We knew about an hour before tip off that at least one streak would be broken in this clash between the Lakers and the Blazers when it was announced that Kobe would miss his first game in 235 contests due to his sprained ankle. But by the time the final buzzer sounded, a second streak would also end up being no more as the Lakers won in the Rose Garden for the first time in its last ten tries. The final score: Lakers 99, Blazers 82. Boy was that fun. And it was fun because we saw team effort again.
When this game started, I really didn’t know what to expect. In the comments, Zephid said:
This’ll be a good character measure. Let’s see how our guys respond without Kobe to bail them out.
I thought that was a good way of looking at this game. This game was going to be one where we learned something about this team. I too wanted to see how they were going to respond. I’d say they did quite well.
What I thought was going to be an interesting game to begin with, started out in a way that even I was surprised by. When it was announced that Kobe was not going to play, the safe money was on Shannon Brown replacing him the starting group. Brown *is* the backup SG and is a guy that the coaches have shown confidence in. However, I did think there was a slight chance that Phil would go with Luke as the fifth starter. I though that Luke would be a good compliment to the starters as an offensive initiator and player that was going to focus on running our sets and passing and that Ron was the player best suited to fill in for Kobe as a primary offensive threat from the wing. Turns out I wasn’t too far off base and Phil took this idea to the extreme by starting Odom for Kobe and throwing out a supersized lineup of LO, Artest, Pau, and Bynum to flank Fisher. Nice choice, Phil.
Odom ended up having a huge impact on this game. He ended the night with 22 rebounds (19! defensive) and six assists. You throw in the steal, the block, and only a single turnover (in 37 minutes with how much he handled the ball? I love that low turnover number) and I couldn’t care less if he scored at all, much less get the team 10 points. The man was everywhere and as his team high +25 on the night implies, he had a tremendous impact. But Odom wasn’t alone. In fact, almost everyone came along with him. Fisher had a vintage night with 14 points and 6 assists and was 2-2 from three point range. Artest was even more impressive, playing a fantastic two way game and tossing in a team high 21 points to go along with his standard dogged defense. Shannon turned in a game that we all hoped we’d see more of this season after his teasing us with his playoff success from last year. And Pau played a very good game. I know that many have been down on Gasol recently, what with the fumbled passes and the less than stellar shot making. But, go look at that link again (seriously go – it’s a nice 3 minutes). Look how many plays he made. He was the anchor of our half court offense and there is no way the Lakers win that game without him.
What we saw was a return of team ball and some of the best execution we’ve seen in weeks (if not months). The ball was moving, players were cutting, guys were making the extra pass, and the recipients of those passes were rewarding their mates by finishing shots. Our guards ran the P&R as a change up to our normal offense. Players didn’t over dribble and instead they passed and moved. It really was great to see. Can this last? I don’t know, but tonight this team once again showed that they are capable of playing the type of game that helped them earn a championship last season. They were selfless, smart, and worked hard.
But all news isn’t great. Bynum is banged up and nursing some nagging injuries. He left this game in the first half and did not return due to a bruised hip. And this was after he came into the game with a new sleeve on his left knee. And Kobe is obviously in more pain than we’ve thought. We’d all seen him looking not as explosive over the last several games, but the fact that he actually sat out a game is meaningful. The all-star break couldn’t be upon us at a better time as hopefully this will allow our guys to get rested and healed up for the playoff push.
But those are thoughts for a later day. For now, I’m happy with a victory. A true team effort in a back to back in a place where we haven’t won in a long time.