If one game could sum up a season, this was it. The Lakers found their footing early, extended the lead going into the home stretch, gave up that entire big lead through sloppy play and poor execution, had Kobe bail them out, and then out talented their opponent at the end with excellent big man play and some Kobe mixed in. The result was a 116-108 victory over the Kings that clinches the 2nd seed in the West and a 1st round date with the Hornets. What an amazing, frustrating, thrilling, breathe a sigh of relief at the end ride. This sounds just like the Lakers’ season, no?
So much happened in this game that bullet points will have to do…
*Offensively the Lakers looked like they’d been drilled on doing the little things before this game. The spacing was better, the passes were crisper, and the team got into their sets much quicker. Everything the Lakers did on offense just had a better, more even pace to it. As a team, I thought their focus on executing (at least for the first 3 quarters) was as good as it’s been in weeks.
*The Lakers big men, though running on fumes at the end, came up big tonight. Gasol tallied 18 points on 50% shooting and had 13 rebounds. He worked well both from the mid range and off the dribble while also doing a good job of drawing fouls on DeMarcus Cousins early on. He could have been a bit more effective in the post with his jump hook, but I’m in no way complaining about that. He showed fight and was aggressive when he caught the ball, two traits that always enhance his game. Meanwhile, Lamar Odom again showed his value as a player that can move seamlessly between the bench and the starting lineup. Taking his place with the first five, Odom scored 22 points, grabbed 8 rebounds, and dished out 7 assists in a fantastic effort that showed his all court game and versatility as a player. I know I’ve typed those same words about LO about 40 different times this year, but it’s amazing how good he’s been and how vital his contributions have been to the Lakers’ success. Tonight was no different as he made several plays down the stretch, including an “and 1” finish on a fast break where he received an excellent drop pass that converted into a lay in as he got hit by 2 Kings defenders.
*The Lakers’ reserves also played well. For all the grief I’ve given Shannon Brown lately, he put in some very good minutes in the first half by playing under control and making quick decisions with the ball. He had several good post entries and took his jumper in rhythm rather than relying on the dribble to set up his shot. I was also quite impressed with Trey Johnson in his 13 minutes of burn. He showed poise and versatility during his run, playing both PG and SG while never trying to do too much with the ball. He cut well, made good post entries, ran the floor hard, and even hit a couple of jumpers coming off P&R’s and hand off sequences at the elbow. All and all a very nice showing in his first minutes with the varsity team.
*The star of the Lakers was none other than Kobe Bryant, though. Mr. Bean worked all aspects of his offensive arsenal tonight, making several turn around jumpers and driving to the lane where he finished inside and drew fouls. Kobe finished the night with 36 points on 24 shots, grabbed 9 rebounds, and handed out 6 dimes in one of his more complete performances of late. In the fourth quarter, he did force some shots with the game tightening up (two separate baseline jumpers stand out as especially difficult looks where passing was certainly a better option) but he did hit the game that sent this contest to overtime so in the end it’s difficult to be down on him (especially when you re-examine his line and realize how good he was for first 3 periods and the overtime).
Kobe’s D also deserves mention as he had a big block at the end of regulation to ensure the extra 5 minute frame and then continued his good effort in overtime by doing a good job of denying Marcus Thornton touches and limiting the Kings best offensive option of the night.
*Where the Lakers weren’t that great was in defending Marcus Thornton for most of the game (this was mostly Fisher’s responsibility) and in securing defensive rebounds as the game wore on. Thornton scored well (33 points on 26 shots) and did a lot of damage not only with his jumper but in bulling his way to the hoop for finishes at the rim. As for the rebounding, the Lakers surrendered 16 offensive rebounds including many down the stretch of the 4th quarter that helped fuel the Kings’ furious come back that had every Laker fan asking “are you kidding me?”. The fact that Sacramento was able to turn an 18 point deficit going into the 4th quarter into a 3 point lead with only 10 seconds left proved how much they wanted this game and how they never did quit on the night. Which leads me too…
*The end of this game, even though it was a win, was quite sad for any fan of the NBA. The Kings players, their fans, and everyone watching at home could sense the emotion in the building as the final buzzer sounded with the Kings losing this game. All you really have to do is watch this clip and you’ll know exactly what I mean.
In the end though, I’ll gladly take this win. With the clinching of the #2 seed and news that both Bynum and Barnes should be ready for game 1 on Sunday, this is day that wasn’t so bad after all. After last night’s game I said that I just hoped we’d be feeling good tonight in celebrating a win and we are. So enjoy this one Laker fans, as the 2nd season is upon us and the race for the trophy begins.