Lakers/Clippers: A Tale Of Two Power Forwards

Darius Soriano —  February 26, 2011

Long story short, the Lakers beat the Clippers 108-95 to earn their third consecutive win and continue their post all-star break turnaround that has them on the right track in their push for the post-season.

And while Kobe was brilliant in the third quarter outscoring the Clippers 18-17 all on his own – making a variety of jumpers on classic displays of fundamental footwork and triple threat mastery – and the Lakers defense held the Clips to 38% shooting, to me this game came down to the simple match up of all-star power forwards.

Coming into the game, my focus was on Gasol vs. Griffin and, clearly, this round went to the big Spaniard.

Gasol was simply brilliant, making 8 of his 9 shots and all 6 of his FT’s to end the night with 22 points. And while his rebounding numbers were less than stellar (only grabbing 5 on the night), he did chip in 4 assists and 2 blocks, ending the night +16 (trailing only Kobe’s +20). Relying mostly on his jumper and allowing the game to come to him by having his teammates set him up and moving into position to make clean catches, Pau was decisive with his shot and quickly decided to either fire a rhythm jumper or move the ball on to a teammate. He showed a great feel for how he would get his baskets and never once did I get the sense he had any doubts or tentativeness about letting his shot fly. Considering that hasn’t always been true this season, it was great to see Pau commit to getting up his shot when the ball came his way and he had space. Sure, he wasn’t bruising and didn’t go to the post as often as he normally does, but his aggressiveness in looking for his shot screamed black swan.

But it wasn’t just Pau’s offense that was a difference maker, his defense against the explosive Griffin was also top notch. Using his length as his key asset against Blake, Gasol backed off the Clips’ prize rookie tempting him to shoot his jumper with Blake obliging more often than not. And considering that the Lakers would love to have the dunk contest winner shoot from 20 feet away more often than not, I’d say that Pau executed the Lakers’ defensive scheme to perfection. But you’re not going to keep Blake away from the paint on every possession. When Griffin did earn good position and go into the post, Gasol expertly forced him into poor positions on the floor and then contested well so that Blake would have to finish over the top of extended arms. Multiple times Gasol altered Griffin’s short shots and on one specific possession even blocked his lefty lay up attempt after closing out correctly to his shooting hand and then forcing him to drive to his weaker, left side.  So even though Griffin finished with 22 points, he needed 18 shots to get there and rarely looked in his element in the Clips half court sets.

So while there were many other elements to this game that contributed to the result we saw at the end of the night (including Bynum’s 16 and 11, the bench’s solid play, and the aforementioned Kobe explosion), none to me was bigger than the stark difference in efficiency displayed by each team’s prize big man. Gasol showed how deft touch from 15-18 feet and controlled post ups could pace his team while Griffin’s lack of a jumper and inability to get to the rim and crack the code of Gasol’s (and the other Lakers’ bigs) defense stalled the Clips attack too frequently. And in the end, considering how much the Clips depend on Blake to generate offense and momentum for them it was the difference in this game. No shame in being out dueled by one of the best bigs in the world, but on this night that’s exactly what happened to Griffin. And the result was a Laker W. Just the way the coaches hoped and drew it up, I’m sure.

Darius Soriano

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22 responses to Lakers/Clippers: A Tale Of Two Power Forwards

  1. nice game, except for Luke. Why is this guy even in the court. Any D leaguers will embarass this fluke, slow motion, no rhythm, blah blah blah

  2. Late in the game, the Lakers switched on defense, leaving Steve Blake guarding Griffin down low by the basket.

    As the Lakers were already well out in front, I was hoping to witness a little Blake on Blake crime.

    Sorry.

  3. I’m glad this team is putting together a buildup of momentum game-by-game. It’s a recipe for success, and should help them tune up for the warzone that is the Western Conference playoffs. The good signs are slowly coming. Kobe looks like he has a bit more energy. Gasol looks more aggressive and more importantly decisive, out shooting seems to have improved, but best of all it appears our defense is picking up. Those are all keys that we will need come playoff time.

