Sometimes a game doesn’t quite stick to a script. Sometimes, even when one team is overmatched, a game is close because the team that probably shouldn’t play that well actually does. They make shots, play hard despite having countless reasons to fold up their tent, and compete all the way until the final buzzer. Against the Lakers, the Wizards were that scrappy, shot sinking team that battled all night. In the end though, they didn’t have enough to close the talent gap as the Lakers dispatched them 115-108. The Lakers have now won their second straight game, though not in the convincing fashion it seemed they would at the end of the 1st quarter.
From my seat, this game was both frustrating and fun. It was frustrating because the Lakers had countless chances to bury the Wizards but could never quite put them away. Every time the Lakers looked poised to push the lead into the twenties, the Wizards hit a run stopping shot or the Lakers turned the ball over or flubbed a defensive assignment and allowed the game to stay within striking distance. The Wizards big run came at the end of the third quarter when they outscored the Lakers 16-1 to cut their deficit to 3 points.
Playing mostly against the Lakers’ defensively challenged (at least on this night) reserves the Wizards hit shot after shot, mostly of the deep two or three point variety. They did mix in some solid drives to the hoop and got some second chance points, but they mostly were just launching jumpers that fell through the hoop. In classic Phil Jackson style, he let the bench try to sort out their issues but it never really happened as the Wizards just continued to chip away. The Lakers just couldn’t find that defensive rhythm as Nick Young, John Wall, and Gilbert Arenas all found ways to find the cracks in the Lakers’ D. Reserve PF Trevor Booker also had a very good night by attacking the glass and running the court hard to get buckets in transition.
But despite the Wizards’ success in keeping the game close, there were few moments where the Lakers weren’t in control of the game. Led by the masterfully technical moves of Kobe, the fantastic efficiency of Lamar, and the all around play of Pau, the Lakers kept the Wizards at arms length for most of the contest.
Kobe brought out his full arsenal of pivots, spins, step throughs, and drop steps to work over every defender that Washington threw his way. Kobe scored 32 points on 23 shots and would have had a much more efficient night if not for his poor marksmanship from distance (1-6 on three pointers). But his three ball accuracy issues aside, Kobe was fantastic on offense nearly all night as he consistently picked apart the Wizards with dazzling displays of footwork and nifty finishes with both hands. And when he wasn’t setting up defenders for his own shot, he was setting up his teammates as he modestly tallied 3 assists that could have easily been 6 or 7 had some easy shots fell or had players caught the ball cleanly on his delivery.
As for Gasol, the big Spaniard started slowly but found his groove as the game went on. Making only one of his first six shots really didn’t put a damper on his night as he converted on six of his next twelve to score 21 points on 18 shots (also sinking 7 of his 8 FT’s). He also grabbed 14 rebounds (9 offensive!) and dished out 8 assists, falling only two dimes short of a triple double.
Not to be outdone by his front court mate, Lamar Odom also had a very strong showing on the evening. For the 2nd consecutive game, Odom was highly efficient making 8 of his 12 field goal attempts to finish with 24 points while grabbing 7 rebounds. Odom was active in the paint and in when changing ends from defense to offense, consistently out running the Wizards to get in position to either get an easy basket off a feed from a teammate or by pushing the ball himself against a defensively challenged Washington team.
Again, this game was both frustrating and fun. There were highlight reel plays multiple times over from both sides and plenty of moments that made the crowd appreciate the fact they had a ticket to the game. John Wall was as quick as advertised, showed a decent jumper, and had a couple of big blocks (one on Kobe and another in the open court on Fisher that got a loud response from the crowd). Nick Young also dazzled in his LA homecoming by knocking down several deep shots (while also ignoring his ‘mates by what became an almost comical aversion to passing). But in the end, the Lakers were just too much. They carved up the Wizards defense and got an easy shot nearly every time they showed the patience to make more than two passes on a possession. Defensively, this game left much to be desired as the Wizards shot 50% from the field but it’s hard to harp on the D too much when many of the shots that fell were of the long jumper variety that you want a team taking. This may not have been the Lakers prettiest win and I’m sure the film will show several things that the coaches can use as teaching moments (especially in the 3rd quarter run that the bench gave up), but when a team can take their opponents best night (at least on offense) and still come out victorious it should be considered a good night. I’m not going to lose any sleep over how the result came about, only be pleased that the desired result came about at all. Next month, no one will remember that the Wiz pushed the Lakers or that this game was harder than it should have been. All we’ll remember is the W in the ledger.