“There’s no sense of urgency in this team right now,” a very candid Phil Jackson said to Bill MacDonald before the game. He also added, “And the coaches can’t push the stick hard enough up their butts to do it.” Talk about honesty.
Phil and the rest of the Lakers coaching staff looked more dejected and frustrated during the last road trip than they have been all season, and who could blame them?
The team was given a 5-0 challenge before they set off for a week and a half away from Staples Center, and managed to come 3 games short of completing the mission.
They played some of the most unfocused, uninspired, spiritless games that were far from what championship-caliber ball should look like and this game tonight was an undeniable must-win for this team.
A homecoming game against the red-hot Utah Jazz posed a welcome opportunity to play better in front of a friendly audience, but it also came with one gigantic caveat. A road trip wrought with quick guards, the likes of Russell Westbrook, Aaron Brooks, Chris Paul, and Jamal Crawford, it was only fitting, in a challenging post All-Star Game schedule, that even the first home game after a road trip would be against another thorn in the collective Laker foot — Deron Williams.
A team’s first field goal is often indicative of how the rest of the game will play out. The Lakers’ first points came from a running Kobe Bryant pass to a flying Lamar Odom, and that was just the beginning.
The first quarter for the home team was one filled with energy on both ends of the court. Laker defense stifled the Jazz into a mere 16 quarter points to the Lakers’ 33, and Lamar’s 11 points were quite the contribution.
Paul Gasol had only five points in the first period, but he also had four assists, an indication of the part he played in tonight’s game — facilitator extraordinaire. Pau finished with a near triple double, collecting 14 points, 16 rebounds and 9 assists. He can pass the rock just as well as he can shoot with that left hand, and his nine assists of the evening is a reminder that his skills go way beyond scoring. He hit Derek with an entry pass for a quick lay-up, threw an overhead pass to a slashing Lamar. There is a reason Pau asks for as many touches as he can get. The man’s size, his court vision, not to mention his passing skills — all are unmatched by any 7-footer in the league.
Though the lead swelled to 19 points in the second quarter, the Jazz, never a team easily discouraged, rode the offensive coattails of Deron Williams, unguardable for 20 points and 10 assists in the game. He is often placed second to Chris Paul on the elite list of point guards, but his game is more muscle than quickness and his savvy is Jazz gold.
The rest of the game played out with each team taking turns at wheel of momentum. Though the Jazz closed the gap to four points with 10:33 minutes left in the game, Lamar checked in after having sat for most of the third quarter due to foul trouble, and took over. He hit a three, then completed an and-1, and then hit another from downtown.
Before you could say, “We Want Tacos!” the Laker lead was back to 17 and the home team never looked back.
Tonight’s win was a definite group effort, as every victory should be. Kobe Bryant finished with 25 points, but only succeeded five times in 23 attempts. He acquired a great portion of his point total from the free throw line which, since he managed to get there 18 times, was a silver lining.
Derek Fisher, who finished with 14 points on 5-7 shooting, hit his two first shot attempts in the game, and for someone whose scoring contribution is not relied on often, early activity at the hoop was a welcome sight.
The Laker bench collected 19 points, eight rebounds and five assists, an improvement to be sure.
Every starter sat on the bench in the fourth quarter, laughing and cheering on as the reserves finished the last four minutes. The bench players even managed a crowd-rousing sequence.
D.J. Mbenga blocked a Utah attempt to score, Sasha Vujacic rebounded, ran and passed to a sprinting Jordan Farmar, who threw up a lob for a Josh Powell dunk. If they could play with as much energy as they did in those last few minutes, their contributions would be valuable.
In his post-game interview, Lamar said that what the team holds most important right now is just “playing the right way.” With the post-season looming, let’s hope this game was another beginning to a great ending.
Pre-game Thoughts: Home sweet home.
Half-time Thoughts: Lakers are up by nine. Yes, they lost a 19-point lead, but the point is they’re UP.
Most Thoughtless Player(s) of the Game: Kobe Bryant — managed 25 points, but had to take 23 shots to get it. Yikes! Thank goodness for your 3-year extension though.
Most Thought-filled Player(s) of the Game: Lamar Odom — season high 26 points on 11/14 (including 3 from downtown), 10 rebounds, 3 assists, one block, and only one turnover. He was a whopping +30 tonight! It is amazing how different a team the Lakers look when Odom is aggressive on the floor.