Thursday Reading: Lakers vs. Clippers, Kobe & Crunch Time

Darius Soriano —  April 5, 2012

Last night’s Lakers/Clippers tilt has a lot of people buzzing. On a night where there were several marquee match ups, the battle at Staples Center may have been the best one. And in looking at that game, some very smart people shared their takeaways, which I’ll now share with you.

First up, Kevin Arnovitz was at the game and gives some first hand accounts of what he saw in the contest. He had several excellent notes on the game, but his thoughts on Bynum were especially thoughtful:

Remember when we used to refer to Andrew Bynum as raw? His temperament may still be immature, but for all the acting out and histrionics, he’s become one of the 10 most difficult guys in the league to defend. The jab, the emerging face-up game, his eagerness to move low the instant his man steps out — then the ability to seal him off. The 3-pointer aside, Bynum’s repertoire seems limitless and he’s approaching every touch as if it’s his last. No wonder he’s calling for the ball. Bynum finished with 36 points on 13-for-20 shooting from the field and 10-for-12 from the line.

Furthermore, Arnovitz explained how Bynum was able to gain the position that earned him many of his good looks at the rim:

The Lakers are a crafty bunch. One of the ways Bynum is able to get such deep position against his defender? The Lakers will run their 3 man — sometimes Metta World Peace and sometimes Matt Barnes — across the baseline on a curl, something they did on Wednesday night. On their way across the court, World Peace or Barnes would bump DeAndre Jordan, buying just enough time or space for Bynum to creep that much closer to the hoop. When that happens, the Lakers guards would instantly deliver the entry pass into Bynum. At that point, most of the hard work is done for the Lakers, and Bynum is left with a high-percentage shot against a off-balance defender.

Read his entire breakdown as it’s well worth your time.

When you’re done with that piece, head over to Zach Lowe’s takes on the game as he too saw plenty of things worth discussing. His points about the Lakers’ since the Sessions acquisition related to the team’s defensive decline were what caught my eye, most:

The Lakers have scored 114.6 points per 100 possessions in 373 minutes with Sessions on the floor, a number that would lead the league by a mile. Their defense has regressed since acquiring Sessions, but it has actually been much worse when he is on the bench; the Lakers have yielded about 109.5 points per 100 possessions since the trade deadline when Sessions sits and about 103.9 when he’s on the floor. The first mark would rank dead last in the league, and the second would rank among the bottom ten defensive teams.

We’re dealing with small sample sizes here, but the early evidence suggests the Lakers have made the expected offense-for-defense trade-off in nabbing Sessions from Cleveland. Sessions has obvious trouble navigating screens on defense, and he went so far under some screens against Chris Paul last night, it was almost as if Sessions thought he was guarding Rajon Rondo.

Those defensive numbers also show the Lakers have their own hole on the wing: They have no back-up shooting guard. That will only hurt for eight to 10 minutes per game in the post-season, but it still hurts. Mike Brown has tried playing Sessions and Steve Blake together, but the results have been disastrous, especially defensively, in the 36 minutes the two have shared the court so far, per NBA.com. Nick Young feasted against Blake on Thursday.

Lowe also discussed the Lakers performance down the stretch and how Kobe was able to do damage in crunch time. But rather than cite him, I turn to John Schuhmann at NBA.com who chronicled Kobe’s shot making prowess in the final minutes and notes that it’s indicative of his play of late:

In Wednesday’s big win over the Clippers, Bryant hit two clutch jumpers, one to give the Lakers the lead with 3:02 left and another to seal the victory with 25 seconds on the clock. A night earlier, he pretty much did the same thing against the Nets with two jumpers in the final 1:11.

Two nights before that, in Sunday’s win over the Warriors, Bryant hit a big 3-pointer in the final two minutes. And back on Saturday, after missing those first 15 shots, he hit the game-winner with 20 seconds left.

Now, go back to last Tuesday, when Bryant hit the game-tying jumper, and then another to give the Lakers the lead in the final minute at Golden State.

Five wins in six games for the Lakers, and eight straight makes for Bryant in clutch time.

Clutch time is defined as the last five minutes of the fourth quarter or overtime with a score differential of five points or less. And until March, Bryant, despite his reputation, wasn’t performing very well in the clutch.

Through March 7, Bryant was shooting 19-for-71 (27 percent) in clutch time. Since then, he’s 20-for-38 (53 percent). And as a bonus, he’s also getting to the line more often.

Go give all three posts a read for yourself as there’s more nuggets of information to digest the day after a very good win.

Darius Soriano

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