Where to begin?
Kendall Marshall started his first game of the season and in 40 minutes scored 20 points, dished out 15 assists and grabbed 6 rebounds.
Pau Gasol, looking like he is finally over his respiratory issues, played an inspired game and scored a team high 23 points, grabbed 17 rebounds, and dished out 8 assists of his own.
For one night, at least, the Lakers had a dynamic inside-outside duo and were able to ride their production to a win, snapping their 6 game losing streak in the process. In essence, the fun Lakers were fun again and everyone went home happy — especially the fans who got their beloved tacos.
Marshall really was a revelation in this game, showing the skill that landed him in the lottery just a season ago. The 2nd year pro played with a great tempo to his game and worked the pick and roll masterfully, using a quick step to get into the paint to either set up drives to the rim where he could finish or to collapse the defense so he could hit shooters behind the arc. His assertiveness coming off picks was a huge difference from his first couple of games as a Laker, showing that the key to this offense really is an aggressive playmaker who can make the right pass shot decisions when operating in the P&R.
That last point really is important as Marshall really didn’t make many mistakes all night. His lone turnover came on a busted pick and roll where he picked up his dribble without an outlet and sailed a pass into the backcourt. But besides that one error, he was nearly flawless in his decision making and showed off the passing ability that earned him so much praise coming out of UNC. He threw countless passes on time and on target both in the half court and when looking ahead, reading the defense expertly and hitting shooters circling up above the arc or dipping down the corner, picking on helping defenders who had to make tough choices between leaving their man and covering the diving big man who set screens up high.
This is where Gasol’s game came into play as he operated wonderfully in the center of the Lakers’ offense, diving into the paint to draw defenders or floating into the creases of the Jazz D where he could stroke a jumper that looked as pure as it has all season. But when Pau wasn’t operating in the P&R, he was in his favored low post, working against defenders who were reminded that when the Spaniard is on his game, he still has a lot of variety in his offensive arsenal. Pau worked sweeping hooks and turnaround jumpers against quick drop steps and finishes with both hands, giving everyone flashbacks of just how good he could be when his complete game is going.
Beyond his offense, though, Pau also had one of his best defensive nights of the season. Besides his 17 rebounds (14 defensive clears), Pau offered up 3 blocked shots and altered several others simply by challenging shots at the rim and actively going after the ball rather than letting the action come to him. On several possessions Pau sought out offensive players and used his length and timing to bother the Jazz inside when he was on the floor.
Of course, Pau and Marshall didn’t win this game on their own. After missing the last game with the stomach flu and struggling mightily in some of the games before that, Wes Johnson hit all 5 of his shots from the floor to score 11 points. Jodie Meeks and Nick Young weren’t especially efficient (both shot 6-14 from the field), but they scored 18 and 16 points respectively and both hit some key baskets down the stretch when the Jazz made their final push to get the game within 4 in the closing minutes. Robert Sacre had a tough shooting night (2-6) en route to his 4 points, but was solid defensively and pulled down 10 rebonds. And Shawne Williams and Ryan Kelly both did a good job of stretching the floor, combining to hit 4 of 5 shots from behind the arc and scoring 16 points between them.
All in all, there’s really nothing to complain about in this game. The Lakers fought hard on both ends of the floor and when the game got tight at the end, they played good D and came up with the big shots that kept the Jazz at bay. The individual nights of Pau and (especially) Marshall will get the ink and deservedly so, but games like this are won on the backs of the entire team and this effort brought back memories of the team’s early season victories when guys rose to the occasion to get a good win. It remains to be seen if this can be a stepping stone win that helps get the players some of their lost confidence back, but even if it doesn’t it sure was fun to watch.
And that’s not something that could be said around these parts very often lately.