Lakers/Rockets: Role Reversal On Ring Night

Darius Soriano —  October 27, 2010

Los Angeles Lakers Ron Artest (L) and Pau Gasol of Spain compare the NBA Championship rings they received before their NBA season-opening game against the Houston Rockets in Los Angeles, California, October 26, 2010. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT BASKETBALL)

On the night the Lakers raised banner #16 and received their championship rings they also scrapped out a hard fought victory over the Houston Rockets, winning 112-110 to kick of the season in style.  An emotional night that started with each player introducing the next in the ring presentation ceremony ended with those same players rejoicing in victory and celebrating a win.

But, for most of the night, it didn’t look like the Lakers would get this game.  Starting 1-0 just didn’t seem possible.  And considering the gravity of the night and the high that the players were on from reveling in last season’s accomplishment, I don’t blame them.

For most of the night, the Lakers just couldn’t keep up with the rejuvenated Rockets.  With Yao Ming back in the fold anchoring the paint, noted Laker damager Aaron Brooks zipping his way around the court, and a finally healthy Kevin Martin flashing his high efficiency offensive game, the Lakers looked toast.  The Rockets were controlling the paint on defense, pushing the ball down the Lakers’ throat on offense, and nailing jumpers that struck like stakes in the hearts of a silenced Staples Center crowd.  Even in the Rockets’ half court sets, the Lakers looked a step slow and mentally out of it as they were repeatedly beat by the brilliant back cuts of Rick Adelman’s Princeton Offense.

But despite the Rockets controlling the game and consistently keeping the Lakers at arms length, the boys in the home gold jerseys hung tight.  Whenever Houston looked like they might pull away for good, the Lakers would make a slight push and keep the deficit hovering at 11 points.  Mostly on the back of Pau Gasol’s grind it out offensive game (11-23 from the field for 29 points) and Kobe’s playmaking skill (7 assists, 1 turnover), the Lakers showed just enough fight to ensure that the Rockets couldn’t go away and hide and turn the game into the one sided affair that we all witnessed in the matinee match up between the new look Heat and still hungry Celtics.  Both Pau and Kobe showed their poise and grit as they battled through nights of inconsistency to still put up the numbers that have made them multiple time all-stars and back to back champions.

But, despite those numbers, they were really the role players tonight.  Because even though those guys – the Lakers’ superstars – did their jobs, it was the bench players that really stepped up and performed big.  It was the reserves that hit the big shots and turned the deficit into a lead.  It was the back ups that generated the energy that would spark the crowd and generate the wave of emotion that the team would ride to victory.

Steve Blake, Matt Barnes, and Shannon Brown truly were the killer B’s from the Lakers bench.  Starting in the latter part of the third quarter, these guys started to turn the tide and tilt this game on its head.  Whether it was Blake hitting back to back threes, Barnes hitting the glass and filling the lane on the fast break, or Shannon side stepping defenders on his way to hoop and sinking jumpers when hanging around the perimeter, it all just worked for the Lakers 2nd unit.  The team may have trailed by 5 to start the 4th quarter, but by the clock showed 7:43 left in the game, the reserves turned that deficit into a 6 point lead by tightening up the defense, forcing turnovers and missed shots, and taking the ball the other way to punish the Rockets for their mistakes.  At one point, the three B’s scored 11 out of 15 points for the Lakers to create a lead that the Lakers would carry into the final minutes.  I really can’t say enough about these guys.  Shannon, especially, showed that he’s indeed ready for this season.  He showed a balance and consistency on his jumper that was missing last season and played a much more controlled game than he has at any point during his Laker career.  This falls in line with with what he showed in the preseason, but it was really good to see it carry over to the games that really count.

But despite this Herculean effort by the reserves, Houston was not going to quit on this game just because the Lakers showed their championship mettle.  The Rox battled every inch of the way and settled down in the closing minutes to really make this contest close.  As the two point final margin showed, Houston didn’t fold when the Lakers pushed their lead up to as many as 8 points.

In the last 5 minutes, fueled by the aforementioned back court combo of Brooks and Martin, the Rockets battled back to take a one point lead with 53 seconds left.  At that point, Pau Gasol grabbed a loose ball off a fumbled Kobe dribble and buried a 10 foot jumper to put the Lakers up by one.  On the next possession, Luis Scola executed a nice scoop to put the his team back up by 1.  The very next time down the court, with the Lakers trailing by that single digit, Steve Blake showed why so many fans are high on him as a player that could potentially unseat Derek Fisher as the PG that closes out games.  When driving left on a high P&R with Pau, Kobe zipped a pass to Blake and the newcomer calmly nailed a three pointer to put the Lakers up by two.  On the ensuing Rockets possession, Blake would once again play hero as he played good defense on the Rocket’s last gasp off an offensive play, contesting Aaron Brooks’ lay in attempt – altering it enough so Odom could come over and get the block that secured the win.

Just a great, great finish to a glorious night for the Lakers.  When things looked bleak, this team battled back and claimed a victory that they probably had no business taking.  And they take home some jewelry too.  The emotional high that we all thought would have peaked 10 minutes before tip off, actually got topped when the clock showed triple zeros.  What a night.

A couple of other notes on this game:

*Odom continued his strong play from the preseason in this first regular season game.  LO had 14 points and 10 rebounds and made several key plays in a 2nd quarter push that kept this game close.  He shot 7-10 from the field and played strong defense for most of the night.

*It’s a good thing that Odom played as well as he did because the players tasked with backing him up did not.  Theo Ratliff played 16 minutes and was a -4 on the night.  While he played decent defense and was reasonably active on the glass, he was non-existent on offense and didn’t look that comfortable navigating the low block.  This is mostly to be expected, but in the preseason, he did show a bit more life on that side of the ball and on evenings where LO (or Pau) is in foul trouble, we will need more.  Derrick Caracter also saw his first action of the season and looked a bit overwhelmed.  This is also to be expected as the rookie has likely never been in a game environment like the one he saw on Tuesday.  But, he did miss a bunny right at the hoop and in his two minutes had 1 foul and put up a -8 for his trouble.

*As bad as the Lakers defense was in the first half, they were equally as impressive in the second 24 minutes.  In the final two frames the Lakers got their hands into passing lanes and deflected passes, effectively double teamed Yao, and showed much better awareness on the variety of cuts that the Rockets employ in their half court sets.  I was impressed with the turnaround that the Lakers showed because based off their first half results, I didn’t think they had it in them.

*Kobe is not quite himself, but he’s still got that sense of the moment.  With the Rockets cutting the lead to 2 points with only 1:45 to play, Kobe drove hard to his right hand, took contact from Shane Battier, and finished a lay up plus the foul.  His three point play wouldn’t hold up to Houston’s late run, but that’s beside the point.  Kobe again proved that in tight moments he can summon the strength to make the play.  When he’s completely healthy and has the rhythm back to his game, he’s going to be the same Kobe that we’ve seen the past three seasons.

Darius Soriano

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16 responses to Lakers/Rockets: Role Reversal On Ring Night

  1. A great write up after a nice win. Its an almost meaningless game of course… 1 out of 82… but these are the games that having soldiers like Kobe, Artest, Blake, and Barnes win you. The Lakers won’t be out worked this year.

    Is it too soon to start the whispers of Shannon starting at PG? Im joking a little, but the guy looks like he needs time on the floor and he won’t get much of it with kobe playing at SG. Steve Blake has proven to be a great back up PG and a bad starting PG (much like Fisher), so I could see Brown starting at the point in time. Of course… it will take more than the preseason and one regular season game to win me over.

  2. The quest begins…our magic number is down to 81! The perfect night started out by the defeat of the Super Friends, awesome ring ceremony, great play by our newcomers and role players, the win and best of all we got to see Jeanie Buss instead of her brother Jim! :) Couldn’t played out any better than that.

    jlv

  3. I really like what we got to see of Blake and Barnes last night. They looked very comfortable, clearly felt they had a good idea of what’s expected of them, and have no problems doing exactly what the coaching staff is asking them to do. If they both can keep doing that (with Steve Blake that’s a given), they’ll be invaluable off the bench.

  4. Hi guys,

    Do you know this great site dedicated to the triangle offense?

    http://thetriangleoffense.blogspot.com

  5. D.C. was gripping last night. I was somewhat surprised that he was the 1st call to come in for L.O. Hopefully, he’s more settled upon that opportunity.

    Shannon looks like a ball of confidence this year.

  6. Hi

    does anyone have a link to a picture of this year’s rings? last year’s were disgustingly awesome…

  7. This was a very meaningful game. The Lakers could have easily let this one slip away – but they didn’t let it happen.

    Our heroes are already one up on the three me-egos and dead even with the Celtics.

    Every win counts this year.

  8. It was mentioned on ‘Inside the NBA’, but to repeat…Matt Barnes spaced himself wide to draw his defender out further, allowing Shannon to wend his way left, then right to get his fast break basket. Nice job Matt.

