Lakers/Trailblazers: The Rout That Wasn’t

Darius Soriano —  February 20, 2012

Boxscore: Lakers 103, Blazers 92
Offensive Efficiency: Lakers 113.2, Blazers 101.1
True Shooting %: Lakers 58.6%, Blazers 55.5%

The Good:
In the preview for this game, I wrote this:

Some of what makes a team successful is a bunker mentality where the players can rally together and find a common enemy (of sorts) that serves as extra motivation. Phil Jackson was a master of this during his time with the Bulls and the Lakers, and I’ve got a sneaky feeling that Kobe learned a thing or two about this tactic during his time under Jackson. Right now, this Laker team needs all the extra kicks in the pants it can get. If (Kobe’s statement) helps in that area, I’m all for it.

I’m not going to sit here and say that the way the Lakers played tonight is directly attributable to Kobe’s public backing of Gasol last night. However, I’m not going to dismiss it either.

The Lakers came out tonight focused and ready to play and there was a certain sense of teamwork and camaraderie in the air. The Lakers were moving the ball well, making the extra pass (sometimes to a fault), and taking extra pride when a teammate made a positive play. It was a sight to see the ball zipping around the court, inside and out, from side to side with nearly every player touching the ball on countless possessions. The result was the Lakers racking up 23 assists on their 38 made baskets with a few assists of the highlight variety mixed in.

With all the ball movement, the Lakers were able to run the Blazer defense ragged, getting easy shots inside early on. Andrew Bynum benefitted the most in the early stages, getting easy dunks and point blank attempts that he converted with ease. As the defense started to adjust and collapse the paint in an attempt to shut down the easy shots at the rim, the Lakers then started to move the ball to shooters on the perimeter and they also took advantage by knocking down their open looks. And just as Bynum was the beneficiary of shots in the paint, it was Steve Blake that took advantage of the extra space behind the arc, making his first 4 three pointers and turning the game into a game of target practice.

It wasn’t just the Lakers’ offense that was doing work, either. Their defense was engaged in the early going, denying the paint and forcing the Blazers to take jumpers. And when Portland did take those outside J’s, Laker defenders rotated well and contested shots and then cleaned up the misses by securing defensive rebounds. The Lakers only allowed the Blazers to score 7 first quarter points (a franchise low for points in a 1st quarter) and with that, the rout was officially on…

The Bad:
Until it wasn’t, of course. This wouldn’t be the Lakers if they crushed an opponent for a full 48 minutes, after all. Around the middle of the 2nd quarter, the Blazers finally got some shots to fall as the Lakers naturally let their respective guard down. Suddenly defensive rotations weren’t as crisp and closeouts weren’t as timely. And the Blazers started to take advantage of the extra space on the perimeter to knock down some three pointers and crawl back into the game. By the time the half time buzzer sounded, what was a 30 point lead was down to 22 and while the Lakers were still in firm control, the writing was on the wall that the Blazers weren’t going to go down quietly.

In the 3rd quarter, the Blazers carried over that momentum they built up going into the half and started to hit even more shots against a Laker defense that was, at that point, purely in spectator mode. When screens were set, the Lakers didn’t step out to hedge hard and when the ball was swung, closeouts were nearly non-existent. The Blazers were able to take mostly uncontested three point shots and got them to fall at an incredible rate. Even when the Lakers started to try and pick up their defensive effort, it mattered little because Portland was able to find their rhythm to the point that even contested jumpers started to fall. The result was a 36 point period for the Blazers and what was once a lead that seemed insurmountable was then down to a manageable 15. That lead would shrink to 10 in the fourth period before Fisher and Kobe hit back to back jumpers with another Kobe lay in tacked on to push the Lakers lead back to 16. Portland would never truly recover and that was seemingly that save for…

The Ugly:
The referees starting to call a tighter game that seemingly caught both teams off guard. The final frame lasted what seemed like an hour after countless whistles blew with both sides complaining about calls that were going against them. (It got to the point that Kobe even earned a technical foul after being called for a charge on a drive against Gerald Wallace. That tech was Kobe’s 7th on the season which puts him halfway to the point where he would earn a game suspension should he keep accumulating them at the pace he currently is.)

What made matters worse was Nate McMillan deciding he would go to a hack-a-World-Peace strategy in the final 4 minutes to try and get his team back into the game. And while the tactic wasn’t successful in stopping the Lakers from scoring the ball nor in inspiring his team to play better offense, it certainly helped ugly up a contest even more by making it unbearably long down the stretch. When you combine this final stretch of the game with how the Lakers stopped playing as hard as they could in the middle part of the contest, you nearly forgot how beautiful the game started with the Lakers getting nearly everything they wanted on offense and building up that huge lead.

The Play of the Game:
Several quality plays to choose from tonight, including Bynum throwing a baseball outlet to Kobe with #24 then euro-stepping past Nic Batum for a sweet lefty lay in and a couple of beautiful big to big passes between Bynum and Pau (with Bynum doing the dishing). Instead, though, I go with Kobe breaking down Gerald Wallace off the bounce with a pretty inside-out crossover and then sidestepping Marcus Camby with a nice fake to finish at the cup while drawing the foul. Kobe may not be the explosive athlete he once was, but he sure can make up for it with savvy and craft:

Darius Soriano

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