What could be worse than the Bulls scoring just 12 points in the first quarter? How about the Lakers scoring just 10 in the second? After an inspiring 12 minutes of lock-down defense and ball movement galore, the Lakers shot just 4-15 and committed seven turnovers in the second quarter. They just absolutely kill you, don’t they?
The visitors seemed poised to have another great game after their harrowing win against the Clippers, and Lamar Odom and Pau Gasol were determined to make up for their lackluster performance on Wednesday night. Odom (18 points on 7-12, eight rebounds, three assists, two blocks) and Gasol (21 points on 9-15, eight rebounds, four assists, four blocks) owned 18 of the Lakers’ 22 first quarter points. If only they’d continue such aggressive effort throughout.
After scoring 14 straight points in that first quarter, and forcing the Bulls to miss nine shots in a row, not only was the Lakers’ offense clicking; their defense was as well. It appeared a safe assumption that they would duplicate such production throughout the course of the game. IT APPEARED that way anyhow. But as we’ve done often this season, we judged the Lakers by their first quarter cover, and then dismissed the confusing and annoying parts, waiting for the story to get good and exciting. Instead we get to the last few pages and seconds, and just when we think the hero will make an appearance to save the day, we’re instead left scratching our heads and wondering, “What just happened?”
The second half of that second quarter belonged to the Chicago Bulls. Derrick Rose, Kyle Korver and Luol Deng each hit a three-pointer, one after the other and that’s all they needed. From there they were a runaway train which the defending champs would not, could not stop. A few unanswered jump shots and layups later, and the Bulls had erased that double digit deficit and turned it into a lead going into halftime.
The Lakers managed to get the lead back when Gasol threw a bullet pass to a cutting Kobe Bryant (23 points on 9-23, seven assists, five rebounds), but the lead changed back and forth and after three quarters, the Bulls had an eight-point lead; a lead they did not relinquish the rest of the game.
The Lakers attempted a comeback of sorts, chipping away into Chicago’s 12-point lead by capitalizing on consecutive turnovers by the Bulls. They cut the lead down to three but could not get over the hump. Odom turned the ball over to Korver. Bryant missed a free throw that would have cut the lead to two with just over 11 seconds left. Missed three-point attempts every which way they looked. In the end, the team who worked the hardest and the worked the longest won the game.
The Lakers seem to be hitting all the wrong milestones this season. On a night that Kobe Bryant surpassed John Havlicek as the 11th highest scorer in the NBA, the Lakers helped the Bulls end their 0-7 record against them. Indiana also ended their losing streak at Staples Center. And for the first time since the spring of 2007, the Lakers lost four games in a row.
In Denver, they led by 12 points in the third quarter but lost by six. In Utah, they led by as many as 18 points going into the second quarter, and lost by six then too. Against Indiana and Memphis, they managed to stay close but couldn’t finish and lost both. In Houston, holding a small lead with three minutes left in the game, the Lakers allowed Shane Battier to single-handedly beat them in crunch time. An unfamiliar phenomenon has hurt the Lakers this season and it’s not the laundry list of injuries or massive amount of minutes being logged by Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom. It’s a failure to either finish teams off or play sensibly in crunch time.
The Lakers’ best road record in the regular season? That was a feat two seasons ago. Kobe Bryant’s heroic buzzer beaters? Those were last season’s gold. Finally beating the Blazers in Portland, defeating Utah, San Antonio and being a few possessions away from beating the Celtics, all when Kobe Bryant and Andrew Bynum were out? Those were last season’s accomplishments as well. Those Lakers were tough-minded, nose to the grindstone, veteran soldiers mixed in with eager, energetic young players. This Lakers team still can’t seem to put it together long enough to avoid having to win by the skin of their teeth.
Getting Andrew Bynum back, or having a healthy Theo Ratliff and Derrick Caracter available may improve the Lakers’ chances of winning just by providing extra bodies. If that is what the Lakers are waiting for to become their championship selves, they’ll fall off contention completely. It’s the proper collective attitude they’re missing, the collective swagger, the collective desire to win for each other.
Pre-game Thoughts: The Bulls almost beat the Lakers in their last meeting, but if they can contain Derrick Rose and beat Joakim Noah to the boards, they should be in good shape.
Half-time Thoughts: 32-36 – The Lakers were up by as many as 13 points, but a 2nd quarter Bulls run left the defending champs clamoring for any way to score. A lost 1st quarter lead? We’ve seen this before and this season, it’s rarely turned out well for the Lakers.
Most Thoughtless Player(s) of the Game: Losing a 13 point lead? Scoring just 10 points in the 2nd quarter? One player can’t do all that. The Lakers lost this one TOGETHER.
Most Thought-filled Player(s) of the Game: Derrick Rose, such a joy to watch! 29 points, 9 assists, 5 rebounds.