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:
Lakers just had a sequence of 3 very good offensive sets after Kobe and Fisher went to the bench. The first had Gasol on the block in good position, spun baseline and finished over Nocioni. The second led to a wide open Sasha jumper from 20 feet, coming off the down screen from Artest in the pinch post, classic triangle. The last had Shannon Brown score off the dive from the top of the key, receiving the pass from Gasol in the post. Three absolutely perfect offensive possessions in a row. And notice that the common theme was the ball going into the post.
And while this level of execution was not the norm throughout the entire game, it was nice to see this level of ball movement and focus on executing our sets.
However, not everything was positive about this game. As was the case against the Warriors, the Lakers played a poor second period that allowed the Kings to make a run and come back. An eleven point first quarter lead would be cut to one point by half as the Lakers bench could not seem to get their heads on straight about how to attack the Kings defense. And the major culprits were, again, our back up guards. For running a read and react offensive system, Jordan and Shannon seem to make their minds up early in possessions about what they want to do with the ball. Rather than allowing the defense’s actions dictate where the ball should go or where the point of attack should be, both of these guys race up the court and try to force the action. This leads questionable shot taking and just poor decision making overall. This time, I’ll let commenter Kostas explain from the game thread:
Even if those shots are falling it is not what our team needs from them. You just can’t have Pau and Lamar running up and down the floor 4 straight possessions without touching the ball. (Brown and Farmar) are doing the exact opposite from what is required of them. Guards in our system are supposed to stabilize the offense.
The only saving grace for our back up guards was an effective and oiled up Machine and a saving grace, late game stint from Shannon. When they made an appearance in the fourth quarter, these guys played under control, made the right reads with their passes and their cuts, and made the shots that were there for them to take. They didn’t force the action and they reminded fans of what guard play should look like in our sets.
Overall, a nice win for the Lakers and one that got them to the 50 win mark for the 3rd straight season. During the telecast, the Kings announcers commented that the really good teams make goals of “50 before 20” (meaning 50 wins before 20 losses), and the Lakers were able to do that against Sacramento with this win. It wasn’t always pretty, but when you’re the champion and taking every team’s best shot it won’t be. Especially a young and hungry team like Sacramento. At this point, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Kings’ rookie Tyreke Evans. He is everything he’s billed to be. Explosive and strong with the ball, Evans has a knack for finding creases in the defense and slashing his way to the rim. He had several nice finishes in the paint, narrowly missed some others, and drew plenty of fouls on a bunch of other plays. He finished the night just one assist shy of a triple double and if his mates would have made some of the wide open looks he set them up for, he would have gotten it easily. But, tonight was not his night and his team fell to the defending champs. No shame in that. Plus, I have a feeling he’ll be putting the hurt on the Lakers (and pretty much every other team in the league) for years to come.