Eric Bledsoe saw an open lane and drove to the hoop. He tossed up a floater but his attempt changed directions when it met the long arm of Andrew Bynum. A half a moment later, DeAndre Jordan grabbed the offensive rebound from Bledsoe’s miss and rose to get a shot up himself, but the ball was met, again, by the hand of Bynum. The moral of this story – if you have a skilled 7-footer who can defend as well as he can score, you let the trade deadline pass without moving him, so thank you, Mitch Kupchack.
Bynum, with his 16 points on 6-10, 11 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals and 1 block may not be a defensive stopper, but he sure makes players think twice when he gets in their way. If his stat line is reflective of anything, let it be indicative of his offensive aggression (getting in at least 10 attempts, which is a good number for this team full of scorers), effort (double digit boards) and his ability to see himself as more than just a big body who can muscle up a dunk (four dimes).
Playing just as actively as Bynum was his fellow 7-footer, Pau Gasol, whose jumper from outside the paint (and I know I’ve said this a hundred times this season but it deserves mentioning), is just as lethal as his left-handed hook shots. Gasol, aka the Black Swan, was a force with which the Clippers could not reckon in the first half. He had 18 points after two quarters, and finished with 22 on an almost perfect 8-9 from the field, not to mention a flawless 6-6 from the free throw line. He also handed out four assists and blocked two shots. The only black mark from his evening were the four rebounds. Gasol averages10.50 rpg. There is absolutely no excuse for pulling down less than half of that average.
And where Gasol left off in the first half, Kobe Bryant took over in the second, or more like the third quarter. After Randy Foye (24 points, 5-8 from 3PT and 9-9 from the line) bumped his elbow, Bryant asked to leave the game late in the second quarter. He spent a good amount of time on the bench clutching his bandage-filled hand and massaging his right elbow. In simplest terms, he hit his funny bone. After halftime, however, he returned wearing a sleeve containing elbow padding. To some, it may look and feel awkward, but to Bryant, it was a new challenge and, as usual, he met it head-on. Bryant had just six points in the first half, and then exploded for 18 points, outscoring the Clippers who scored just 17 points in the third quarter. He tossed in a long two, hit two three pointers, sent up a floater and shot fadeaway after fadeaway. His scoring surge in the third helped give the Lakers an 18-point lead after three quarters and kept the starters on the bench during the fourth (save for Andrew Bynum). Maybe Bryant should hurt that funny bone more often.
The Laker reserves have had a mixed bag of production all season; their best shining through with the presence of Matt Barnes (due to return to action in about a week, according to Phil Jackson). Until Barnes returns, however, the bench has been trying to keep it together and tonight they contributed 33 points, 16 rebounds, and 12 assists. Shannon Brown, in particular, looked much more aggressive than he has been lately. He shot just 4-14, but his efforts were also put to use defensively (he had three steals). On one of his steals, he took the ball and dribbled down the court and threw up a circus shot who’s momentum sent him sliding across the floor and onto and over his head.
It was a good win for the Lakers, who were prepared in the second half defensively, allowing the Clippers to score just 17 points in the third quarter. Their turnovers, which have been in abundance in the last few games, were kept to just 7 giveaways. The Lakers shot 8-16 from behind the arc and assisted on 33 of the 43 made shots. The lead ballooned to as much as 26 points.
On Sunday, they face the Oklahoma City Thunder, minus the new acquisitions, Kendrick Perkins and Nate Robinson. If the Lakers play with as much intensity as they did in the second half of tonight’s game, they will, indeed give themselves the best chance to win. With OKC riding on the heels of the Lakers in the standings, and the Lakers hoping to have home court advantage for at least two of the three rounds in the Western Conference, it will surely be a battle.
Pre-game Thoughts: The Clippers are without Baron Davis and Eric Gordon, not to mention their two new imports, Mo Williams and Jamario Moon. The Lakers need to take advantage of the short roster, prevent as many Blake Griffin highlights, work the offense from inside and keep the turnovers to a minimum.
Half-time Thoughts: 50-52 – DeAndre Jordan just strolled through the lane and scored on an uncontested layup to end the second quarter, which pretty much sums up the Lakers’ “defense” in the first half. Despite shooting just 36% to the Lakers’ 49%, the Clippers are within just two points because they’ve made almost twice as many trips to the free throw line as the home team. Pau Gasol leads all scores with 18 points but has just two rebounds. The Lakers need to clean up the glass (Clippers are a +10 on the boards) and tighten the defense without fouling or they’ll spend the rest of the second half watching the Clippers shooting from the charity stripe.
Most Thoughtless Play(s)/Player(s) of the Game: Laker defense in the first half – for allowing 31 points and 52% shooting in the first quarter, and then inviting an uncontested, buzzer-beating layup to end the second quarter.
Most Thought-filled Play(s)/Player(s) of the Game: The Black Swanba, as Coach Dave Miller has so named the Kobe Bryant/Pau Gasol duo. Gasol took over the first half, and Bryant took over in the second. Talk about a one-two punch!