Lakers/Blazers: Artest The Catalyst, Kobe The Closer

Darius Soriano —  February 24, 2011

This win simply feels better than others. As I mentioned in the game preview, a home/road back to back in an arena that the Lakers have traditionally struggled in is a tough task and the fact that the Lakers were able to leave the Rose Garden with a 106-101 victory as Laker fans chanted MVP for Kobe Bryant (without boos drowning them out) is something I’ll remember for some time. Being down 10 points with 5:48 to go and 7 with only 1:44 left made this game seem completely out of reach, but the Lakers still pulled it out. Again, this one will stick with me.

But it’s not just the circumstances that I’ll remember, I’ll also remember how big Ron Artest came up. Playing with a freedom and decisiveness that’s been lacking for too many games this year, Ron was simply fantastic. When the other Lakers couldn’t make a shot, Artest carried his mates with made jumpers and attacking moves to the rim. Every jumper seemed to be taken in rhythm and even when he sidestepped or escape dribbled to get off his jumper he was was able to set his feet and was on balance. He’d end the night with 24 points on only 13 shots (including 5-6 on three pointers) and repeatedly came up big when the Lakers needed him, with his most crucial make coming on a three pointer with under two minutes that cut the Blazers’ lead to 4 and allowed the Lakers to close with a flurry that forced overtime.

But to even get to overtime, the Lakers needed more than just an on fire Artest. They needed Kobe and Pau as well. And they sure did deliver down the stretch. After starting game poorly and shooting only 5-16 in the first half, Kobe came through in the 2nd half and especially delivered in the clutch with the game on the line. After Ron’s aforementioned shot got the Lakers to within 4 points, Kobe hit two jumpers that only he can seem to conjure when he faded along the baseline on his first make and then hit another fadeaway at the FT line from a stationary position that he makes look so much easier than it actually is. In overtime Kobe also made some key plays on and off the ball, scoring well but also forcing two turnovers that put the Blazers behind the 8 ball where they couldn’t recover. All in all, even with the lows early in the game, this was a brilliant game from Kobe as he finished with 37 points, making 9 of his last 15 shots, earning 7 trips to the FT line while also grabbing 9 boards and dishing out 6 assists.

As for Gasol, it seemed like he’d be overshadowed by his PF counterpart as LaMarcus Aldridge was playing phenomenal for most of the game and showing everyone that he too deserved to be an all-star. LMA took Pau to the left block play after play and knocked down jumpers, hit runners when driving to his right, and lost Pau on more than one occasion to get open for easy shots right at the rim. Without LaMarcus playing as well as he was, I think it’s safe to say that the Blazers wouldn’t have been in this game. But despite Aldridge’s strong play, Pau never folded and continued to fight. So even with LaMarcus putting up 29 points on 12-18 shooting, Gasol just kept plugging away and finally found his groove late in the game as he started to figure out how to attack LMA on both ends. Defensively that meant Pau pushing Aldridge further from the hoop and sitting on his right hand to force him to either shoot a contested jumper or make the pass back out to reset the offense. And when Pau got the ball on the other end, he started to use counters to the moves that he had used with some effectiveness all night. After driving hard to his right hand or shooting his jumper as his main offensive weapons for the first 3 quarters, Pau used drop steps and step throughs after those same drives in the final frame to get the Lakers the buckets they needed.

Even though the Lakers were carried by these three guys, this win is more a testament to the team’s persistence and ability to overcome dire circumstances to still pull out a win. By never folding or finding an excuse to accept a moral victory the Lakers showed that championship mettle that many have questioned they possess this season. All the calls didn’t go their way and there were several frustrating moments throughout the entire contest but in the end the Lakers used that energy to positively effect change and motivate themselves to pull through together. I’m cautiously optimistic that this win will serve as the springboard that we’ve all been waiting for this year. And while I feel like I’ve said that several times this year, this game just feels different; this was a game the Lakers would have lost earlier this year but tonight they won on grit and guts. More like this for the remaining games this year, please.

Darius Soriano

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28 responses to Lakers/Blazers: Artest The Catalyst, Kobe The Closer

  1. Great recap. Missed the game, so this definitely helped fill in some of the blanks.

  2. This game reminded me a lot of the Orlando Finals Game 4, where the team overcame a one-sided officiating crew, forced overtime, and prevailed at the end. In that Orlando game, there was an 18-0 FT discrepancy in the 4th quarter plus OT until Pau was fouled with a couple seconds left in OT. In this game, it was 25-9 in FT attempts in favor of Portland until Kobe shot six FTs in the final 18 seconds of OT. It’s just my impression, but whenever Leon Wood is one of the referees, the Lakers seem to be on the short end of most of the calls. This is a good omen for the team’s chances of repeating. Yes, they probably would have thrown in the towel in this same situation a couple months ago.

  3. Good recap even though you seem to have forgotten refs’ attitude towards No 24.He has not shot double digit FTs like forever.This is what makes ”advanced stats lovers” so shallow.Lots of stats are murky and questionable.

  4. Re: Artest
    As Stu put it… “he just looks quicker the last two games. He is driving by people like they are nailed to the floor.” So is Artest finally healthy? Or did his legs just get a Kobe All Star Game hall pass? Tune in next game. And I’m not asking Artest to play like is every night. He isn’t Lebron and never was. But if his legs can stay that healthy… The Lakers won’t even lose to tue Heat.

    Re: Bynum
    He just hasn’t seemed like himself as soon as he got to Cleveland. He looks slow and impotent. I don’t want to be Mr Negative… But when players start to look like this for an extended period of time the line “Microfracture Surgery: Out for Season” usually crawls along the bottom of the screen following your name shortly after.

  5. How does LMA not get a T for tossing the ball at Pau in overtime? Pau clearly fouled LMA but that ball toss shoulda been a T!!

  6. The fact that Andrew Bynums contribution (or really, the lack thereof) is not mentioned in this recap of a hard fought game against a quality team speaks volumes about how far away Drew is from reaching the potential that we all hope he has. Question is: is it really in him afterall?

  7. Clutch Fade-away shots, Clutch Free throws, Clutch rebound, clutch Steals… the name is Kobe Bean Bryant. And what was the name of the guy who said Kobe was not clutch? Hmmmm easily forgot his name as he was just making a name out of a genuine Clutch player.

    On an off topic, is it true that the Jazz are trying to trade Deron Williams? If it is true How I wish we could get him on board, however, that is wishful thinking considering the cap and the chips that we have to trade with the jazz.

  8. Not to sound too repetitive, but great game overall. Don’t be fooled by Kobe’s somewhat less than average fg%, some of the shots were good looks that simply didn’t go in, especially in the 1st half. Overall, the team played better than the box score reflects. Admittedly, they could have kept the TOs down, but defensively they were top notch. Kobe and Artest excelled on the perimeter, and even though LMA put up All Star numbers, Pau did an excellent job pushing him off the low block in the 4th quarter and in OT.

    Offensively, they executed their sets properly and while they missed a number of shots, they can be pleased with the outcome, especially since as Darius correctly points out, they were down by 7 with less than 2 minutes to go. Even two weeks ago, this team would have packed it in but I guess the guys are starting to get their focus together in time for the playoffs. Let’s hope this is the beginning of a great turnaround.

    P.S. When will Steve Blake actually show up and play, justifying the $16 million contract he signed up for? It seems he has yet to settle into the system. For a sound PG with a high basketball IQ, it’s rather troubling to see him struggle.

  9. Spartacus, D-Will is a Net. I think we missed the boat, not that I think we were ever a serious contender to land him.

  10. @2–The Dude…..

    Great minds apparently think alike. Midway through the 4th, when that statline flashed up on the screen, I thought of that exact game. Ever since ‘Drew got tossed by Wood against the Knicks, Wood’s crew has let Drew (and sometimes Pau, too–talk about collateral damage!) be abused by everyone, and last night it was Big “P”…..although kudos to him for playing Drew physically…I would have liked to have seen Drew complain less and fight more, but these are the trials and tribulations we spoiled fans must endure….

    @4–D, I don’t disagree that by the “letter of the law” LMA should have been T’d when he threw the ball at Pau, but even I have to cut the crew a break there. Three point game, in the Rose Garden, LMA had just been fouled (a good call by the way–see I can be nice to the refs) and was stepping to the line with a chance to cut it to one. I don’t know if I would have had the cajones to T the guy up at that point….Frankly, I wish the refs would give all players a little bit more latitude in situations like that, where two fierce rivals are duking it out in the final moments, and emotions are clearly running high…I agreed with the no-call…Parenthetically, to Wood’s credit, he recognized the situation, and didn’t T up Kobe or Phil when they lost their minds when the T wasn’t called….Wood let Kobe absolutely go off and showed a lot of restraint…

  11. 4, I agree with 9, Kobe was ripping into Leon Wood, as highlighted repeatedly by those horrible, horrible, horrible Portland announcers, and Wood showed a lot of restraint in not T’ing him up. The game was competitive and close, and you wouldn’t want an official ruining the game by calling a frivolous T so late in the game.

  12. MannyP hit it exactly. Bynum was a complete non-factor. Comes to crunch time Phil does not play him (even on a rare off night by Lamar) and has little faith that he should be one of the five guys on the floor with the game on the line. Lakers may win another ring this year but mark my words – he is not a franchise player when healthy and he is often not healthy. Lakers will regret not trading him.

  13. @Manny P and BrianAu, did you guys watch the game? I thought Bynum contributed a good amount. He was battling guys and challenging shots. Thought he changed quite a few shots like he usually does. He hustled down the floor several times in transition and forced Portland to reset.

    Bynum played most of the game when LO was struggling and when LO heated up, Bynum sat. Which is normal for Phil. Even when Bynum has fantastic games, Phil sits him at the end. Phil just trusts LO and Pau more, which is not to say he doesn’t trust Drew.

    Drew has his faults but you guys are chasing up the wrong tree in this game.

  14. Chownoir,
    So this is how far our expectations should drop? Did Andrew contribute, yes. Was he anywhere near being a “franchise” player? NO! Is it too much for us to ask him in his 6th year in the freakin’ league to be our third best player on the team? To challenge for being an all start at arguably the weakest position in the league? But now we should be thankful that in a tough game against a playoff team that he may (MAY) have been one of our 6 best players that we are being too hard on him? Is it too much to ask that he be good enough to be played during the biggest moments of the game? That in THIRTY minutes of playing time he can do better than 6 freakin’ points and a measly 4 rebounds? That I would take easily six centers in the NBA over him today who all are paid much less. This is our future star? It has been years since Andrew scored over 40 points in a game. The days when all of us saw the potential in this talented young man yet we are in year 6 here. Some defensive effort some modicum of hustle is not sufficient. He has failed to justify his paycheck again and again. This is reality. We have won championships with little to no contribution from him. Can you name even one single defining moment of a huge play offensively or defensively in a big moment from him? I will stop my rant but plead to you – tell me when we should stop looking for potential and demanding performance. When? End of this season? These playoffs? Next year? When?

  15. I don’t think Abbott can help himself from sounding like a broken record…

    http://espn.go.com/blog/TrueHoop/post/_/id/25346/kobe-in-crunch-time-blazers-believe

  16. That is the first game this season that I watched where I thought the poor officiating was effecting the outcome, which is good news since it took 2/3 of the season before I thought that and the Lakers still won.

  17. During the game, I thought that the Lakers had earned more FT’s than they’d taken. But, I thought Portland was ahead mostly because Aldridge was unstoppable for long stretches. I struggle with blaming the refs too much for games like last night, though I would prefer to notice them less. In the end, I still think it’s on the players to adjust to what’s going on and channel any frustration into beating the opponent. Early on I thought Kobe and LO (with his T) weren’t doing this well enough. By the end of the game, though, I thought they’d adjusted just fine. And at the final buzzer when Kobe slammed the ball down in a defiant declaration of victory I think he felt that satisfation of winning when – correctly or not – he felt that the odds weren’t in his favor for a variety of reasons (including the way the game was being called).

  18. What (didn’t) surprise me about Abbott’s predictable “the guy that just killed my team more or less singlehandedly isn’t clutch” piece was that until LMA shot those free throws with the game essentially decided, he was scoreless in the 4th and OT…I want to say he didn’t score for the last 4-5 minutes of the 3rd also.

    It’s one thing to put up huge numbers (and that first quarter dunk of his was sweet, and absolutely set the tone that the Blazers were serious–without that waking up the team and the crowd, it could have been a blowout loss for them) in the first 30 minutes of the game, but when you clam for a quarter-plus, you’re emphatically not The Guy.

    Kobe does the opposite. Sure, he misses a ton of shots at the end of games, as Abbott loves to point out, but he’s not afraid to miss them. LMA, and it appears most of the rest of the Blazers, are.

  19. @BrianAu, when was I saying I was looking at his potential? Looking at performance, I see ever since his return, the team D has improved steadily. He’s been fairly consistent in providing a paint presence this team has lacked. And for all the talk about his lack of maturity, I think he’s shown great maturity in accepting that his role is to battle, play D and take few shot attempts. He doesn’t complain about not getting shots.

    I don’t recall saying anything in my post about him being a franchise player. I don’t know if he is or isn’t. I do know that he provides a skill set this team sorely needs and isn’t easily replaced if you were to trade him. He doesn’t get paid franchise money but he does get paid for a size and skill set combination that is rare in the league.

    I also disagree that he’s contributed little to nothing in the last two championships. I think his presence was a key in the Finals even if the box score didn’t always reflect it.

    I’m have no problems trading him if the right deal comes along. But this incessant devaluing of his contributions and work ethic is kind of ridiculous in my opinion.

