Rejuvenated. Energized. Poised. That is how the Lakers played tonight against a veteran San Antonio team.
For the second game in a row without Kobe Bryant and Andrew Bynum, the Lakers came in with no excuses. No missing teammates would derail them from winning. No loss in scoring and defensive options would stand in their way. The Spurs had beaten them by 20 points in the last meeting, but tonight was not about revenge. Tonight, like Saturday in Portland, the goal was just to win another game.
To win how they did tonight, however, was reminiscent of a style that has been lost on this team periodically this season — Championship-caliber basketball.
The Lakers, again, played excellent team ball, with Odom, Gasol and Artest leading the charge. Together they scored 55 points, seized 34 rebounds, and handed out 15 assists, not to mention Gasol’s 5 blocks.
The frontcourt’s mission to dominate was clear early on, and their aggressiveness on both ends of the court was undeniable.
Odom, in particular, punished San Antonio all evening, doing just about everything he wanted to do; curling around his defender for a lay up, splitting double teams for an emphatic dunk, passing to a running Gasol, and fighting for rebounds.
When asked what he planned to do with Odom in the 2nd quarter, Coach Popovich thought for a second and replied, “We just have to find somebody who can defend him.” Simple enough request, difficult to execute, especially when Odom is the primary ball handler on the floor.
Guard play is not to be overlooked. Fisher was, again, aggressive offensively, hitting 6-9 shots for 13 points and managed 3 assists. With Brown starting in place of Bryant, Farmar and Vujacic led the bench, combining for 8-10 shots, three from downtown.
What really won this game for the Lakers, however, was their team defense and ball movement. After allowing San Antonio 34 points in the first quarter, they allowed only 55 points over the final three periods. After committing 7 turnovers in the first half, the Lakers only committed 2 in the second.
This win, by and large, would have meant much more for a Spurs team whose identity is yet to be determined and whose chances at another title this season are possible but improbable. They added seven new players to their roster and it showed in their inability to figure out a victory against a team missing two of its biggest scorers and defenders. Other than the triple-threat trio of Duncan, Parker and Ginobli, there wasn’t much contribution from anyone else in a Spurs uniform.
In stark contrast to a Lakers team who has been playing together for several years and who appear to have turned a corner. Without their best player and without their young center, they have managed to win over teams in convincing fashion.
Nevertheless, another test awaits… in Utah.
Pre-game Thoughts: Kobe out. Andrew out. Might be a long night.
Half-time Thoughts: 3-point lead after Jordan Farmar glued himself to Tony Parker, avoiding any last-second points for the Spurs to end the half.
Most Thoughtless Player of the Game: No one. The Lakers played as well as they could play without Kobe and Andrew.
Most Thought-filled Player of the Game: Lakers front court — Pau, Lamar and Ron