If today was a must win (and before the game I stated that this was as close to that as there was), the Lakers just came up short in their most important game of the season. In the game preview I mentioned that the Lakers needed to play harder and smarter for longer than the Mavs, but tonight they couldn’t do it and fell 93-81 to fall behind 2-0 in the series with two road games now staring them in the face.
Their were many things that went wrong tonight. If I were to list them all, I’d probably not sleep so I’ll keep the list short:
*The Lakers didn’t do anything different on Dirk and he against punished the Lakers to the tune of 24 points on 9-16 shooting. He hit jumper after jumper, quickly finding his comfort zone against Gasol and never looked back the rest of the way. He had his entire arsenal going as he hit step back jumpers, fade away jumpers, wide open jumpers, and even took the ball to the cup effectively.
*Meanwhile, Gasol’s offensive game has pretty much abandoned him. Pau only hit 5 of his 12 field goals and 3 of 6 free throws to score 13 points. His jumper isn’t falling and his post moves aren’t as successful as they’ve been in the past. You can see the frustration and anguish on his face whenever his go to moves fail him. The match up that I was looking forward to the most this series has turned remarkably one sided. Pau knows it and so does Dirk.
*The Lakers bench essentially no showed. Lamar went 3-12 for 6 points. Blake missed several wide open jumpers (going 0-5 on the night) and looked to have lost his confidence to the point that he began to overpass, committing turnovers when quickly looking to get rid of the ball rather than being aggressive. Barnes only played 10 minutes, but didn’t earn any extra burn by going 0-2 on his only field goal attempts and looking generally out of sorts on both sides of the ball. Shannon was the lone highlight of this group, going 3-4 and scoring 6 points. That’s 12 points total for the bench. That’s not going to get the job done.
*The worst part of the game, however, was the Laker defense. I mentioned Dirk’s success, but that’s pretty much a given at this point. Where the Lakers really struggled was in dealing with the Mavs’ P&R, consistently getting caught rotating too slowly or worse yet not at all. Lamar Odom’s attempts to hedge and recover were comically bad as he often ended up screening off his own man who then had to navigate two players (the screener and Odom) to chase the ball handler coming off the pick. J.J. Barrea benefitted from this the most as his ability to turn the corner, keep his dribble alive, and then probe the Lakers’ paint produced lay ups for himself or wide open jumpers for his teammates.
*The Lakers simply couldn’t buy a three point basket. They ended the night 2-20 on the night and for the series are 7-39 from distance. Meanwhile the Mavs made 8 of their 25 three point baskets. And while that 32% mark from the Mavs is well below their average, the were still able to outscore the Lakers by 18 from beyond the arc. Considering the Lakers couldn’t make up the difference via points in the paint, the Lakers inability to make a sagging Mavs’ D pay with made jumpers was the (statistical) difference in the game.
I could go on and on, but there’s really no point in performing a complete autopsy on this game. The Lakers absorbed many “kill shots” in this one; identifying them all isn’t necessary.
But, all is not lost. This game did not clinch the series and the Lakers season is not over. Sure, it may feel that way but it’s not actually the case. There are adjustments that can be made and I think it’s clear that the Lakers can play better. Shots will fall in the next game and there are defensive tactics that can be used to slow down the Mavs’ attack. There will be more obstacles to overcome (Ron Artest may be suspended for a late game flagrant foul that he committed on Barrea) and both Lamar and Gasol will need to find their stride(s) sooner rather than later. But Kobe has been playing relatively well (he made 9 of his 20 shots for his 23 points) and Bynum did come through this game (18 points, 13 rebounds in a very good bounce back game). The Lakers simply need to have that one breakthrough game where they play well together, as a team, to get a win. Once that win is achieved, they can build on it. Yes, the hole got deeper but this team is not buried. There is some fight left in this group, I have a feeling we’ll see it on Friday.