(Yeah I went with an old school ‘Zo picture here. What can I say, I’m in that kind of mood. That look on his face is just like mine…)
After game four of the 2004 NBA Finals, Phil Jackson said something along the lines of “we wasted one of the great games from Shaquille O’Neal tonight” as the Lakers lost a game where Shaq went for 36 points and 20 rebounds against the Pistons. Well, while this game was no where near that magnitude, I feel like the Lakers wasted damn good games from Pau Gasol and Kobe Bryant tonight. Pau went for 26 points and 22 rebounds and Kobe had a well rounded line of 31 points, 5 rebounds, and 6 assists but it wasn’t enough as the Lakers fell to the Hornets 108-100. Just a frustrating finish to a game in an increasingly frustrating road trip that has the Lakers taking one step forward and then one step backward every other night.
How do the Lakers lose on a night where Kobe and Pau put up such gaudy stats? Actually, it’s pretty simple. When James Posey (a substitute, mind you) outscores the entire Lakers bench 13-12, that’s how. Or how about when Darren Collison (another Hornets back up) matches the point total of two Lakers’ starters (Fisher and Odom) with 17 points. Another good reason would be how Artest would have shot 5-6 from the field had he not went 1-8(!) from three point country (including several wide open attempts from the corner) leaving him 6-14 from the field and a point total (14) that matched his FGA total. I think you get my point. The Lakers outside of Pau and Kobe showed no consistency and the Hornets were steady enough throughout the contest to earn the win.
Really, this game turned on a 17-1 Hornets run that started in the late part of the 1st quarter and ended around the 8 minute mark of the second quarter. That run saw a 4 point Lakers lead turn into a 12 point deficit that the Lakers would never overcome. Sure, the Lakers made a strong push of their own at one point coming within a basket when the scoreboard showed 58-56. But when a Kobe turnover turned into a three on one Hornets fast break, Fisher’s great defense to disrupt a pass turned out to be a curse as the ball bounced around and got kicked out to a wide open Marcus Thornton who ended up nailing a three pointer. A two point lead went to five and even though the Lakers kept it close for a few more minutes they’d never really threaten again.
Games like this are extremely frustrating because rather than doing the little things that lead to wins, the Lakers did just enough to disrupt comebacks and lose. On back to back possessions and within three points of tying Kobe and Fisher fire up forced three pointers that miss. Instead of going into Gasol on the low block, we swing the ball around the perimeter and settle for long jumpers. Several times in both halves the Lakers had defensive breakdowns that led to wide open shots. On one play they’d get caught watching as Chris Paul handled the ball on the P&R and then lose track of their man when he’d make a back cut. On another play, one of the Lakers’ bigs would over help on penetration and give up an easy offensive rebound for a put back bucket. There were even a couple of plays where Chris Paul was left wide open after he used a hesitation dribble off the P&R because the hedging big man then left him to recover to his own man and then the guard that was supposed to come back to Paul stayed with the switch – resulting in an easy, wide open jumper for CP3.
And then there were the fouls. The Lakers were reaching and grabbing Hornets players – often out of their own frustration from not getting calls on the other end. But rather than playing smart and hunkering down on defense, they’d commit needless fouls that ended up sending the fourth best FT shooting team in the league to the foul line for easy points. These types of mistakes are always costly, but they’re even more painful when they happen the middle of the Lakers trying to make a dent in a lead; when the margin for error is so thin because the deficit is not decreasing but the game clock is.
In the end, this game was just an overall downer. As I mentioned earlier, the Lakers seem to take a positive step forward and then follow it up with a poor performance. I wish I could say that this is an anomaly but it’s not. As we’ve discussed before, the Lakers are consistently inconsistent. It’s who they are. They have the talent to win any game while (seemingly) having the attitude that allows them to perform poorly in any game as well. Whether or not it hurts them down the line remains to be seen, but it is mighty frustrating to watch as the regular season comes to a close.