Coming into this game the plan was the same simple one that exists for the Lakers against almost every opponent that they face: get the ball inside and let our big men work. Tonight, was proof positive as to why that plan is put in place. Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol were dominant in this game and the Kings just had to watch as Pau executed a clinic on big man skill and Bynum reminded everyone why he was a pre-season pick to make an appearance on this years western all-star team. Our two bigs combined to score 49 points (on only 28 shots) and grabbed 24 rebounds (including 6 offensive – with 5 by Bynum alone) to eat the Kings alive inside.
But the numbers for our bigs don’t even really tell the story. They were just too big, too strong, and too skilled for any player on Sacramento to really contend with. In the first quarter alone, Bynum would have four dunks and an “and one” lay in off an offensive rebound. Spencer Hawes literally had no chance against big ‘Drew as Bynum just moved him to the side to establish the post and consistently made himself a big target for post entry passes. And when just moving Hawes aside didn’t work, Bynum used his superior length to tip offensive rebounds to himself and the corral them to earn the Lakers an extra possession. And then there was Gasol. He of the multitude of post moves and returning mid-range game. Many have been down on Gasol lately and I can understand why with his penchant for flipping shots at the rim and laying the ball up instead of throwing the ball through the hoop like we expect our 7 footers to do. But tonight, we saw the return of the player that many have been calling the most skilled big man in the game. A lefty jump hook on one possession would be followed by a 17 foot jumper which would be followed by a drop step spin move and reverse lay up which would be followed by…you get the picture.
But our inside play wouldn’t be limited to our big men. Kobe would also get into the act by harassing the interior of the Sacto defense with strong post ups of his own and dribble drive attacks to the rim. During a personal run of 13 straight Lakers points at the end of the first quarter, Kobe would score 5 baskets from within six feet of the hoop and tack on 3 free throws for good measure. And it’s a good thing that Kobe had his inside game working because his outside shot was spotty for most of this contest. To my eyes, Kobe was obviously suffering from some tired legs brought on by 40 minutes of high octane play against the Warriors on Monday evening. His jumper was consistently short and his free throw shooting was also poor as he only connected on 8 of his 14 attempts. Even on some of his drives, his explosion and body control was missing as he had several of his shots blocked and was unable to pull of some of the spectacular moves that we’ve come accustomed to when just trying to get a shot off against a bruising defense. But that would matter little in the larger picture of what this game was – a exertion of force by our big men and a return of some solid execution on offense.
Though it came against a poor defensive team, the Lakers did show that they’re making strides on the offensive side of the ball. Passes were more crisp and the player movement was more exact. We strung together several good offensive possessions in a row – a nice sight considering that type of execution has not been the norm for long stretches this season. In the comments of the game thread, Zephid described one such sequence: