In a dominant performance that brought back visions of championship caliber basketball, the Lakers pummeled the Knicks 109-87 to extend their win streak to 4 games. The game showed that the Lakers continue to take positive steps in the right direction and may have signaled that they’re finally back on the right track after struggling so much over the past several weeks.
The lasting impression from this game will be the Lakers’ defense. They held the Knicks to 36% from the floor and an offensive efficiency of 88.8 on the night. The Lakers consistently challenged the Knicks’ shots inside and did a very good job of contesting their outside jumpers. However, I thought the Knicks did themselves a major disservice by not running the pick and roll more frequently in the contest. Instead of going to their bread and butter action, the Knicks ran variations of the set by initiating their offense through high post entries to Amar’e where he would work in isolation or look to run hand off sequences with the Knicks guards. This led to lots of jumpshooting from both Amar’e and the Knicks wings and they just couldn’t knock down enough shots to sustain offense. Amar’e ended up only making 1 of his first 10 shots from the floor as both Bynum and Gasol did an excellent job of contesting his shots out on the floor and then funneling him to each other when he’d put the ball on the floor.
The only reason why the game was close in the early going was because the Lakers played a sloppy first period (committing 7 turnovers) with their miscues fueling the Knicks offensive attack by allowing them to get out in the open court and work against a defense that wasn’t set. However, once the Lakers stopped turning the ball over (they’d commit only 3 after halftime) New York had to deal with the Lakers aggressive half court defense and their offensive execution only suffered for it.
The other major theme from this game was the Lakers ability to control the paint against the undersized Knicks. And the star of the show was Andrew Bynum. The young big man was just a beast inside easily backing down Amar’e with power post ups and taking it to the Knicks all-star big man nearly every time he touched the ball. And while Stoudemire blocked some of Bynum’s shots, big ‘Drew consistently battled and still finished with 18 points on a variety of strong finishes with none more powerful than a one handed slam right over the top of Amar’e after Bynum head faked to get him out of position and then dunked right on his head. Really, this was Andrew Bynum’s best game of the season…that is until he got tossed out of the game for arguing a foul when he blocked an Amar’e jumper on the left wing (a block that looked clean to these eyes).
Considering the success that Bynum was having and how much he was impacting the game, there was some reason for concern at the time that the ejection occurred. After all there was nearly a full quarter left to play in the game and the Knicks looked to make a rally after the resulting FT’s cut their deficit to only 8 points.
However, Kobe, Pau, and Odom weren’t going to have it. After ‘Drew got sent to the showers, those three guys completely took over the game and sparked a Laker run that ultimately pushed the lead up to 18 by the time they all checked out with less than 2 minutes remaining. The controlled the glass, continued to play pressure defense, and ultimately shut down the Knicks offense to the point that all D’Antoni could do was sit with his arms folded on the bench and look on in anger as his team took one of it’s worst losses in weeks.
A couple of other notes from this game:
*This game was testy for almost the entire contest. Besides Bynum’s ejection, Ron Artest was called for a technical and a flagrant foul (on separate plays) and both the Lakers and the Knicks seemed frustrated with each other (and the refs) the entire night. Normally, I leave the referees out of the discussion of the game as I usually feel that it’s the players jobs to adjust to how the game is being called and go from there. But tonight I thought the game was refereed unevenly (for both sides) where a foul on one end wasn’t one on the other and vice versa. When that’s the case it’s tough for the players to find a rhythm in the game and I thought that really plagued this contest throughout. In the end, I think the Lakers did a better job of playing through it all as their physicality and advantage of having Bynum/Gasol/Odom was too much for the Knicks. But the refereeing did stand out to me tonight and that’s not a good thing.
*Kobe didn’t have a good shooting night, needing 28 shots to get his 27 points. He missed a lot of mid-range jumpers and didn’t have his same feel for finishing on his array of leaners and fade-aways that he normally does. However, he impacted the game in many other ways hauling in 10 rebounds and dishing out 5 assists. If you really want to judge his impact, I’d suggest looking at his team leading plus/minus of +26 on the night.
*The Lakers shot really well from the outside by making 8 of their 17 attempts from deep. It’s been a while since the Lakers shot that well from deep and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that they won by such a comfortable margin on a night where their 3 point shots were falling. One of the bigger 3′s of the night was a dagger from (guess who) Derek Fisher who pushed the Lakers’ lead to 17 with 5 minutes left to play and effectively ended the game. Up until that point there was still a feel that the Knicks were within reach, but after that shot the game seemed over.
*The first night without Matt Barnes showed that the Lakers likely have a good formula for replacing his production. Luke Walton got 7 minutes of game action and Shannon shared the court with Kobe for about half of his 18 minutes. Luke did well in his short stint by running the offense well, but did have a couple of defensive issues mostly when getting sucked in on penetration and giving up open jumpers. Overall, though, he did a good job. As for Shannon, he had a very good all-around night. He contributed to his highlight reel with one handed dunk that had a little bit extra authority on it and a buzzer beating 3 pointer at the end of the third quarter where he was falling out of bounds in the left corner. That shot proved to be a big one because it completely shut down the momentum the Knicks built up going into the fourth quarter when they thought they’d only trail by 8 going into the final frame. Instead they trailed by 11 and the home crowd was really into it.