Kobe. Bean. Bryant.
Simply put, the man is amazing. With 9.5 seconds left on the clock and the game tied, Kobe received the inbounds pass on the right sideline, paused, escape dribbled to the right, rose up and nailed a ridiculously tough fading baseline twenty footer to sink the Raptors. In what has now become a habbit, Kobe was king of the clutch and won another game with another shot that defies critics and amazes even those that have come to expect as much.
But there was so much more to this game besides the Kobe game winner. This game was both frustrating and entertaining. It had me cursing my television and yelling in excitement. It was a great, great game that included many good things for the Lakers and a lot of bad too.
First, the good – Andew Bynum was a beast tonight. Maybe the Raptors bring out the best in our young Center, but once again when he saw a front line of Bosh and Bargnani, Bynum went to work on the inside and made his presence felt on both ends of the court. 22 points, 6 rebounds (seemed like more, though), 2 blocks (with at least 6 additional shots altered) for Bynum as he controlled the paint and really made an impact. I really can’t say enough about his effort on defense and his willingness to step out on the court against Bosh and Bargnani to contest shots and still recover to the paint to rebound and body up players that were seeking the offensive carom. Just a fantastic push by Bynum, especially in the 4th quarter when this team needed him most. I also must give credit to both Derek Fisher and Lamar Odom. Not because their numbers were great, but because of the leadership and heart that they showed down the stretch of the game to make plays that truly made a difference. Though Fish and LO only combined for 17 points, 9 boards, and 6 assists it didn’t matter as they too raised their games in the final frame. Odom scored 7 points in the 4th quarter and Fisher had a huge steal with only thirty seconds remaining and subsequently sunk two FT’s after gaining possession that ultimately kept the Lakers up by 4 points and were (nearly) as much a contribution to this win as Kobe’s game winning shot.
But, in order for Kobe to hit a game winner the game has to be close at the end and this is where things weren’t as positive. In an ugly 2nd quarter, the Raptors outscored the Lakers 34-21 as we could not convert on shots and couldn’t stop Toronto either. The Lakers struggled with Toronto’s various P&R sets and allowed the Raptors to get a lot of open shots. Shots that Toronto happily knocked down as Lakers defenders were either slow to rotate to the perimeter or caught in no man’s land confused as to whether they should recover to the paint or find a shooter. Granted, Toronto has the ability to put a shooter at every position on the floor and that leads to tremendous spacing that is difficult to cover, but there were still long stretches where defensive struggles were more the norm over strong execution and it was a problem against the Raps. What is most frustrating about the Lakers defense, though, is how they saved their worst defensive lapses for late in the game. When up by 4 with just under thirty seconds to play, the Lakers allowed a quick inbounds and layup to cut the lead to 2. Then, after Lamar made one of two FT’s, the Lakers didn’t effectively switch on defense on a high P&R that allowed Chris Bosh (who I already respected a great deal but gain more and more respect for as a PF every game) to shake loose and nail a game tying three pointer. It really was some poor defensive execution in those closing possessions.
And on offense, the Lakers, in what is now par for the course, could not consistently hit outside shots as they went 3-15 from three point range. And in another recurring theme, Pau Gasol could not get it going on the inside as he missed some easy ones in the paint and was visibly frustrated by the contact he was taking on the interior – at one point arguing with the refs and earning a technical foul. Now, on the play in question Pau did have his shorts pulled on his offensive rebound and did seemingly take a hit on his lay in attempt. However, the flip side on that play is that Pau double clutched his shot attempt and that is a sure fire way to show the refs that you were avoiding contact rather than seeking it – and seeking it is what earns you the trip to the foul line. I don’t want to harp too much on Pau as he is finding ways to contribute to the game besides being fully effective with his offense. I mean, he did have 9 rebounds, a block, while going 9-11 from the foul line. But on another night where he missed more shots than he made, he’s obviously not playing his best ball and it showed as Phil went with Bynum for most of the 4th quarter and only put Pau back in the game when Bynum started to show signs of fatigue.
So, this game really was a mixed bag that while amazing to watch at the end, doesn’t inspire much confidence that the team is over the stretch of poor-ish play that they’ve suffered through recently. Give me a win every day of the week and treat me to a Kobe game winner on top of that but I’m not sold that anything is truly different than what it was yesterday or the day before that. The Lakers still have issues to work on and problems to address. But all that said, it sure feels damn good to have #24 on our side. And with that, I bring you back to the beginning. Enjoy: