If anything, this game offered relief.
Relief from the weight of a drama filled day. Relief in the form of good team performance. Relief in the form of a much needed 101-77 win over the Warriors.
The players looked a bit relieved too. Or maybe they just looked relaxed. This was a game where the team went back to playing basketball, not overburdened with thinking about what to do next or where they should be on the court. The game was simpler with offensive sets you could diagram on a napkin and that translated to a freer game against the Warriors.
Like most things do with this Laker group, it began with Kobe Bryant. Unlike in previous games the Lakers ran Kobe to the post. He set up at the low block more times tonight than he has in the previous five games combined. From that position he was able to hit some close shots, earn trips to the free throw line, and set up his teammates for open shots.
Kobe didn’t just sit in the post all day, though. He also initiated countless pick and rolls to start out offensive sets. He ran them with Pau and with Dwight. He then probed the defense for his own shot or, again, picked out teammates for makable shots. His final line of 27 points (on 18 shots) and 7 assists was reflective of the way he managed this game and balanced his scoring instincts with his ability to distribute the ball.
Beyond Kobe, Pau Gasol deserves a round of applause as well. His efficiency wasn’t great — he shot 6-18 from the floor to score his 14 points — but the rest of his game was up to his typical standard. He led the team in rebounds with 16 and added two assists with two blocks and a steal. Furthermore, he simply played hard all night and pushed through the fatigue of another 40 minute outing to protect the paint well and hit the glass on both ends of the floor.
We mustn’t forget the bench either. Darius Morris played his best game as a Laker, scoring 10 points to go with 5 assists and 5 rebounds. He attacked the rim well and even hit a couple of spot up three pointers that he’s sure to get when playing next to Kobe, Pau, and Howard. Jordan Hill was his typical active self, scoring 14 points and hitting the glass harder than his 4 rebounds would imply. Jamsion and Meeks also played well. Both of them were assertive on offense and didn’t take much off the table in the minutes that they played. While their shooting percentages weren’t great, their lack of hesitation on offense meant possessions flowed smoothly which kept the pace of the game on the Lakers’ side.
With all this talk about the offense, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the defense. The team was much more active on that side the ball. They closed out better on shooters and did well to protect the paint when those guys were forced to put the ball on the ground. Yes, there were some breakdowns as a team and as individuals but for the most part they were solid. I’d like to see Kobe gamble less and get back on D faster and have Gasol show better instincts when hedging on the P&R but those were relatively minor issues on this evening compared to the other successes they had.
All in all, this was a good win. I understand the opponent wasn’t the strongest. But, from where I sit, when you play a team that’s hurting like these Dubs are, beating them by 20 points is what a good team should do. And that’s really the bigger point tonight. The Lakers once again looked like a good team. They didn’t play their best the entire night but they played well enough to win in a convincing manner.
Over the next 48 hours this game will be forgotten as the conversation once again shifts to who will coach this team. But for one night that didn’t matter as the Lakers looked like the Lakers (or at least closer to them) that we hoped they would be.