“It’s against his nature,” Kobe Bryant said about Pau Gasol. “He’s always very nice, very white swan. I need him to be black swan.”
Black Mamba to Black Swan – aid needed on the floor, over.
Copy that, Black Mamba.
Every time the Lakers take on the Houston Rockets, no matter what state either team is in, it’s a battle to the bitter end and tonight was no exception. Each team fought hard, taking turns firing at the other; so much so that a five minute overtime was necessary to finally determine a victor.
After a disappointing Sunday loss to the Celtics, the Laker big men were called out for failing to put up even the slightest ounce of fight against a hated (albeit quite good) rival. With Andrew Bynum out of the line-up for tonight’s game, Lamar Odom and Pau Gasol (especially Pau Gasol), would need to make up some ground for the missing body. They needed to play, as they should anyway, like the skilled players that they are and thankfully for the Lakers, they delivered.
Pau Gasol answered Kobe Bryant’s need for his darker side to emerge. He fought for offensive rebounds and dunked over the crowd of Rockets around the hoop. He positioned himself on the other end to collect boards and prevent second chance points. He finished the night with 26 points, 16 rebounds and four blocks. Except for some defensive lapses (which every Laker on the floor was guilty of at some point in this game), glimpses of Gasol’s black swan did appear. A slew of encore numbers would do the rest of the Laker company a lot of good. Hopefully tonight wasn’t his finale.
Flying alongside Gasol was a riveting 20-point, 20-rebound performance from Lamar Odom. It’s the second in his career and he added four assists for good measure. Odom hit two from behind the arc and just seemed to be in the right place at the right time to receive a pass from Derek Fisher for a jumper, a pass from Kobe Bryant for a swift lefty hook shot, and in one sequence grabbed a board from a missed Houston shot attempt, weaved around backtracking Rockets and scored on a pretty fingerroll.
As effective as Gasol and Odom were tonight, however, it is exactly these types of performances that drive people mad because (mostly with Gasol), it hasn’t happened as consistently as it should this season. Gasol and Odom combined for 36 rebounds tonight. They barely collected 13 against the Celtics. Was the competition a factor? Maybe, but mostly it’s just their pure and simple efforts.
Kobe Bryant, trying to get back to a more balanced game, collected seven assists in the first quarter before scoring a single point. He reached his 5,000th career assist tonight and finished with a double-double, 32 points on 13-25, 11 assists, six rebounds and a steal. Bryant’s offensive efficiency has really shot up the last few weeks. He’s been shooting 50% or better from the field and appears quicker on the floor.
Despite some strong play from the Lakers offensively in this game, however, they have much to work on defensively. With just under three minutes left in the fourth quarter, Odom hit a jumper that gave the Lakers a 96-90 lead. All the home team had to do was play three minutes of solid defense to win the game, but they failed to keep an eye on Luis Scola (24 points on 12-20, 15 rebounds) and Aaron Brooks (16 points on 7-19, eight assists) and next thing you know, the two teams were tied 98-98 and a 5-minute overtime was needed.
Fortunately for the Lakers, they were able to fend off Houston with a 16-8 score in that overtime and can take some confidence gained to Thursday’s game against the NBA-best record San Antonio Spurs.
With the possibility of Andrew Bynum missing from the line-up indefinitely due to a bone bruise in his left knee (does it ever end with Bynum’s knee?), the Laker big men will need to have one strong game after another, and the defense as a whole MUST improve. Defense wins championships. It’s not just a saying.
Pre-game Thoughts: No Andrew Bynum tonight. If there was ever an opportunity for Pau Gasol to redeem himself for playing with so little interest in the last two games, these next few contests without Bynum would be a good time. And it doesn’t matter that Aaron Brooks and Kevin Martin take turns killing the Lakers, or that Luis Scola always seems to outwork whoever is assigned to him. It’s all about the home team’s attitude coming into the game.
Half-time Thoughts: 48-54 – Facilitator Kobe started this game, handing out seven assists before he scored his first points. He’s got 10. Leading all scores with 16 points on 7-12 is Pau Gasol. The Lakers created a 12-point lead, but a few defensive breakdowns in a row brought the Rockets to within striking distance. Houston doesn’t just go away, and if the Lakers want to win this game, they have to remember that.
Most Thoughtless Player(s) of the Game: What’s happened to Ron Artest? He scored nine points on 4-8 but didn’t play a single second of the fourth quarter or overtime.
Most Thought-filled Player(s) of the Game: Three players had double-doubles tonight, but Lamar Odom’s 20 points and 20 rebounds take it. Where was THIS rebound-monger in Sunday’s game?!