    Also there’s lots of decaffeinated brands out there that taste just as good as the real thing

  20. LMAO this is hilarious. Right after the win last night when most people were celebrating in the game thread, I actually typed up a “Get ready for a TrueHoop post tomorrow on why Kobe is garbage in clutch time,” and then deleted it before posting, figuring it was petty and pointless. And that after last night, Henry Abbott would be too busy gnawing off his own arm than to post on Kobe.

    I defended him a couple years ago, feeling Lakers fans were too sensitive. Right now, the man’s completely embarrassing himself.

    I think it’s rather sad that he tries so hard to tear down one of our all-time greats instead of enjoying him while we have a chance.

  21. As a long time Lakers fan living in PDX, this game was awesome. We’ve struggled up here for so long dating back 20 years that it was fun to get a win with Kobe back in the line-up. With Blazers fans salivating up 10 with 5 min to go, I thought I’d be walking out of the Rose Garden with another L taking sht from my buddies. But Kobe and the Lakers perserved. Was awesome to see the highlights with all the Lakers fans cheering. And, Abbott is just childish and amatuerish at this point with his repeated Kobe bashing columns.

  22. @20 –

    You can make the same argument for Lamar too. He hasn’t been consistent or stepped up in situations when he could clearly lift his team to wins (This all being in years past. He’s been nails for most of this year). The original expectation for him was to be the #2 scorer after Kobe.

    That being said they pay him good money to be an x-factor in playoff series. There just aren’t that many teams out there that match up well against him when he’s impacting games the way he can. Although Portland looks from pretty athletic young guys at the small and power forward positions.

  23. I have an idea I would like to get some feedback on regarding Kobe in the clutch.

    Lets say we assign a difficulty to each crunchtime basket based on various factors, distance from the rim, time left on the clock, number of defenders…etc. We also say that the difficulty of these shots is normally distributed. Perhaps then there is a sort of low hanging fruit effect which is to say that players which take fewer shots tend to take shots which are easier or harder to pass up. Players that take more shots tend to take more of those difficult shots with lower results. In other words, perhaps you can’t fairly compare Kobe’s FGM/FGA in crunch time to players who take more of the low hanging fruit shots.

  24. By the way, even for people who ignore Truehoop on principle, the comments on that article are hilarious. Here’s one that I really liked, from ‘mfluder47′:

    “Henry this horse died a long time ago, but you keep whaling on it. The hell of it is, you’re right- its just that no one cares anymore, yet you keep yelling about it. What is your imaginary endgame here? People rising up and revolting against the idea that Kobe Bryant is a clutch player? Stat geeks storming the set of ‘Inside the NBA’ while Ernie, Kenny, and Charles run for their lives? You’re a smart guy and I love Truehoop but you’re starting to come off as obsessive and bitter.”

    I don’t know if he has an endgame other than pageviews.

  25. Question on the Davis/Williams trade. Just read an article by Kurt over at PBT, and I’m not entirely sure why this is such a huge win for the Clippers and a huge mistake for the Cavs. If anything, I see it as a small mistake by both teams.

    I know Davis dogged it for so long, but ever since Griffin’s emerged, Davis has been re-engaged and playing at a much higher levels – higher than Williams can provide, in my opinion. I thought the Clippers had a great core to build on. I’m not sure if Williams can push the ball or make the passes that Davis makes. So to me, Davis was the better fit for the Clips going forward.

    The Cavs are rebuilding. A high draft pick, even in a weak draft, is a gain. They’re not going anywhere with Williams or Davis. If Gilbert is willing to pay the extra salary, why not? The only thing to me is that it hurts the development of Ramon Sessions.

    But I don’t really see this as a huge win for the Clips. Maybe I’ll be proven wrong when I see how Williams fits with them.

  26. “I want all of our players to play like franchise players, every single play, of every single game!”

    Really?

    Last night was fun to watch, but it is still only the regular season.

    I wouldn’t get too high, or too low, about anything in the regular season, barring injuries.

    Injuries are the only thing that can happen in the regular season that can hurt the Lakers playoff chances.

  27. I don’t know what impressed me more, this write-up or the grit the Lakers showed. Great Article, Darius.

    The refs did blow this game. Rudy was freaking on the scorer’s table with the ball still touching his hand (it was not a bang bang play) and the refs missed that badly. But they made sure they went back and checked a three point shot that we had made and changed it to a two. That’s the second such occurance, including the game where the opposing player’s foot was on the line when he passed to the rim and they scored with a tenth of a second left on the clock. In that game they changed a Fisher three to a two also after their miss of the previous play.