Oh Canada. They almost had it, didn’t they? But like the old saying goes, “almost” doesn’t count, unless you’re counting losses and Toronto can now add the latest to their growing tally.
It was a rare early Sunday game for the Lakers and it showed. Coming off a win in Philadelphia in which they did just enough to get out with a victory, L.A. came into Air Canada Arena knowing they were playing an undermanned team and knowing they’d finally be going home after the last buzzer. It took them all of the first quarter to finally come to, all thanks to the Laker reserves that provided energy, good plays and just downright smarts each time they hit the court.
With the Lakers behind 34-28 after the first quarter, the Killer B’s (momentarily infiltrated by Bynum), with the aid of Luke Walton, took the lead from Toronto and never looked back. Walton, in his most productive game this season, had nine points, three rebounds, two assists, a steal and a block in just over 14 minutes of play. Despite his four turnovers, Walton did what he does best – move the ball and run the offense.
Leading the way for the reserves was Andrew Bynum. Keeping to the coaching staff’s plan to slowly ease the young center into game shape, Bynum, again, played just over 17 minutes. In this time he scored 16 points on 4-6, 8-10 from the free throw line, seven rebounds and a blocked shot of Jose Calderon’s attempt to end the first half. Bynum moved extremely well, rebounding misses for second chance points and just being a big body protecting the paint. Toronto played seldom-used Solomon Alabi, a 7’1” center, to contend with Bynum, but he was no match for the Laker big’s skills.
Rounding off the bench production were Steve Blake’s six points on 2-3 from downtown, Shannon Brown’s 14 points on 5-7 (2-3 from 3PT) and Matt Barnes’ 12 points (2-4 from 3PT) and nine rebounds. Together the Laker reserves produced 57 points and nice stat considering the Lakers’ 17 turnovers – zero giveaways for Bynum, Barnes and Brown.
Not too much was expected from last season’s Laker bench. It was a group of young players who often had a starter or two babysitting their sometimes limited court time. Their production was usually the icing on a cake that the starters had already baked. This season’s reserves are led by veterans, Steve Blake and Matt Barnes, with Lamar Odom soon to join upon Andrew Bynum’s return to the starting line-up. This season’s group does not exist simply to fill in starters’ rest periods; they’re entrusted and expected to do much more and by averaging almost 35 points, 21 rebounds and eight assists per game, the Lakers are a more formidable team than ever.
The Raptors were not without any fight in this game. Despite having only nine players dressed to participate, Toronto still challenged the defending Champs with the occasional run at a big deficit. In the first quarter, Amir Johnson went 6-6 for 12 points, but scored only two more the rest of the game. USC product, Demar DeRozan scored 19 of his 23 points in the third quarter alone, and Linas Kleiza (26 points) and Jose Calderon (20 points) contributed the remainder of the scoring bulk. However, it wasn’t enough.
Kobe Bryant put in 20 of his own points on 6-12, as he played through a sprained right pinkie, choosing to find his way to the hoop, often at the expense of DeRozan, to score. Pau Gasol poured in 19 points on 9-15. The starters did what they had to do and gave the reserves huge chunk of responsibility to handle the rest. It’s nice to have true bench to rely on.
The Lakers go back to L.A. with the most wins away from home at 11-5, and a successful 2 week road trip ends with a 5-1 record. There is much to work on defensively, and a refresher course on the success of proper ball movement isn’t such a bad idea, but for now the Lakers take to Staples against the Milwaukee Bucks on Tuesday night with a 21-7 record.
Pre-game Thoughts: End the road trip on a high note, Lakers. The Raptors are as shorthanded a team as you can get.
Half-time Thoughts: 57-49 – It took a whole quarter, but the Lakers finally found some interest in this game. After falling behind 28-34 after the first 12 minutes, the bench came in a took care of business, outscoring the Raptor reserves 21-14. Pau Gasol leads the team with 10 points.
Most Thoughtless Player(s) of the Game: 17 turnovers?! Too careless for defending champs.
Most Thought-filled Player(s) of the Game: Hands down, the Laker bench, who got the job done tonight with a collective 57 points and 24 rebounds.