Lakers/Timberwolves: A Big Game From The Big Three

Darius Soriano —  January 29, 2012

Boxscore: Lakers 106, Timberwolves 101
Offensive Efficiency: Lakers 117.8, Timberwolves 112.2
True Shooting %: Lakers 63.1%, Timberwolves 46.3%

The Good:
Where to start?

Kobe Bryant having another tremendous game in what is turning into a throwback, vintage season? Check.

Pau Gasol starting out aggressive and sinking shots from everywhere on the floor? Check, again.

Andrew Bynum providing steady scoring throughout the course of the game and scoring late buckets to help thwart a late Minnesota comeback effort? Check this off as well.

When the Lakers’ big three plays this well, they’re not impossible to beat but it’s extremely difficult and the Wolves found this out first hand. It started with Gasol, seemingly upset about his off night against the Bucks the night before and ready to take it out on the T’Wolves. In the first period, Pau scored 14 of the Lakers 22 points hitting shots inside and out, and thoroughly controlling the Lakers offensive sets. He was not content to simply examine the floor and look for his teammates, but rather decided he’d hunt his own shots the way that Kobe and Bynum often do. The result was the above output, but also a tone being set for his game and how he’d not let bad games linger but would rather attack and get back on track quickly. Many criticisms are flung Gasol’s way for not being too cerebral a player, but tonight, in his own efficient and smooth onslaught, Pau turned primal and took the game into his hands to the tune of 28 points while only missing 4 of his 15 shots from the floor and sinking all 6 of his FT’s. It was a beautiful sight to see and I, for one, hope we get more of it.

His partner in the pivot would not be left out of the fun, though. Bynum too worked the paint, moving into the creases of the Wolves D to receive passes that he could finish with ease or setting up at the low block and using his massive frame to earn position to set up his own increasing arsenal of post moves. He showed off his righty hook from the baseline, solid drop steps that earned him trips to the foul line (where he was 5-7, looking more calm in the process), and was even able to show off a few moves from the elbow where he hit a jumper and executed a nice drive and spin move that resulted in an “and 1” finish. Towards the end of the game, Bynum also got a couple of inside finishes off feeds from Pau that finally busted the Wolves zone D (more on this in a second) and allowed the Lakers to regain their hold on the game. It wasn’t Bynum’s best game (he looked lethargic in spots and his work on the boards – along with Pau’s – left a lot to be desired) but his offense was needed tonight and he delivered with 21 big points.

And then, of course, there was Kobe. He grabbed 14 rebounds (one more than Bynum and Pau combined). He hit 5 of his 9 (which, to be fair are too many attempts) three pointers which provided critical spacing for his big men and crucial points that his team would need. He blocked two shots (both jumpers by the man he was guarding) and played good overall D the entire night. His overall line of 35 and 14 with 2 assists and the 2 aforementioned blocks was one that gave the team everything they needed to win the game. Oh, and on the way he passed Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the all-time leader in made field goals for the Lakers. Pretty good night for #24.

The Bad:
For several years the Lakers have struggled to play against a zone defense. When the Lakers ran the Triangle, they’d often let the ball stall in the hands of one player, get away from the principles of ball and player movement, and too often simply settle for outside jumpers against the shot clock.

Tonight, under Mike Brown, the Lakers didn’t look much better against the Wolves zone and it nearly cost them the game. Trailing by 18 in the third quarter, the Wolves decided to change up their defensive scheme (it obviously wasn’t working up to that point) and go to a zone. How did the Lakers respond, you ask? About as poorly as possible. Instead of going right to zone busting actions of flashing a big man to the middle of the floor and then attacking the zone from the inside out, the simply decided they only needed the “out” part of that equation by firing up long jumpers. And not only did they shoot long J’s, they did so early in the shot clock and rarely after making more than a single pass. Sometimes they didn’t pass at all!

To make matters worse, those long jumpers led to long rebounds which then led to Wolves run outs and fast break chances that they converted with ease because the Lakers decided after missing long jumpers early in the shot clock that they’d not run back hard in transition. That’s like, what, a triple whammy? The change in tempo to the game clearly played into the Wolves’ hands and by the time the third quarter was over the Lakers lead had been trimmed to 5 and with Minnesota carrying over that momentum into the 4th quarter to actually take the lead. Ultimately the Lakers broke the Wolves’ zone with the Pau/Bynum high-low action I mentioned earlier, but it took entirely too long for the Lakers to figure this out and it nearly lost them the game.

The Ugly:
Whenever you play against a team with Kevin Love on it, rebounding can be an issue. He’s simply too good on the offensive glass to ever completely keep him away from the ball and doing some damage. So, in some ways, I can forgive a few of Love’s 7 offensive rebounds. Again, his nose for the ball is too good. What I can’t forgive, though is Nikola Pekovic matching Love’s 7 offensive rebounds. Or Michael Beasley and Anthony Randolph combining for 6. Or 8 of the 11 T’Wolves that played grabbing at least one offensive rebound. On the night Minny grabbed 24 O-rebounds in all and 32 second chance points. In a game that was ultimately decided by only 5 points, the Wolves work on the offensive glass and the Lakers allowing them to do so was the difference between this game being comfortable and a nail biter down the stretch.

The Play of the Game:
It happened on a play we’ve seen thousands of times before. Kobe working on the right wing, in a triple threat position, jab stepping his man until he felt he had an advantage. Then, with his back leg he steps forward while simultaneously putting the ball on the ground (to avoid a travel) to get by his man. His reverse lay-in used to be a thunderous dunk (and sometimes still will be) but the two points that result count the same. This time it was a bit more special, though. This time, the bucket moved Kobe into the #1 spot in Lakers’ franchise history in made FG’s. Quite a feat by quite the player.

Darius Soriano

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