As the last two games have shown, winnable games don’t always come easy and the Lakers can’t take their opponent lightly tonight. As mentioned earlier, they’ve been playing pretty well lately and have a Laker killer (Wallace) and an elite player (Williams) of their own that can turn a game in their favor down the stretch of a close game. Making sure it’s not close down the stretch should be the objective tonight.
Seems as though the Lakers have gotten good at trolling me. The above paragraph was from today’s game preview and if all I did was tell you that exactly what I didn’t want to happen did happen that’d probably be enough of a recap and we could all move on. Instead, here are five observations from the Lakers 91-87 win over the Nets:
- Pau Gasol still looks good as a primary big man scoring option. The big Spaniard finished the night with 22 points on 11 for 20 shooting, doing a most of his damage right at the basket with 16 of his shots (and 9 of his makes) coming in the restricted area. He showed he could still do damage as a post up option (his running hook in the 1st quarter and his quick spin move for a dunk in the 3rd quarter were both tremendous) and that he’s quite comfortable carving out space in the paint and finishing with finesse and power after making smart cuts and subtle moves into the creases of the defense. Pau’s aggression was a nice reminder – even against a Nets team that struggles on D – that he can anchor the interior with his ability to get buckets through aggressive play.
- Ramon Sessions can really, really thread the needle on his passes. On multiple occasions he made bullet passes to diving big men and slashing wings and did so through stacks of defenders. On one particular play he it a cutting McRoberts with a pass that seemed to cut through three Nets players but with Josh caught in traffic he touch passed the ball out to Blake in the corner who ended up missing a corner three. Sessions successes were numerous however, as he tallied 11 dimes on several passes that had no business getting through the defense and a few others that showed off his skill as a playmaker where he drew a crowd and timed the pass perfectly to a cutting teammate for the easy score. It’s been a long time since the Lakers had a PG that made it so obvious he could see the game a second ahead the way that Ramon does but with him on the team you remember what it’s like to cheer on such a player. By the way, he can score too. He finished the night with 19 points on 15 shots and made all 5 of his FT’s on the night too. I’ve said this multiple times before but his ability to change speeds and then explode into his defender to create contact and earn the whistle is a great tool in his (and the Lakers’) bag as he’s consistently able to help the team get into the bonus and earn free points at the line.
- Deron Williams is really good at basketball. Hate to be so simple here but Williams really is a joy to watch. His work off the dribble and ability to create for himself and his teammates is a level above a lot of other guards in this league. If he didn’t play for a team that was so lacking in finishers he easily could have had double his 6 assists as all too often his pinpoint passes went unrewarded with a Johan Petro missed bunny or a Net inexplicably turning an easy jumper into a contested one by taking an extra dribble or hesitating. Down the stretch in the 4th quarter, it looked like he finally realized passing was doing him no good and he started hunting his own shot and the results were brilliant. He hit 3 of his 5 shots in the period, including 2 of his 3 three pointers and a slick step back two point jumper where he put Matt Barnes on skates after a crossover, to help bring the Nets back to within a single point with under a minute to go. He finished the night 20 points (on 15 shots) and while his team fell short, it had little to do with him.
- As mentioned at the top of this post, the Lakers continue to be a team that allow games that aren’t that competitive get too close for comfort. Their 16 turnovers were part of the problem. Their inability to stick with what was working and make in game adjustments were another issue. A prime example was how the Nets aggressive double teams took them out of their offensive flow in the 2nd half and led to forced shots and broken sets that couldn’t produce enough points. The Lakers only scored 33 points (on 43 shots) in the final 24 minutes and most of it was because their execution suffered in the face of a ramped up defense that forced them to make quick, smart decisions. Only they couldn’t pull it off.
- Kobe Bryant’s still able to be Kobe Bryant. It was only a few days ago that Kobe was having horrid shooting nights against average defenders while looking totally fatigued. In the past two games he’s been much better with tonight showing he could still get it done against a strong individual defender. Gerald Wallace checked Kobe a lot tonight, but Bean made it look easy on multiple possessions using his triple threat game to free him up for his jumper and for escapes into the paint. His 24 points were a game high and in the final minute and a half he was as cold blooded as ever knocking down the only two shots he took all quarter. The first was a tie breaking 21 footer from the left wing with hand in his face. The second was the dagger three pointer with under 10 seconds left that pushed his team’s one point lead to four that became the final margin. The great thing about the three pointer was the set up, though. The Lakers were inbounding under their own hoop with less than 3 seconds to get a shot up. On the play, Kobe was set up under the rim and then went and set a back screen and ultimately flashed to the ball. When he found his path cut off, he retreated beyond the top of the key, got a great screen from Pau and then made the catch about 26 feet away from the hoop wide open. He caught the ball, fired away, and we all watched as he got the most shooter’s roll ever before the ball finally fell through. It was a great shot and a great play: