After two consecutive losses one had to figure that the Lakers would enter Milwaukee ready to play and looking to end their losing ways. Mission accomplished. The Lakers have officially bounced back after taking down the Bucks 118-107 to improve their record to nine up, two down on the season. But in the first half it didn’t look like it would actually go that way…
And that’s because Milwaukee was firing on all cylinders on offense. If you look strictly at the numbers from the first half you’d think that this game was just Sunday’s effort against the Suns redux. The Bucks were hitting a very high percentage of their three point shots and the Lakers just couldn’t seem to defend effectively. In fact, in the comments of the game thread you saw folks coming to that exact conclusion. However, after reviewing the first half I can say that wasn’t really the case. Despite the Bucks hanging 59 points on the Lakers through the first 24 minutes, most of those shots were either great makes on the types of shots you want a team shooting or decent looks from so-so shooters that happened to go down. Whether it was Drew Gooden firing up long twos or the Lakers (correctly) going under screens on Brandon Jennings and the young Buck draining threes, the Lakers really weren’t giving up the types of looks that would hurt them over the course of an entire game.
Don’t get me wrong, on several defensive possessions the Lakers were beat easily off the dribble and/or didn’t close out effectively. On many other possessions, the Bucks used the successful strategy employed by the Suns, Nuggets, and T-Wolves and pushed the ball up court against a sluggish transition defense in order to get good looks while the Lakers scrambled to recover. But so many of the Bucks makes actually came on defense that I could live with. Shots were contested but fell anyways. And when that’s the case, you tip your cap and try to get your own bucket on the other end to keep pace. And the Lakers did just that, all the while hoping that the offensive display the Bucks were putting on wouldn’t last. Well guess what? It didn’t.
In the 2nd half, the Bucks began to miss some of those long jumpers and the Lakers just continued to plug away on offense in order to keep the game close enough where any sort of patented Laker push would be enough to get them over the hump. Primarily using a Kobe-centric attack, the Lakers attacked the paint both off the dribble and in the post and either got good shots or drew fouls. When the Bucks started to collapse into the paint, the Lakers made the correct pass to open shooters and gave the guys on the perimeter a chance to get up good looks against the sagging D. Overall, it just seemed like a matter of time before the Lakers would get the needed stops and make enough shots of their own to pull away.
Which is exactly what happened. In the fourth quarter with Kobe on the bench and a “run the offense” group of Blake, Shannon, Walton, Barnes, and Gasol in the game the Lakers ramped up the execution on both sides of the ball and started to pull away. Crisp passes led to easy dunks by Gasol and Barnes. Tightened defense and improved rebounding led to open court chances where the Lakers guards got some of the most open shots they’d see all game. Led by Shannon Brown’s 4th quarter explosion of deep jumpers (have I mentioned that we should let Shannon shoot?) the Lakers ultimately pushed their lead to 10 points and never looked back. By the time that Kobe and Odom checked back in with a shade under 7 minutes remaining, this game was essentially in hand with both teams trading baskets the rest of way.
Overall, this may not have been the Lakers best game, but I won’t lose any sleep over the final numbers or the execution on both sides of the ball. The Bucks came in as the #1 defensive team in the league and the Lakers fairly easily put up 118 points with an offensive rating of 125.7 (9 points above their league leading average). And, again, while their defensive numbers weren’t that strong, this is where the eyeball test tells me that the Bucks just had one of those nights where more shots fell than normal and their rhythm wasn’t easily broken. Believe me, as someone that’s been harping on the defense for past week and a half, it’d be easy for me to say “look at the numbers”, but tonight that wasn’t the case. So really, just enjoy this win as the Lakers are now hopefully starting a new streak as they visit the Pistons tomorrow night.
And since I’ve got some numbers on my mind, here are a few more that stood out to me:
*Kobe only played 33 minutes on the night, which is right on his season average. But, he did a lot of work in those minutes. His stat line on the night isn’t the most efficient as he only made 10 of his 23 shots, but when looking closer he actually was quite good offensively. When you take away is 0-4 effort from deep, Kobe made more than half his two point attempts and all 11 of his FT’s. When you add to that his 7 rebounds and 3 assists (with 3 turnovers) he was very good tonight.
*Speaking of FT’s, the Lakers made 24 of their 29 from the charity stripe tonight. For those without a calculator handy, that’s 82.8 from the line. When you consider that Pau was an uncharacteristic 4-7 from the line, those numbers could have been even better. One of the (slightly) hidden keys to the Lakers’ offensive success this season is the fact that they’re 4th in the league in FT% (80.3). And while their attempts per game are in the bottom third of the league, they’re still getting to the line enough that those extra points are really contributing to how efficiently the Lakers are able to score.
*It’s funny how good Gasol has been this year because tonight he essentially reached his averages from last season – 18 points, 10 rebounds, 4 assists – and it seems like a ho-hum kind of game. He had to play a lot of minutes again tonight, but he never seemed winded and was moving well at the end of the game despite the extended run. We’ll see if this affects him tomorrow against Detroit.
*I haven’t mentioned his name a lot this season but Derek Fisher was pretty good tonight. He may have only shot 3-7 from the field, but he made both of his three pointers and was active and smart on defense (despite Jennings’ good results). For the year he’s shooting over 50% from three and is at his normal clip of 85% from the FT line. Also, I know this gets brought up a fair amount but the man is now going into his 6th straight season of not missing a game.