In a game the Lakers desperately needed to win — especially after the Jazz lost to the Thunder — they came through to keep their playoff hopes alive, beating the Hornets 104-96. Now back in control of their own destiny, the Lakers have the 8th seed in their possession with only 4 games left to play.
And while the game wasn’t a great one to watch, it was an old formula that carried them to the victory as Kobe and Pau stepped up big.
Gasol was simply fantastic, scoring 22 points on 9-15 shooting, while grabbing 11 rebounds and dishing 4 assists. In the game preview I mentioned that Gasol had the strength advantage against Anthony Davis and could thrive in the post if given the opportunity to do so. Well, Pau got his chance and went to work by backing down the prized rookie for several big buckets in the first half. On several possessions the Lakers simply dumped the ball into the Spaniard and watched him use an array of moves to get the types of easy baskets he’s made for the team so many times over the years. Lefty hooks, turn around jumpers, little floaters…his entire arsenal was on display. And when the defense started to adjust to what the Lakers were doing, he did what he typically does, making the right read and hitting his open teammates for good looks. On a night where the Lakers needed to control the paint offensively, Gasol provided much of that interior presence.
Kobe, meanwhile, laid in the weeds for most of this game. Early on he seemed content to move the ball and only force the action sparingly. When he did try to attack for his own offense, he couldn’t conjure up any makes, however, struggling to find his flow in a game that saw the team mostly going inside to the bigs to get good looks. However, when the 4th quarter started it all started to click for #24. A couple of long jumpers fell. Then a mid range pull up. Then a hesitation dribble drive that led to a finger roll after a switch put Anthony Davis on him. Then another jumper followed by a steal that led to a lay up plus the foul. By quarter’s end, Kobe had scored 23 points on 7-11 shooting while also tallying 1 assist. He also picked up his defensive intensity down the stretch, grabbing 3 steals in the final frame and pressuring Eric Gordon into multiple mistakes. For the game he dropped 30 on 9-18 shooting,
Beyond Kobe and Pau, the Lakers got good production from Dwight Howard (19 points, 6 rebounds) and Antawn Jamison (13 points, 8 rebounds) and some timely baskets from Meeks and Blake as well. Ron played sparingly in his first game back, but provided his typical effort in those minutes and seemed to serve as an inspiration to his mates while he was on the floor. All in all, the rest of the team did what was needed of them for most of the night, mostly hustling on both sides of the ball and playing off Kobe and Pau offensively to take advantage of their opportunities when the defense overcompensated for what that duo was doing.
This game probably shouldn’t have been as close as it was, but for that you need to give credit to the Hornets. They played extremely hard in this game and were ready to pounce whenever the Lakers let down defensively or showed any hesitation on offense. After being down by as many as 10 in the 2nd quarter, the Hornets stormed back with big run to close the first half to take a 5 point lead into the 3rd quarter. They hit the shots they needed to and took advantage of the match ups in front of them to make the Lakers pay for shoddy defensive rotations and suspect isolation defense.
In the 2nd half, however, the Lakers cleaned up a lot of their mistakes and ultimately were able to take control in the 4th quarter. With Kobe finding his stride on offense to pair with his defense on Gordon, Clark’s strong defense on Vasquez, and the collective effort of the entire team to close defensive possessions with rebounds, they were able to pull out the win. It would have been nice had they shown that same urgency in that poor 2nd quarter, but then again this is the same pattern this team has shown all season and it shouldn’t be that big a surprise that they go stretches with poor focus and/or execution. At this point, this is who they are as a team.
That said, what’s also true is that they’re willing to fight to the end and still have the ability to make enough plays when they fully commit as a group. Tonight, the formula was one we’ve seen many times before with Pau doing some heavy lifting from the post and Kobe closing out the game with a flurry of baskets down the stretch. Whether or not that can be a long term formula is of less consequence than the fact that it led to a win against the Hornets. After all, while the big picture goals still matter, it’s the short term ones that take priority. And that means winning these individual games.
They got this one. Now, there’s only four more to go.