Last night’s game 5 may have been the best game the Lakers have played in this young post season. No one player was that great, but the cumulative production that the players produced made for a great win. With 6 Lakers scoring double figures and the bench players bringing a spark with their energy and hustle on both ends, every player that saw game action contributed positively. In a 16 point win it’s not rare to have every player with a positive plus/minus, but the Lakers are one team where that’s often not true. Often times, even in blowout wins, the bench unit gets outplayed and there’s a player or two that are -4 or -6 on the night. Or, there’s a starter that had a couple of particularly poor stretches and he ends up on the negative end at the game’s conclusion. Last night, even if it was only a +2, every Laker had a positive plus minus. I know it’s not an end all stat, but it does show that every Laker was able to contribute to helping the team win in the minutes he played.
A few other thoughts from game 5 and the rest of the series…
- After the game, everyone had an opinion on Kobe’s ankle injury. Most of the Hornets players (plus coach Monty Williams) said that Kobe really wasn’t that hurt, essentially saying “did he look hurt out there?”. And while Kobe was surely good enough to play, I thought he was noticeably moving gingerly early in the game and later on you could tell he didn’t have a lot of burst when moving off the ball. Plus, on defense, he didn’t have any quickness when trying to move laterally to keep up with guys off the dribble. Several times even Belinelli went right by him off the dribble when Kobe tried to close out.
- As for the dunks he threw down being evidence that Kobe’s not hurt, go back and review them. Notice that neither of his dunks came off his bum left leg. The Okafor dunk was a two footed takeoff and on the left hander he tossed in over Landry, Kobe jumped off his right leg. Neither required a lot of lift from his bad leg. Even when Kobe was driving he was pushing off his right leg a lot (something he does frequently anyway). Basically, I thought Kobe compensated for his injury well but that the plays he made last night don’t really erase the fact that he’s pretty banged up.
- After game 2, I mentioned that the Lakers needed to help Pau help the team by setting more screens for him and not ask him to simply back his man down to get post position. I acknowledged that Pau did need to work harder to be effective, but the solution to his problems didn’t lie just with Gasol himself. In game 5, we saw improvement in both aspects. The Lakers ran several center opposite sets for Pau, setting cross screens for him to make the catch coming to the strong side (his 2nd basket of the game came on this set). Pau also got in a lower stance when posting up and that allowed him to better back down Landry on several plays that set up his jump hook and turnaround jumper. It only took 5 games for this to happen, but better late than never.
- Is it just me, or does Trevor Ariza look like the 2009 version of himself? He’s canning open jumpers, driving to the cup hard, and finishing acrobatically over big men challenging. Yesterday on twitter someone (I can’t recall who) commented that Ariza was obviously so bad the last two regular seasons because those games weren’t in the playoffs. It came off as mostly a joke, but Ariza does seem a like a guy that raises his game in the post-season. All I can say is, good for him. After all, stepping up in the post-season helped earn our guys some hardware.
- Since I brought up Ariza, it’s only fair to bring up Artest too. He’s having himself an excellent series and last night’s effort was no exception. For a good take on what Ron’s done so far these playoffs, go read this. It’s worth your time.
- Last night Jarrett Jack was 0-3 from the field and scored 1 point. He also had 2 rebounds, 1 assist, and 3 turnovers. Surely the Hornets need more from him than this if they expect to win. Since he went 5-6 for 15 points in game 1, Jack is a combined 4-21 with only 14 points total (though, to be fair, he also hit a big jumper in the closing seconds of game 4 that ultimately clinched that win). And while this may just be coincidence, Jack’s decline coincides with Steve Blake’s return from the chicken pox.
- Lastly, is it just me or is this Hornets team hard to hate? Every playoffs I find myself utterly disliking the opposing team. Last year, even the Thunder brought it out of me with Durant’s arm sweep to draw fouls, Westbrook’s screams after a big play, and Thabo’s defense (and I generally like those guys a lot). This year though, I just can’t bring myself to those levels with the Hornets. Sure Landry upsets me at times but that’s about it. Chris Paul has been brilliant, Okafor has been stoic and classy (even after getting raked in the face by Kobe last night), and their head coach has been nothing but professional the entire time. Maybe I’m alone here but I’d like to see this team win if they weren’t facing the Lakers.