Eighty two games are in the books and the Lakers have claimed the 7th seed in the playoffs. When the team was 17-25, it looked like they’d never get to this point. But they closed the season on a 28-12 run (which is about a 57~58 win pace if over a full season) and got it done. It wasn’t always pretty and there were definitely more than a few moments of doubt, but they got into the playoffs and, in beating the Rockets 99-95 in overtime, avoided facing their worst possible match up in the first round. At this point in the year, I’ll definitely take it.
Some notes on the game:
- Pau Gasol was fantastic. He notched his 2nd triple double in three games, scoring 17 points, grabbing 20 rebounds, and dishing out 11 assists. For most of the 2nd half, Gasol was the fulcrum of the Lakers’ offense, playing high-low with Dwight Howard and making the correct pass-shot read on nearly every possession. Defensively he more than held his own as well, sometimes having to guard Carlos Delfino on the perimeter and other times protecting the paint while guarding Greg Smith.
- Dwight Howard was also a monster inside on both sides of the ball. Dwight didn’t have his best night shooting the ball (6-15 from the floor), but was still able to score 16 points and hit a couple of late game free throws that pushed a one point lead to three in the closing minutes of regulation. Where Dwight was at his best was on defense, however. In the 2nd half (and especially the 4th quarter and overtime), Dwight played at a DPOY level in shutting down the paint and in helping all over the floor. On one sequence, he had his shot blocked right underneath the basket but then sprinted full out back on D, recovered to the paint, and tipped away Jeremy Lin’s dribble under the basket to force a turnover. That type of effort was there so often as he made play after play on that end of the floor to keep the Lakers in the game. Be it a blocked shot, a forced miss by challenging without fouling, or simply cleaning the glass after a miss (he had 18 rebounds of his own), Dwight was amazing in this game.
- For the 2nd straight game Steve Blake was a tremendous offensive weapon for the Lakers. His 24 points and 7 assists (with 7 rebounds too) were huge and really helped provide balance to an offense that needed an outside threat to counter a post heavy attack. Blake was fearless, aggressive, and most of all confident in every shot he took and in running the offense in general. He worked the elbows of the floor when coming off picks and moved into the gaps of the Rockets’ perimeter D to make himself available for kick-out and swing passes to set up his three point shot. When you add in his solid defense on Jeremy Lin and Patrick Beverly, Blake was the third member of the Lakers’ Big 3 against Houston.
- Pau, Dwight, and Blake combined for 45 rebounds. The Rockets as a team had 46. I’d say that was a pretty important stat in this game.
- Jodie Meeks couldn’t hit a shot all night (2-10) and missed several wide open three pointers (1-7 from behind the arc), but his defense on James Harden down the stretch was very good. Meeks pressured Harden high on his dribble and threw in little quirks like shifting his stance and reaching in at the right moment to disrupt Harden’s attack. Harden wasn’t very effective down the stretch and while some of that was definitely related to the Rockets’ iso-heavy, stagnant attack, Meeks deserves credit for how well he played on that end. Meeks also had several big hustle plays (including saving a tipped pass from Blake to Pau that looked to be a sure turnover) and hit 4 big FT’s down the stretch (two that pushed the lead to three points and another that pushed the lead to 4 in the closing seconds). Meeks looked like the goat because of his shooting, but he did a lot of other good things in this game to help the Lakers win.
- Chandler Parsons’ three pointer to force overtime looked like a Matt Kemp line drive to center field. How that frozen rope got over the rim is beyond me, but he hit it to force the extra period. A great shot out of a scramble play that could have deflated the Lakers. It was great to see them respond by winning in the overtime.
- Down the stretch of the regulation and in overtime D’Antoni played Jamison at small forward in place of Ron and Clark. Jamison held his own on defense and was active on offense (cutting, tipping rebounds). I’m not sure how well that will work down the line, but it was a nice change up tonight that made a difference.
- The Blake, Meeks, Jamison, Pau, and Dwight lineup played 16 minutes together. In those minutes the team had a defensive efficiency of 70.9. Again, a lot of that had to do with Dwight’s dominance (and Pau’s secondary rim protection), but the fact that Jamison could be part of that unit was great for the Lakers since he’s such a versatile offensive player for the team.
- Speaking of that lineup, credit the coach for making a smart decision and then riding it out when it showed it would work. Normally Jamison would be eaten alive by a player the caliber of Parsons, but the Rockets’ offense went to Harden almost exclusively that Jamison was able to float on the weak side a lot without having to guard in isolation too often.
- Props to Darius Morris. He played good defense throughout the game and hit his only two shots to score 5 points. Not huge numbers, but enough to justify him being on the floor to pester Harden and Lin as an on ball defender.
The Lakers will have a few days off to prepare for the playoffs, but tonight they should enjoy this win just like us fans. The regular season didn’t produce the type of results we all would have liked, but this team continued to fight and persevere to get to where they did. For that they, and we, should be proud.