The motto we’ve preached at this site for some time has been that the Lakers will go as far as their defense takes them. Tonight, while the Lakers held the Pacers to a respectable 102.5 offensive rating they couldn’t get stops when they needed them and ended up falling to Indiana 95-92 to lose their second consecutive game.
The biggest miscue came on the Pacers’ final possession of the game and the Lakers trailing only by a single point. After a bit of a broken play, the Pacers’ went to a high P&R (a play that had worked with good success all evening) and ended up getting a wide open dunk when Gasol showed well on the screen but did so several feet above the three point line which then allowed Roy Hibbert the space he needed to stroll down the lane unimpeded. Gasol’s mates did little to help him as they simply watched Hibbert dive down the paint while stubbornly sticking to their own men that spaced the floor around the three point line (I’m looking at you, Lamar and Kobe). That basket pushed the lead to three and triggered a possession where the Lakers got a decent first look from Kobe (off a good high P&R) and, after securing the offensive rebound, dribbling out and making strange passes until Kobe ultimately ended up taking another forced three pointer that fell harmlessly short to end the game.
But really, it’s kind of amazing that the Lakers were within a single basket in the closing seconds as they were pretty much outplayed for the majority of this contest. Led by Roy Hibbert’s fantastic game (24 points on 13 shots, 12 rebounds, 6 assists), the Pacers controlled the paint and, by extension, the tempo of the contest. While their offense was far from humming (they only shot 43% as a team), they mostly got good looks at the basket by beating the Lakers off the dribble and taking advantage of flat footed defenders by beating them off cuts, screens, and to loose balls.
But again, it all started with Hibbert. The Pacers run an offense that takes a lot of action from UCLA’s classic high post sets while also incorporating principles of the Flex and the Princeton offense. They run a lot of motion, screens, and back cuts and Hibbert does a lot of initiating from the high post where he picks out cutters or takes his own (much improved) jumper from about 18 feet. And when he wasn’t operating from the high post, he was doing damage from the low block by hitting his jump hook from both the right block and the from the middle with relative ease. When Hibbert didn’t have the ball in his hands he was setting good screens to free up his mates for dribble penetration or curls into open space where they could get up good shots. It’s easy to see why he’s the early leading candidate for most improved player as he’s taken on a heavy burden for his team and really stepped up in a variety of areas to improve them on both sides of the floor.
As for the Lakers, they looked flat and out of synch for a lot of this contest. I give a lot of credit to the Pacers for their hustle and effort, but the team in the home whites were a step slow for most of the evening and seemed to lose out on every 50/50 ball and long rebound. And while I’ve mentioned their somewhat poor execution on defense, their offense wasn’t any better. As a team the Lakers shot 38.6% from the floor and a ghastly 49.7% True Shooting.
Pau Gasol’s 5-15 could easily be seen as the worst of the bunch and due to his importance to the team, I’d agree that his struggles had a big part in the Lakers overall performance on offense. Pau started out hitting his first three shots, but that success was not sustainable. He ultimately suffered through a night where he missed a few short hooks but was ultimately really bothered by the height and length of Hibbert. Also contributing to his lackluster effort on both sides of the ball was his heavy workload as he again played 45 minutes, getting his only rest of the game in the final few minutes of the first quarter.
The only bright spot on offense (besides a solid 14 points on 10 shots from Odom) was Kobe’s 41 point night, but even that wasn’t as outstanding as it would seem at first glance. He needed 33 shots to get to that total and took a few ill advised shots throughout the game. That said, without his extraordinary effort throughout the 2nd half, the Pacers probably win this game by double digits going away so I really can’t complain too much with any one shot that Kobe took or with his approach overall. In the third quarter he carried the team on his back to cut a 15 point deficit to 8 when he went on a classic Kobe run of made jumpers that climaxed with a fantastic drive where, going to his left, he spun middle and made a backhanded righty lay up as he fell to the ground getting fouled. And then at the end of the contest, he closed the game the best he could only to come up short when he missed his last two attempts that could have tied the game.
Looking at this game as a whole I’m not sure if there’s one thing that stood out besides that missing Andrew Bynum is really starting to wear on this team. As mentioned, Gasol played 45 minutes again and Odom played 40 of his own. The Lakers defensive rebounding is still sub-par and their interior defense on both penetration and on post ups is lacking right now. Tonight was one of the first nights that I’ve really thought that Pau was pacing himself in certain moments, but without a legit back up Center and knowing that he’s due for heavy minutes I really can’t blame him. I know that’s there’s no immediate solution to this issue and there’s a hope that Bynum will be back soon, but until that happens the Lakers are vulnerable to nights like this. The Pacers played hard and handed the Lakers their 4th loss in 17 games. Things could be certainly be much worse and there’s no need to extract too much from this game. But it sure will be nice when the Lakers big man rotation is back to normal.