big jump shot, rebound or block ever could.
“This was a measuring stick game for us and we didn’t meet the challenge,” Kobe Bryant said. Well, YOU met the challenge, Kobe, but the rest of your team didn’t seem as interested.
“I didn’t think anybody else wanted the ball [and] we just didn’t move [it] the way we wanted to and do the things we said we were gonna do to start the game,” Phil Jackson said. The team’s been doing that all season – going the opposite direction of the proven plan of execution.
“There’s still time to get better,” Lamar Odom said. Aah, here lies the enigma of this Lakers team. This “time to get better” business might have been a good reason for shortcomings…20 games ago. These Lakers aren’t an expansion team and they’re not a lottery-bound team. They’re a DEFENDING CHAMPIONSHIP TEAM, and the two things this season that have divided their wins from their losses had nothing to do with time. It had everything to do with their common sense and some simple, plain ol’ effort.
Phil Jackson said, with a smirk on his face, that the only player they did a good job defending was Shaquille O’Neal who had zero points on 0-2. As it usually is, when the Lakers play anyone, especially the Celtics, the one item under endless scrutiny is their defense, and the advantage that is SUPPOSED to swing the Lakers’ way in this area is the presence of their two 7-footers, Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol.
Before Friday’s loss against the Kings, the Lakers looked to have improved in bunches on the defensive end when Bynum (11 points on 3-6, six rebounds) returned to the line-up. But despite having that big body on the floor, defense is, and always will be, a concerted effort, and Bynum has been going at it in the paint alone. A perfect example came early in the third quarter when Paul Pierce drove baseline and rather than Gasol coming in to provide some help, merely looked on as Bynum took his fourth foul.
Pau Gasol, for all his efforts the last two seasons to shed the “soft” label, has reverted back to his spineless, jellyfish ways. He shot just 5-13 for his 12 points because he settled for odd-looking, uncharacteristic attempts from outside the painted area, rather than showing some aggression by going strong at the basket for higher percentage scoring and the chance to get fouled and put up some free throws. This Gasol is a far cry from his Game 7 version that scored 19 points and fought for 18 rebounds. Operative word: fought. There was hardly, if any, fight in Gasol today, and his seven measly rebounds as the sixth best rebounder in the NBA at 10.6 rpg says it all.
Lamar Odom (15 points on 6-8), ninth in the league in rebounding with 9.5 rpg, collected just five boards today. His explanation in a post-game interview was that with the Celtics shooting 60%, there was nothing to rebound. It’s a sensible explanation for his four defensive boards, but it doesn’t explain his ONE offensive rebound. The Lakers shot just 44%. There were a lot of boards to be had on their end of the floor and neither Odom, nor Gasol and Bynum can use the Celtics’ efficient offense to excuse their eight offensive rebounds COMBINED. The Lakers are in fact, third in the league in rebounding with 44.1 rpg and the Celtics are dead last with 38.4 rpg. Today, Boston out-rebounded the home team 43-30.
Ron Artest, the Lakers’ supposed defensive leader, didn’t do much himself, having defended Paul Pierce into 32 points on 11-18. Artest looked slow, unable to even keep up with Pierce and shot just 1-10 from the field. Had his efforts on the Celtic forward been more effective, his little production on the offensive end wouldn’t be so magnified.
For the lack of work put in by the Lakers’ frontcourt, they had their backcourt captains putting in the work. Derek Fisher (five points on 1-6) may not have imposed the magnitude of offensive will he displayed in last season’s Game 3 effort in Boston, but he showed more scrappiness and fight on the defensive end (four steals) at 6’2” than his 21 feet of big men did.
Kobe Bryant, who has reached an efficient offensive game of late, poured in 41 points on 16-29. It was, as it always is, a sight to see when Bryant is shooting over, around, below and above his defenders, but as is usually the case, he can’t do it alone. He had zero assists, which is uncommon due to his distributive efforts of late, but realizing that help wasn’t, well, helping, he took it upon himself to carry the scoring load. Phil Jackson mentioned that the coaching staff drew up plays for other players not named Bryant, but still the team failed to execute. Each time Bryant cut into the deficit, the Lakers’ defensive failures pushed them behind time and again.
No rousing speeches were made by either Lakers captain, and after three straight trips to the NBA finals and back-to-back Championships, is there a need, really, for more pep talks, encouraging words or inspiring play from Fisher or Bryant? How much longer do we have to wait for veterans Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom to determinately step in and help lead this team, for a change?
This Lakers team needs to leave this “time to get better” philosophy behind. They’re defending a title. They should be continuing to get better. If they can’t tell the difference now, they’re only making this season more difficult on themselves than it has to be.
Pre-game Thoughts: Lakers-Celtics…nothing left to be said.
Half-time Thoughts: 50-54 – A much different offensive game for the Lakers since they last met the Celtics, and a significantly different game from Kobe Bryant who has 22 points on 8-11. The Lakers started out sluggish, but they picked up their defense and went on a 13-2 run in the 2nd to close the gap and eventually take the lead. The second half should be another close one.
Most Thoughtless Player(s) of the Game: Lakers starting front court, who combined for 13 rebounds, while Kevin Garnett, ALONE, grabbed 13of his own. Don’t blame this game on Kobe Bryant’s offensive efforts. He wouldn’t have had to resort to that if he had some more help from his beg men. 23 points and 13 rebounds? That could be the stat line of ONE player, not two skilled and capable 7-footers.
Most Thought-filled Player(s) of the Game: Kobe Bryant – for putting everything HE had into the game, which is more than can be said of the rest of his team (except maybe Derek Fisher, who at least played some defense).