When the Lakers play well it really is a sight. The ball moves, the players have fun, and the baskets seem to come in bunches. When the Lakers play well and the opponent plays terribly, you have tonight’s contest against the Pistons. The Lakers demolished the Pistons 108-83 and pretty much dominated them in all phases. For one night, at least, this game puts the bad play in the rearview mirror and serves as a reminder of how much talent the Lakers have and what that talent can do when it starts to click. Plus the Staples Center crowd were able to be on the cheering side of a blowout for a change.
The game started out just as it should have with the Lakers pounding the ball inside. Lakers big men scored 13 of the team’s first 16 points by exploiting their size advantage in the paint. And Andrew Bynum led the way, making his first four shots over and around Ben Wallace’s attempted defense. Bynum showed the size, skill, and power of the elite Center prospect that we all know he can be. On his first possession he caught the ball on the right block, drop stepped baseline, up faked, stepped through and put down a dunk. The move showed patience and an understanding of how to attack an undersized defender that likes to block shots and was another example of how quickly he’s getting his legs and timing back after returning from his knee surgery just 10 games ago.
But soon after getting his 8th point, Bynum was ushered to the bench with foul issues and with his departure went the Lakers interior defense. Right after the big man had to sit, the Pistons immediately started to attack the rim and had good success breaking down the Lakers defense by getting into the paint. A rejuvenated Tracy McGrady led the way with throwback dribble-drive attacks where he’d swoop in and finish with his left hand right at the rim. After the Lakers compensated by sagging their defense to deny driving lanes, T-Mac then went into distributor mode hitting back door cutters and teammates coming off screens for open shots. To make matters worse, when Bynum came back in at the start of the 2nd quarter, he immediately picked up his 3rd foul and had to sit for the rest of the half. This allowed the Pistons to continue their interior success and it culminated in a close game at the half with the Lakers only leading by 2.
However, in the 2nd half the Pistons would have no such luck of keeping the game close. In the third period the Lakers turned up their defensive pressure, this time not relying only on Bynum to do the heavy lifting. The Lakers wings pressured ball handlers and both Bynum and Gasol protected the paint well. On offense, the Lakers went with a diversified attack that built on their first half success in the post. Ron and Fisher started the third with back to back 3 pointers on good ball movement. After Kobe and Pau hit some free throws, Ron got a steal, pushed the ball up court, hit a trailing Kobe for a dunk to push the Lakers’ lead to 13 and the rout was on. The 3rd period would end with the Lakers putting up 31 points while holding the Pistons to 14 and they never looked back.
The rest of the game was spent with the Lakers only continuing to pile on with strong execution that led to them getting whatever they wanted on offense. Excellent ball movement led to easy buckets from all over the floor and was capped off with multiple highlight level plays (including several dunks) from Shannon, Bynum, and Odom. My favorite play of the night, though, wasn’t a dunk at all. It came on a wonderful whip pass from Kobe to Gasol where Pau made a splendid catch and finish that really showed off his great hands.
Speaking of Kobe, #24 reached another milestone as he passed the Human Highlight Reel, Dominique Wilkins on the all-time NBA scoring list. Bryant now stands alone in 10th place and continues to add to his already amazing resumé. The deciding basket came on a classic Kobe drive where he weaved through traffic and then challenged Ben Wallace and ultimately flipped the ball up and in.
But even with Kobe passing another legend, this game was all about the team. Every Laker that played scored (save for Matt Barnes who went 0-2 on the night) and every player contributed to the win. The Lakers played good defense in the 2nd half and put forth a dominating performance that I think we’ve all been looking for lately. And while it was against a team that’s quite bad (and played even worse) that matters little when you consider how the Lakers have been playing lately. And really, considering how the game was actually close at the half, for the Lakers to finish the game with a 25 point lead speaks to the level of execution they exhibited in that final 24 minutes. The positives they showed in this game reflect that they’ve worked on and emphasized some of their recent shortcomings (a prime example being the 6 turnovers they committed after coughing the ball up 20 times against the Grizz) and it’s always a positive when a team can turn take those lessons onto the court with them. Now, all we need is for them to put a bit of streak together by playing this way consistently.