The Lakers did something they haven’t done all season. By beating the Blazers 113-106, the Lakers finally won on both nights of a back to back. More importantly of course, was the fact that they stayed a game ahead of the Jazz in the loss column and were able to push their lead up to a full game with only three games left to play for both sides. The Lakers now head home for a three game home stand with only their opponents standing in the way of a playoff berth, not having to worry about what the Jazz do to close the season.
Much like Tuesday night’s win over the Hornets, this game wasn’t very easy on the eyes for a lot of the night. The Blazers started the game red hot from the floor, playing a loose brand of basketball that enabled them to simply flow into their offense at the tempo that they wanted. Damian Lillard (who was brilliant most of the night) began the game hitting everything he threw up at the basket, especially his shots from long range. Joining him were nearly all of his teammates who also found the bottom of the net at an astonishing rate, feasting on the Lakers’ defense (or lack thereof) to the tune of 41 first quarter points and 69 by halftime. The Lakers looked more like a team who thought they could outscore their opponent rather than needing to dig in on defense to win the game.
Luckily for the Lakers they were able to somewhat keep pace on the scoreboard. Early in the game Kobe was aggressive in looking for his own shot and it paid off to the tune of 28 first half points. Mixing in aggressive moves to the paint and a clinic of jumpers (pull ups, spot ups, turnaround fade-aways), Kobe was able to hit baskets and earn trips to the foul line to score in bunches. His attacking ways didn’t cease after the first half either. As the game went on, he stayed aggressive and ultimately poured in 47 points while also dishing out 5 assists and grabbing 8 rebounds. And, after a shaky first half of defense, Kobe picked up his intensity on that end as well, racking up 3 steals and tallying 4 big blocks to add to his line.
All told, this was one of the more complete games Kobe played as his aggression never waned, but neither did his commitment to ensuring that the game never tilted all the way in his direction.
It’s that latter point that made this game winnable as Kobe certainly wouldn’t have been able to win this game alone. He needed help and got it in the form of his two big men. Pau Gasol continued right where he left off from the Hornets’ game, scoring well and facilitating the offense from the elbows. The Spaniard connected on 11 of his 15 shots to score 23 points while also grabbing 7 rebounds, but even more importantly was fantastic in setting up his teammates by dishing out a game high 9 assists (Lillard also had 9). Of those 9 dimes, 5 of them were to Dwight Howard who had a very good, if somewhat quiet, night of his own. Howard scored 20 points on 9 of 11 shooting while pulling down 10 rebounds. While Kobe and Pau were great at having the offense run through them, Dwight was great at finishing plays, using his superior size and athleticism to score easily inside off great passes from his teammates.
When your three best players combine for 90 points on 34-53 shooting, that’s pretty good. And while the team defense struggled in the first half and had issues controlling dribble penetration for a lot of the evening, it was good to see some adjustments made at the half where the big men played higher on the P&R to help deter penetration which cut down on the number of open jumpers the Blazers got off kick-out passes. The Lakers’ defense still wasn’t that great in the 2nd half, but when their offense was humming at the level it was, all they needed was an uptick in effort and execution on the other end to slow the Blazers down to get the game going in their direction. The Lakers did just that and were able to come out with the win.
And, really, that’s all that matters. There are no style points; no reason to fuss over all that went wrong in getting this win. The Lakers needed a win and got it. They now move onto the next game and will simply try to do the same, aesthetics be damned. Don’t get me wrong, it was great to see Kobe play such an amazing game, Pau continue his resurgence, and Dwight score so efficiently while taking advantage of an overmatched Blazers’ front line. But, even if none of those things would have happened, if the Lakers were still able to win that’s all that would have mattered.
There will be a time where more extensive breakdowns and full evaluations are performed on what this Lakers’ season has been. But that will happen when the year is over. This win tonight put them in position to fight another day and delay that type of analysis a bit longer.