It’s a simple word that has a vast meaning. It’s what creates a dynamic where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. And in basketball, it results in a beautiful style of play where no one player is king, but all players make an impact. That’s what we’re seeing from the Lakers and it’s something that I (and I’m sure every other Laker fan) can get used to.
On a night where Kobe missed his second consecutive game and Andrew Bynum was out for his sixth consecutive quarter, the Lakers are playing with less talent but with more togetherness. Two games is an extremely small sample size, but oh what a two games. Facing two teams that have traditionally been tough foes, the Lakers have two wins.
Once again, the credit can’t go to just one player and we can’t identify a single play that was the difference in this game. It was a total team effort and one where the contributions from every player that saw meaningful minutes added up to a double digit victory and tacos for the home fans. But if we’re going to give out credit, let’s start down low and then work our way out (just like our offense – it just works best). Pau Gasol was just tremendous. I don’t care that he missed some easy ones. The fact that he was even in position to miss those easy ones was an indicator of the work that he was doing to establish position and skill he possesses to get himself a good shot. Plus, when he’s doing all the other things that he can do to affect a game, I’ll take some missed shots. He didn’t miss ‘em all though. 21 points, 19 rebounds, 8 assists, and 5 blocks for the big Spaniard. That’s putting in work. Add to that Tim Duncan needing 17 shots to get his 16 points (no FT’s!) and give me more of that Pau, missed shots and all.
Then there was Odom doing his “I’m in complete control of this game with the ball in my hands” thing. Another double-double for my favorite lefty (16 and 10) with 3 dimes (could have been more if Pau had made some of those bunnies or didn’t get fouled on a couple of others) and too many to count rebound turned fast breaks for LO. Tonight, we all saw the Odom that I thought was a can’t lose player when he was a FA this off-season. I really can’t say enough about the way that Odom pushed the ball against the slow-to-change-ends bigs of the Spurs while also making the right reads with the ball – choosing to either force the action or set up in the half court. And since we’re talking front court players, Artest continues to play the all around, two way game that Lakers fans (and Phil Jackson, I’m sure) were hoping to see when we acquired ol’ crazy pills. A nice and tidy line of 16/5/4 for Ron and more of his trademark take no prisoners defense on Richard Jefferson (who by the way started oh fer 7 and ended up with 9 points on as many shots).
But this game wasn’t just about our bigs; the guards chipped in their fair share as well. Derek Fisher has earned much of the (when it’s fair minded) criticism he’s gotten this season. But tonight he played a controlled game by taking the shots that were there for him and making them. You can call it coincidence, but in the last two games – games that Kobe has been out – Fisher has had two of his better games all season and really stepped up to fill the void in leadership by playing steady and even more calm than normal. There will be fans that will still want more from Fish or will call this game fluky but I think he’s been playing well and I am happy for a player that I respect a great deal.
But, just as with our bigs the credit doled out to our backcourt must also be spread out. Shannon Brown got the start in Kobe’s place and he filled in admirably. WOW may not have shot well, but he made a big 3 when the Spurs were making a run and converted an alley oop dunk to open the 2nd half that really got the crowd and the team going. But, the really solid game(s) were had by Farmar and Sasha. Farmar really is putting together some good performances of late. He’s found his groove on offense (still too many P&R’s for my taste, but those are the plays that allow him to get into the lane and create separation for his jumper) and is playing better defense. Nothing all world about his D, but just solid position defense that was highlighted by an end of the first half stop against Parker where Tony waived off the Duncan screen and tried to cross over Jordan only to have Farmar stick with him, make him reverse his dribble, and then forcing Parker lose his handle when Jordan pressured him. Overall, I like what Jordan is doing. Last, but not least, we had a Machine sighting. Sasha continues to lobby for more minutes (the Boston game aside) by playing under control, making the shots that are available to him, and playing hard in his limited minutes. He’s still fouling a bit too much, but he’s aggressive on defense so fouls are going to come.
Overall, this was another very good win from our guys. When the game started and Tony Parker was going crazy and the Spurs put up a 34 spot in the first 12 minutes, I thought this might be a long night. But the Lakers defense tightened, we started to push the ball and the game started to turn. And as the game developed, every Spurs run was answered and the game was in control for the entire second half. Against a solid opponent – one at full health – I couldn’t have asked for a better performance from our team. The teamwork shined tonight and that is something that I can get used to.