  9. Lakerfan in Raptorland October 27, 2010 at 8:02 am

    A perfect start for the season! I feel sorry though for the guy who was suppposed to be introduced before Kareem at the ceremony (can anybody tell me who that was?); I think his name wasn’t called out. That was so awkward…

  10. Loved seeing the bench step up and meet the expectations heaped upon them.

    One play late in the game jumped out at me that illustrated the difference between Blake and Farmar. Hou had the ball and during the defensive rotation, Blake had slid over a bit to cover the guy in front of the bench. When the ball swung, Blake realized that Scola had position inside but there was also a guy popping open on the opposing wing.

    Instead of gambling on a homerun type play, he smartly just rotated back to the open guy which meant the ball was kicked in to Scola. Scola had to take a contested shot with Pau over him.

    Just little things like that I love. Don’t give up an open look three. Make the other team work for their points.

    Also love what I’m seeing out of Brown. He’s playing with so much control. Smart decisions with the ball. Taking shots with his feet under him. Love it! Next step is to see how his defensive discipline has developed. But for now, loving the offensive spark off the bench.

    That 6 minute stretch where he scored most of his points, I thought I was seeing the reincarnation of Vinnie “the microwave” Johnson.

  11. Shan. Wow.

    Not only did he look good because the shots fell, I am extremely pleased that those jump shots came much later in the shot clock than they typically have in previous years, and as Darius mentioned, he looked much more balanced on his jumper.

    The only thing, aside from the atrocious first half defense, that annoyed me is that I would have rather seen Ratliff absorb more of the banging from Yao. Obviously, we all understand the need for Pau to play big minutes right now, but it would be nice if Phil could find a way to protect him a bit from having to do too much banging with big bodies. That’s the kind of thing that could catch up with him over time, not necessarily the minutes themselves.

    Overall, very exciting, though. It seems that with the bench of the last few years, that would have been a sure loss…

  12. Shannon’s jumpshot is so improved, and he seems to have a more nuanced game besides trying to dunk on everyone. Like we’ve been predicting, having Blake instead of Farmar may have been one of the contributing factors in Shannon’s newfound bball maturity. Brown deserved to close out the game and we may see him doing so throughout the year.

    I’m a little concerned with our big man rotation (until Bynum returns). After Odom and Gasol, the dropoff is staggering.

    Kobe looked good last night, and didn’t force as many shots as I thought he would. He was really looking for other players.

    A choppy and sloppy start, but a win is a win nonetheless. Our perimeter bench players have been completely upgraded this year. When Bynum comes, this will be a dangerous bench (and thank goodness we didn’t trade our team for Bosh. He looked scared out there against KG).

  13. well, we also saw what you get from 16+ minutes of Ratliff – nada. (and Caracter was -8 in two(2) minutes.)

    [reposted from Preview and Chat; just to back you up, Darius. : ) ]

  14. @10 Rasheed Hazzard, Lakers advanced scout…

  15. @1 – Apparently it’s never too early to start talking about benching Fish, but I don’t think it’s going to happen, nor should it. A more curious development was having Shannon & Steve Blake finish the game while Artest and Fish rode the pine – last year, it was usually Pau, Kobe, Fish, Ron and LO finishing out games. Phil has always subscribed to the “dance with the ones that brung you” principle, but last night he saw that Ron and Fish just didn’t have it going on O or D and went with the guys who played much more solid on both ends of the floor. Anyway, this is a long way of saying that I have no doubt that all year, people will be clamoring for Fish to lose his starting job, and he won’t, but it’s reasonable to expect to see others from the Lakes’ guard rotation playing when it counts.

    @13 – When Pau picked up his fifth foul, I started wondering if it was too late to get DJ back. I loved what I saw from the bench, but LA is certainly short on bigs…

  16. Blake hitting the go ahead and stay ahead shot in the fourth, off a nice Kobe assist, will pay big dividends during the season.

    That was a great, unselfish, team oriented play by Bryant, and will probably get little mention on the ESPN pages… And Blake knocked it down, in rhythm, in a big moment.

    That is very good to see.

    If you are an opposing coach, how in the heck do you game plan for the Lakers in the final minutes? If Kobe is driving and finishing with contact on one play, and diving and kicking out to a clutch shooter on the next, what do you do?

    Bryant creating? Gasol, Odom and Bynum to finish down low? Fisher, Blake, Brown or Sasha to hit the 3? Bryant just dropping his shoulder and finishing at the rim? Bryant on a fade away?

    It really comes down to, “Try to jump and hope they miss.”

    I love this Lakers squad.

    I know that Mitch and Phil won’t get the Executive/Coach of the Year awards (which are already engraved with Riley/Spoelstra’s names) but they deserve them. Kupchak had an AMAZING off season. Simply a fabulous job by the front office.

    Great owner, great front office, great coaches, great players.

    Drink it up everyone, this is a special team we are watching, even by Laker fans lofty standards.