  4. Blake has trouble against taller, longer power forwards. I remember Aldridge played him quite well.

  5. I will say this about luke Walton… If he plays even one meaningful minute in the playoffs… Phil Jackson is being paid off. I would even say Ebanks is a better player. He can at least walk without a limp.

  6. Three in a row are a great start into the second part of the regular season, but I´d say that it is worth nothing if the team can´t beat the new look Thunder on sunday. Let´s hope the Lakers are focused and want to prove a point against them.

  7. Black swan! I really like Pau’s feisty play the past couple of games. He was really banging bodies with Aldridge the other night (resulting in Aldridge throwing the ball at him in frustration), and on one play last night I saw him shove Griffin so hard that he flew backwards. Griffin was the one who was punked this time.

  8. I agree with Aaron *barf*. I think Ebanks’ play in garbage time has justified some spot rotation minutes, just like Shannon Brown a couple of years ago. In 08-09, Brown only played garbage minutes for the first few games, but he played so well in those garbage minutes that Phil threw him into some rotation minutes and eventually trusted him enough to play him long stretches in the playoffs (albeit not in the Finals).

    And yes, Luke Walton is abso-frickin-lutely terrible. His passing is leading to turnovers just as often as they lead to good offensive possessions. Yea, I see how he directs the team into Triangles when he’s on the court, but playing 4v5 on both ends of the floor negates that, severely.

  9. Are the bloggers here really surprised that the Lakers seem to be rounding into better form than earlier in the year?

    Exactly what do Phil Jackson teams do during the regular season?

    What is Kobe focused on…the regular season?

    There are concerns with this team, but we all have to admit the opposition has been getting better over the last few years. We are at the top of the spending ladder and have limitations on what we can do, but our front office has done pretty well filling in needed spare parts. Finally, all a team can ask for is to be in the hunt for a championship – we are – and the cry about not being prohibitive favorites simply speaks to incredibly spoiled children – see the Yankees in the first decade of this century.

  10. Phil Jackson got you worried there didn’t ya?

    I was referring to the usual antics of not fielding their best efforts, turning on the “no-switch” as Kobe refers to and simply outlasting the clearly inferior team.

    The Lakers clearly have issues to settle, and just like Rick Fox used to say “When you’re winning, everyone looks good.” There is also no better cure for any sort of struggle than convincing wins albeit against inferior teams.

    I love how Gasol manned up this game against the most-popular guy in LA. But I also know he always has it in him, pretty much how he stood up on game 7 of last year and showed his true being.

    Long time FB&G.

  11. I agree with Zephid and Aaron (that just sounds wrong). I’d also like to see Ebanks get some rotation minutes–but we all know it’s not going to happen. Predictably, Phil Jackson basically went out of his way to criticize Ebank’s play in his post-game remarks. I think he’d like to nip Ebanks-over-Walton talk in the bud, if possible.

  12. I’ve always said my biggest issue with Luke is that for a guy whose bball IQ is supposed to be his strength, his ratio of dumb mistakes to smart plays is about even. When he doesn’t give you much else in terms of shooting and defense, that’s not a great ratio.

    Ebanks is not the cure but I would love to see some spot minutes from him. He may have the same ratio of dumb to smart play but he at least gives the team a dimension of athletic defense they sorely need.

    Last night he jacked up that quick shot which was stupid. But he also had two great fast break plays where he forced it down the Clips throat.

    I’d have less issues with Luke’s play if he was just a solid fundamental guy, the game manager. But he’s not and that part of his reputation is overrated IMO.

  13. Walton is who he is. Walton is who he has always been. When you get very few minutes your game will always suffer – see Ebanks. My take is that Phil is giving Luke minutes now so he can use him later, if he has to. He simply has to give him minutes to get the rust off, if he plans to give him situational minutes in the playoffs against certain teams/players. Ebanks is a rookie and he hasn’t any body of work – therefore, Phil simply will not give him situational minutes in the playoffs – hence his lack of any rotational time.

  14. @Craig W. I don’t disagree with the notion that Luke is who he is and the rest about minutes and rust.

    I guess what’s always baffled me with Phil’s obsession with Luke is the lack of accountability when it comes to dumb plays.

