The game against Sacramento may have been the best of times, the Lakers played defense for 48 minutes, ran the offense smoothly, other players besides Kobe stepped up and they handily beat a team chasing them in the playoff hunt.
The Boston loss may have been the worst of times. Defense? Ha. The Lakers let a team that shootâ€™s an already good 50.2% (eFG%) for the season improve on that to 56%.
I feel like Iâ€™m repeating myself lately, talking about defensive intensity, but what else is the main difference between those two games?
Some will look at last night and point their fingers at Kobe saying he was just 11 of 23 from the field, but that ignores him going 15 of 17 from the line. When you look at his points per shot attempt â€” which is what true shooting percentage is â€” he looks good, 65%. Frankly, the entire team isnâ€™t bad, take away Kobe and they have a respectable TS% of 53.4%.
Ah, but the Celtics had a TS% of 60.4% as a team. That is bad defense. Horrible really, considering how banged up the Celtics are and that they are on the end of a West Coast road trip. Some props to the Celtics here, who showed up and played hard, something a lot of teams would not have done. How can the Lakers, over the course of a season, not defend so many back-door cuts and off-the-ball pick plays?
And they still could have won if, just to name two: Lamar Odom hits more than 2 of his 7 free throws; on the last play of the game, Luke Walton passes to a wide-open Odom under the basket (he had shaken Wally off a pick) rather than passing to the double-teamed Kobe for an almost impossible shot.
That last play shows just how much the Lakers rely on Kobe, and how they need to start trusting other people to take those key shots. I knew they were going to pass to Kobe, you knew it, the Celtics all knew it, even cricket fans in Pakistan knew where that ball was going to end up.
But while the last play was unfortunate, the game was lost long before that.
At the end of last season, what we said about the Lakers was â€œif they only played defense.” If this Laker team doesnâ€™t make the playoffs, weâ€™ll be saying the same thing â€“ but it will be more frustrating because we’ve seen flashes of it this time. We know they can do it, they’re just inconsistent.
Iâ€™ve run out of ways to say defensive focus and intensity is the key. Every game. All game.
The best spark the Lakers had last night was from Ronny Turaif, who finished a team best +15. Why? He hustled on defense and took advantage of his offensive chances. The Celtics were on a 25-7 run to start the third quarter that ended when Turiaf entered.
And Phil has noticed he is a smart player as well, telling the LA Times:
“He just really hasn’t shown any signs of not knowing what we’re doing,” Jackson said. “Kobe [Bryant] was kidding him the other day that he knows more about the game than a lot of guys that have been with us for six months. He’s not behind the eight ball at all. He’s an intelligent player that is right on speed and seems to know what we’re doing.”
We need to see more of him, more of Bynum. They are not polished but the effort is there every time they step on the court. And the Lakers need that right now.