After last night’s win and Phillips superb recap, there’s still a few more things I wanted to touch on. Obviously the story of last night was Fisher (and we’ll have more on him this afternoon) but after games like that, there’s always more to say right? (Or maybe we just don’t want the moment to end. Either way, here you go…)
*Hero mode. Shot selection. Offensive balance. Ten for twenty-nine. These are phrases that you’re sure to read when people disect Kobe Bryant’s game 3 performance. And, to a certain extent, it’s fair. Kobe took some questionable shots last night (the one that stood out to me above all others was his PUJIT 3 pointer when Pierce – who just picked up his 4th foul – picked him up with Kobe having the ability to take it to him off the dribble and maybe draw his 5th foul, but instead settled for the long jumper). However, Kobe was still pretty damned good last night. It’s always easy to point at a player’s efficiency on offense, see a bad night and then say the player didn’t play well. However, when you examine the rest of Kobe’s stat line, you see 8-8 from the foul line, 7 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals, 3 blocks, and only 1 turnover in 44 minutes (which, is pretty impressive considering how often Kobe had the ball in his hands). He was also a +10 last night (third on the team to LO’s +14 and Luke’s +13). Yes, Kobe took some tough (and sometimes ill advised) shots. However, I thought at least 5 or 6 of his FGA’s were taken late in the clock where everything had broken down (credit Boston’s D) and Kobe was put in a position of being the last guy with the ball. Overall though, I thought Kobe played a strong all around game and even though his personal offensive efficiency wasn’t strong, I thought his presence made a difference. Whenever he was on the court the team just seemed better off (whether it was because of the attention he was drawing or all the other little things he was doing to help the team). Anyways, this was just a long way of saying, I think piling on Kobe for his game 3 performance is off base.
*I mentioned Walton’s +13 on the night and while that stat can sometimes be misleading, last night it wasn’t. After Artest picked up two early fouls, Phil called Luke’s number and he responded with some very good play on both sides of the ball. Offensively, I thought he did a really good job of helping the Lakers to settle down at a time of the game where they seemed off kilter and sloppy. Me made the right reads with the ball, didn’t force anything, and was always in the right place. He even hit a step back 20 footer right before the shot clock expired on his first shot attempt. But, where Luke really impressed me was with his defense. He’s not tenacious and dogged defender that Artest is, but Luke worked hard and executed the game plan against Pierce to help limit him while Ron was on the pine. He played good position D and used his strength to battle him for position and deny him the spots he wanted on the floor. Luke’s never going to be a “great” defender, but he’s better than given credit for – especially against guys like Pierce (who aren’t exceptionally quick and who rely on stength and savvy to get off shots rather than quickness and explosiveness). I actually thought that when the C’s went small in the 3rd quarter (with Pierce out and with Tony Allen in) and the Lakers offense was stagnant, Luke should have gotten more time over a relatively ineffective Shannon Brown. But Phil went with the more athletic WOW to match up better. Overall though, I think Luke did a very good job in his 13 minutes.
*One key stat that I usually like to look at in road games is FT%. When on the road, FT’s matter so much as they’re a way to get those easy points that can stop runs and quiet down the crowd. They slow the game down and have a way of draining momentum from the home team. At times these playoffs the Lakers haven’t shot their FT’s well on the road. Last night was not one of those times. In a game the Lakers won by 7 points, they made 21 of 24 from the line. They calmly went to the stripe and knocked down their freebies and, to these eyes, those points were one of the big differences in this game. And when you consider that the C’s got the same number of attempts (24) but only made 16, that’s a 5 point swing in a 7 point game.
*The other key stat was, obviously, rebounding. The winning team has now won the rebounding battle in every single game. It’s only been three games, but I’m convinced this is not a coincidence. The Lakers were much better containing Rondo’s rebound chances and limited the C’s to only 8 offensive rebounds while grabbing 11 of their own.
*At this point, I do not have any hard information on Bynum’s knee (UPDATE: Via the Lakers Twitter account, Bynum says that his knee was swollen after the game but that it’s returned to normal. He’ll have another treatment today. It looks like he’ll be ready to go tomorrow). We all saw him limp off the court last night after he seemingly had another flare up with his bad wheel. However, I think it’s fair to say that if he was really hurt, he would not have come back into the game in the 4th (and play well in that short stint). As an aside, last night was a tough night for Phil to decide what his big man rotation was going to be. Bynum was obviously helping the Lakers’ interior defense and the rebounding. But Odom was having a pretty good game as well and his presence on the floor gives the Lakers a different dynamic with his ability to initiate the offense, put Pau at the post, and move Kobe from a guard spot to the wing. If LO wasn’t playing well, I have a feeling we would have seen more of ‘Drew down the stretch. I also think that even if ‘Drew is a bit more limited, nothing is going to keep him out of these games. The Lakers are too close and he seems intent on gutting it out.
*Lastly, there were many times last night where it looked like the C’s were going to push through and get over the hump. But the Lakers continued to answer and make the plays they needed to fend off the home team. Those are the plays that championship teams have to make and last night the Lakers were able to do just that. I don’t think enough can be said about the Lakers’ resolve in the face of an inspired home team and its crowd. The Lakers (and Fish especially) were rocks when they needed it most. What a night.
UPDATE #2. Just saw this spot and had to share. Fish was the closer last night, but we all know that Kobe is the league’s preeminent closer right now. Or should I kloser?