On a night that turned exciting for several right and wrong reasons, the Lakers defeated the Warriors 104-101 to move their record to 31-19 on the year. It wasn’t the best played contest from the Lakers and the Warriors – as they’re known to do at home against their divisional rival – rode their fan’s energy to keep it close but in the end they didn’t have enough. A few scattered thoughts on the game:
*Pau Gasol came to play. The big Spaniard finished with 19 points, 17 rebounds (4 offensive), 3 assists, 1 steal and 1 block on the night. He worked his post game with deft footwork and great awareness of positioning and hit his jumper as well. On one particular play he got the ball on the right block, went hard to the baseline, but after getting cut off pivoted back to the middle and extended his long left arm and dropped in a nifty lefty hook over his man. Defensively he was also very good, contesting shots without fouling and then cleaning up the boards when the shots he challenged fell off the rim. All in all it was a great night from Gasol, especially after having a poor shooting night against the Grizz on Sunday.
*The Laker small forwards were simply tremendous. Matt Barnes provided his typical energy off the bench, hustling for rebounds and slashing his way to the rim for baskets in the paint. Several times he finished in traffic after a nice dive cut when the defense had their heads turned. When he wasn’t doing work in the paint though, he was hitting his outside jumper. Barnes nailed 3 of his 5 attempts from behind the arc, one of which was a run stopper that pushed the Lakers lead back to 5 after the Dubs had whittled the lead down to only a single basket. Matt’s 17 points (on only 10 shots), 10 rebounds, 3 assists, and two blocks were as stellar as his high revving motor. Ron was also great, though. His boxscore of 11 points on 13 shots with 5 rebounds and 3 assists really don’t do his night justice. He was a menace around the rim on defense by challenging shots without fouling and his typical bully on offense by banging guys in the paint, clearing space for himself and his teammates. His efficiency wasn’t there tonight, but he was plenty effective in ways that affected the game in a positive way.
*The Warriors really did shoot the lights out in the 2nd half. In the final 24 minutes they hit 21 of their 43 field goals (including 4 of their 9 three point attempts) and all 7 of their free throws. Brandon Rush was especially potent, knocking down 9 of his 13 shots in the final two frames and pacing his team with 21 points over those 24 minutes.
*A key to the Warriors great second half was an unconventional lineup they threw at the Lakers. Mark Jackson went with a group of Klay Thompson, Rush, Richard Jefferson, Dominic McGuire, and David Lee to great effectiveness. This lineup’s size and versatility forced the Laker PG (first Blake and later Sessions) to guard a bigger, stronger player and ultimately put the Lakers in help situations that led to open jumpers. Often it was Klay Thompson posting up either Blake or Sessions on the right wing and then using his size advantage to either shoot over the top or read the D to make an easy pass that got the Lakers into a scramble mode. Credit Jackson for finding a grouping that worked.
*Kobe also deserves some kind words after his night. He wasn’t that efficient with his shot (9-24 on the night) but he earned 12 trips to the foul line (making 11) and hit two huge jumpers on back to back possessions that tied the game and then gave them the lead. Both shots were contested baseline jumpers from the left wing but he rattled both home with 1:04 and :32 remaining in the game, ultimately turning the contest in the Lakers’ favor. Add in his 5 rebounds and 5 assists to his 30 points and his final line was a very good one.
*Looking at the offense from a big picture perspective, it looked like the Lakers went away from a lot of their P&R actions and instead focused more on their weak side screen sets and some cross-screen actions to free their big men. It wasn’t that they didn’t run any P&R’s, but when they did they were more subdued with the actions rarely producing anything other than a swing pass around the perimeter. A lot of this was due to Sessions being a bit more tentative off the dribble tonight than he’s been in past games, but it also looked like a concerted effort to try and work the ball to Kobe and big men in the sets they’ve ran for most of the year.
*Lastly, if you’ve made it this far you’ve noticed that one player I haven’t brought up is Andrew Bynum. That’s because his game (and comments afterwards) were just as crazy as the contest between the two teams. First of all, coming off the Grizzlies game – where he totaled only 4 rebounds and played defense only half heartedly – you’d have thought Bynum would come out assertive on the glass and on D. However, that was not the case. Big Drew totaled only 3 rebounds at halftime and his D was only slightly better. Yes he challenged shots but he was also caught – on more than one occasion – leaking out for a rim run before the ball was secured. So, when the third quarter rolled around, I think the general thought was that Bynum would go a bit harder, brining focus and energy to the game. Yeah, not so much. After about 2 and a half minutes of action in the 3rd period, Bynum decided that he was going to fire up a contested three pointer with 16 seconds left on the shot clock. When his shot predictably missed, he loafed back on defense and while the Warriors didn’t score on ¬†that possession, that really wasn’t the point and at the next time out he was pulled from the game. For the rest of that quarter he didn’t leave the bench and, according to tweets from reporters on site, that included when the team huddled up during timeouts. Bynum did see more game action to start the 4th quarter but after not showing much besides some anger in attacking the basket on post moves (on shots he missed, by the way) Mike Brown pulled him again after 2 minutes and 50 seconds and sat him on the bench. After the game Bynum commented that he’d like to expand his game to include three pointers and that he didn’t think the shot was worthy of a benching. And when asked about why he didn’t leave the bench to join the huddles he said that he just stayed where the coach put him.
Now, I think it’d be a bit small picture to really harp on Bynum for this one shot. People take bad shots all the time and while an all star big man who’s a beast on the block shooting a three pointer (when he’s only taken 8 in his career) seems out of line, lets act like it’s not for a moment. I’m not even that upset about his comments after the game. In fact, to me at least, they’re kind of amusing. In fact, on twitter, I was making jokes about them because I was in that kind of mood.
That said, what does concern me is Bynum’s casual relationship with defense, rebounding, and (essentially) trying on the defensive side of the floor in a couple of recent games. I mean it’s one thing to not be effective or to make some questionable plays. It’s another to barely try. Bynum is still good enough that he can impact the game with barely trying – he contested and altered a shot in his short 4th quarter stint without even leaving his feet while barely showing any effort to even slide his feet – but lets not make this a habit, you know? And in the past couple of games, it has been a habit. Again, I can live with some bad shots or poor decisions. I’ve watched Kobe Bryant his entire career, there’ve been plenty of bad shots and poor decisions. Lack of effort is different though. You can call it a lack of maturity or a young, talented player pushing the envelope but ultimately it will need to stop at some point. It just will.
In the end though, this was a win and I’m happy with that. The fact that after the game Kobe said that he thought Bynum was “testing the limits of his game” and that Ron said he didn’t think Bynum’s shot was a bad one only adds to the drama (while also adding to my own personal laughs) that came after the contest when it was all said and done, but I’m still happy about the win. Several players stepped up and big plays were made down the stretch to secure a win that was very much in doubt. This wasn’t the best game and there’s still plenty to work on but I’ll happily have that be the case after a win rather than have the same be true while lamenting over a loss.