As it turns out, Darius lied about there not being a recap. Like Willis Reed limping out of the locker room in the Garden, I’m here to save the day (or ruin the day, from the Laker perspective?).
Speaking of saving the day, the Lakers were kept afloat by Shannon Brown’s red hot first half, then carried home by Steve Blake’s clutch shooting. When Brown sank a three after checking in at the end of the 1st quarter, we had no idea we were in store for a bombardment. He sank 3 threes in the 2nd quarter, finishing 5-10 from three for the game, one huge three coming late in the 4th quarter to put the game away.
During the 1st half, the Lakers were really struggling in their half-court offense, with much of the credit going to Joakim Noah. Noah was so active in the post on defense that the first two possessions that the Lakers attempted to get the ball into Gasol led to turnovers. Because of that, Gasol never got into a rhythm (although his effort was questionable from the outset, given his matador defense and lack of lift on his rebounds). Chalk it up to a bad game by Gasol, but Noah simply outworked him on offense and defense. If not for Kobe’s quick start (the first 7 Laker points) and Shannon Brown’s explosion in the 2nd, the Lakers probably would’ve been down by double digits going into halftime.
At the start of the 3rd, it looked like the Lakers were going to pull away, going on an 8-0 run to start the 3rd to go up by 10. But then the Bulls stormed back, riding the power and speed of Derrick Rose. Rose simply got into the lane at will, due to both lackluster perimeter defense and poor help from the interior. The Lakers were unable to wall off the paint, and Rose made them pay with lay-up after lay-up. It wasn’t until halfway through the 4th quarter that the Lakers seemed to figure Rose out, successfully walled off the paint, and made the Bulls take some tough shots.
Other than the defensive improvement, it was great to see the Lakers actually run the triangle in the 4th quarter. With the game tied at 79 with 9 minutes to go, Kobe came in from his regular 4th quarter rest and immediately went to work in the pinch post. The Lakers ran the most basic triangle set, with the lag pass followed by a cross court cut by Kobe into the pinch post. 15 feet from the rim with his back to the basket, Kobe could survey the floor and see where the double teams were coming from. If they came from the top, Kobe would dribble out and find the open man. If they came from the inside, Kobe would hit the cutters going toward the rim. If the double never came, Kobe simply rose up and hit shots. Kobe’s excellent play led to 4 open threes (1 by Brown, 2 by Blake, 1 by Barnes), as well as a jump shot for himself and free throws for Barnes. This put the game at 95-83, the Lakers largest lead of the game, pretty much sealing the game.
Lost in all of this was the excellent play of Lamar Odom, who had 21 points on 7-13 shooting with 8 rebounds. Even though the Lakers had three starters that were basically offensive non-factors (Pau, Fisher, Artest), they still played very active defense, getting 9 steals and 9 blocks as a team. While this wasn’t the prettiest of wins, the Lakers managed to grind it out and execute down the stretch. They also were able to contain Derrick Rose during the key 4-minute stretch that put the Lakers up by 12. Just a good, solid, grind-it-out, team victory. Can’t really ask for much more.