Last night’s win is still taking up a lot of space in my crowded brain. So with that, I’ve no choice but to spill out random thoughts about the Lakers’ first win of these playoffs…
- Pau Gasol is taking a lot of heat for his performance so far this series and based off his stat lines and his penchant for shooting turnaround jumpers, I can understand why. Nearly every one expects more from Gasol (myself included) and it’s fair to say that he’s been a disappointment in the first two games. That said, last night I spent nearly the entire final three quarters pleading to my TV for the Lakers to run any sort of action that would put Pau in better position to do damage. Nearly every time the Lakers ran an action for Gasol to get the ball, it involved him moving from weak to strong side without the aid of a screen to make the catch or asked for him to fight for position on the weakside for a post isolation. I’ve come to the conclusion that these plays will not work. Carl Landry and Emeka Okafor are simply stronger than Gasol and are consistently uprooting him and knocking him off his spots. Furthermore, when Pau does make the catch he’s unable to drive by them or back them down without also being bumped off his path (please note, this is not a complaint about the refereeing). All I ask is for someone, anyone, to set a screen for Gasol to give him that extra second to make a catch without a defender draped all over him. Any screen will do. A back screen in Center opposite sets. A cross screen by a cutting wing to bring him to the middle of the key when the strong side post is filled. A rub screen by the guard when Pau makes his catch at the elbow. Any of these actions will work and all of them are basic actions built into the Triangle. I just don’t see the point in telling Pau that the solution to all of his problems are getting lower (to build a stronger base) and working harder. That’s part of the solution, but not all of it. The coaches need to help him help the team.
- Our old friend Trevor Ariza really hurt the Lakers yesterday. He hit a variety of shots – some unexpected, some not – that really kept the Hornets afloat on offense. And while I understand that a repeat performance isn’t likely, it’s surely possible considering how Trevor did his damage. The Hornets consistently deployed Ariza on the extended wing and had him avoid the short corner. They moved him up high so that in the event that Chris Paul passed him the ball he could either shoot the three in space or attack hard to the middle of the floor to his strong hand. The Lakers wings are going to help off Trevor consistently (as they should) to cut off the lane when Chris Paul drives, but when they recover to Trevor they mustn’t do so in a way that invites the drive. I don’t know about you, but I’m happy to surrender open three pointers to Ariza and make him prove he can get hot like it’s 2009. Yesterday he hit 2 of 3 from deep, but can he hit 5 of 7? The Lakers never made him prove it and instead ran out to him only to see him use his dribble to drive right by the close out. In a game of mostly expert defense from the Lakers, this was one area they needed to be better. Hopefully in game 3 and beyond, they will be.
- Andrew Bynum’s fantastic game was discussed at length in the recap, but one thing I was especially proud of was his singular focus and lack of moping when things didn’t go his way. On one specific play Bynum posted up hard on the ball side only to see the ball swing back the other direction and go into Gasol instead. Pau lost the ball and the Hornets ended up racing the floor the other direction. In season’s past, Bynum – who did not get the post touch he desired earlier in the possession – might have moped back on D and trailed the play. Instead he busted down court in a full sprint and ended up picking off a cross court pass to a man that was in the corner. Big Drew ran nearly baseline to baseline to grab a steal on a pass that the Hornets only made because they thought it was open. Bynum erased that opening with pure hustle and desire. It was a single play in a series of sloppiness from both sides and likely won’t be remembered by anyone when the playoffs are over. But it stood out to me. Our guy has come a long way in the past 18 months.
- I’m a believer in statistics and how they can be used to further analyze the game. I respect metrics like PER, on/off stats, pace based efficiency numbers, and all the insight that can be gleaned from them. That said, last night a Laker scored 0 points, grabbed 3 rebounds, handed out 5 assists (to 2 turnovers), had no steals or blocks, but had a major impact on the game. Steve Blake may not have given the Lakers much on the stats page (save for the team high in assists that were a strong tangible contribution), but his organization of the Lakers sets, his ability to involve his teammates on offense, his desire to push the ball up court, and his scrappiness on defense were all key ingredients to the win. I know that for many Blake has not been the guy we’d hoped in terms of numbers provided and stats accumulated. But last night he gave his team a shot in the arm. He made a difference. I’m very happy that he’s back.
- I’m really hopefull that Shannon Brown can find his stride at some point these playoffs. His good to bad possessions ratio has been steadily moving in the wrong direction and I’d love for him to find a way to reverse the trend. His last couple months of action could be perfectly summed up by the sequence where he sunk a three pointer after a great two man game of post entries and kick outs, only to come down the next possession and jack up an extremely suspect long jumper. Maybe I should stop holding out hope, but I have to think he can find some sort of rhythm to his game this post-season. The Lakers will need him.