    I don’t profess to be an expert or to second guess Phil. My attitude is more of trying to comprehend what other positive things Phil sees in Luke that outweighs the negatives. Maybe I’m just not smart enough to see the large improvement in the flow of the offense that Luke brings. I see some improvements but not a ton.

    Again, maybe it’s just me and I’m not smart enough to see all the other positives.

  15. “Griffin’s lack of a jumper”.

    AAron, I love you (ala Charkes Barkley, haha),
    BUT!!
    Griffin played a good game. The Lakers doubled him and he made good passes. He missed two dunks or his shooting % would have been 50%. He made good passes out of the double team.
    He made five twenty-foot jump shots.
    I’m a die-hard Lakers fan since 1960, but give credit when its due.

  16. chownoir,
    Luke is a reasonable tough 6’8″ small forward, who is not fleet-of-foot. In some situations he could be used if we have problems with our #1 or #2 players at that position. That is where Luke will play. However, he simply cannot play without some minutes in the season to get his feel-for-the-game back. That is where Phil is and nothing more.

    Ebanks may be a door to our future, but Phil – see his track record – simply will not trust him in the post season, period. If he gets any minutes, they will be garbage minutes only – unless we lose our #1, #2, and Luke to fouls or injury. Even then I would expect to see more Kobe, instead of Ebanks.

    Look at history and that should tell you about Phil. The fact that we don’t see the same thing he does really doesn’t come into this at all. He is the coach.

    P.S. This is not to imply that I don’t have any criticisms of Phil’s coaching. My record on this blog speaks to that.

  17. If Phil refuses to start Ariza over “his son”, Luke, than EBanks has very little chance to get minutes over Luke. This is Phil’s last season, and I would guess that he has even less incentive to develop the rookies. I can see EBanks getting more minutes if Luke volunteers himself to be benched, like he did with Ariza. Hopefully, Barnes will return soon, and the horror of watching Luke play basketball will be nothing but a distant memory.

  18. Luke was a solid player, who has not been able to get back to that level because of injuries and rustiness. If he can get back to that level by the playoffs, he would provide very welcome depth and change-of-pace. There is also limited depth at the PF/C positions, especially when considering Bynum’s history. Walton would be usable in limited PF minutes, if he can get the rust off. Ebanks and Caracter are unlikely to get to that level this season, Barnes is still a question mark, so it’s appropriate that Jackson give that time to Walton.

  19. 19, I think the problem is that he’s never going to get the rust off. He’s on the wrong side of 30, it’s not as if he’s getting any healthier, and his back injuries are ones that don’t just go away. I don’t think he’s usable in limited SF minutes, let alone limited PF minutes. Caracter’s post game is so good, and he plays so hard on defense that there’s no reason why spot PF minutes wouldn’t go to him. And those spot SF minutes are perfect for Ebanks to get a better feel for running the offense with the rotation players.

    Sure, Ebanks and Caracter don’t know the offense or the defense as well, but if we had prepared them for the playoffs over the course of the season (like San Antonio has done with Gary Neal), there’s a good chance they could’ve given us 5x as much as Luke Walton does (unless you consider Walton’s production negative, in which case it’s -5x).

    I really like Luke Walton and I’ve defended his signing for a long time (he was the 3rd best Laker and was easily worth $5Mper if he continued that level of production), but his play has been so bad this season and last that I can’t justify him getting minutes over young, healthy, if inexperienced guys like Ebanks and Caracter.

  20. Zephid,
    While you may have a point, you realize that Phil is not going to play rookies in the playoffs – unless his other players all break their legs. With that in mind, I really don’t understand all the ‘why don’ts’ and ‘shoulds’ going around the blog here.

    All this complaining isn’t going to change anything. Phil isn’t Del Harris and won’t put a rookie in at the end of an important playoff game.

  21. Zephid,
    If you’re thinking long-term, definitely. I just think that with the few minutes pf playing time that is being dealt with, it is much more likely that Walton will be able to contribute (if needed) this playoff season than the other two. Particularly when that playing time is likely to be zero when Barnes gets back.