Not just in last night’s game, but in recent Lakers’ games, I’ve been really impressed with how Andrew Bynum has started games. He’s coming out playing very aggressive and his game stands out more in the first six minutes of basketball games than it does at any other point in the game. Last night, Bynum recorded four points, two rebounds and a block in the first six minutes of the game. In his previous five games, he’s averaged 2.6 points, 1.4 rebounds and 0.8 blocks. These numbers don’t look impressive at first glance, but his per 48 minutes numbers look much more impressive: 20.8 points, 11.2 rebounds and 6.4 blocks. While it is highly unreasonable to ask anyone to average 6.4 blocks, 20 points and 11 rebounds per night is definitely within the realm of Bynum’s capabilities. Last night Bynum finished with 22-6-2 (blocks).
Also Derek Fisher and Lamar Odom came up huge in the fourth quarter. Fish picked off a pass and fed a trailing Ron Artest to put him at the line and was able to knock down two clutch free throws to put the Lakers in position to win the game. Lamar Odom was extremely aggressive in the fourth quarter, notching seven points and five rebounds. He may have been a little over-aggressive with three fouls – one being on a three-point attempt – but I’ll take that Lamar over the complacent Lamar any day. Kevin Ding has a column on what Derek Fisher and Lamar Odom meant to the team.
Derek Fisher and Lamar Odom are, respectively, the head and the heart of the team.
And with the Lakers stumbling up to the crossroads of this post-championship season, both Fisher and Odom came to share a vision Tuesday night.
They grew tired of their team being pulled left or right or backwards by individual concerns or even resting comfortably with an eye peeking back at the title already behind them.
As Fisher told his teammates in a compelling halftime speech and then Odom told reporters in a fierce postgame rant, there is only way for the Lakers to react to these crossed roads:
Go hard. Straight forward.
With the Lakers again being slow, cautious and indecisive en route to an eight-point halftime deficit against Toronto, the coaches left the players alone in the locker room an uncommonly long time. It was way too quiet on the team’s bench that first half, but it was downright silent in that locker room of guys scared to lose a fourth consecutive game.
Until Fisher spoke up.
“Just go out there and play hard,” Andrew Bynum said the thrust of Fisher’s words were.
Fisher said he wanted the guys to put all their petty issues aside and stop acting as if they were on the court only because they were being paid to be. This is supposed to be what they love do to, so let loose and go get it.
It’s hardly the first time Fisher has morphed into, as Kobe Bryant calls him, “Derek Obama.” However, as Bynum noted about the speech after the Lakers rallied to beat Toronto: “This was one that was really good.”
There is no nice way to say that the Lakers shooting has been abysmal in recent weeks, and there was nothing different about last nights performance. I scoured the box score, trying to figure out why the Lakers were only able to beat the Toronto Raptors by two points and it was hard to find anything outside of those percentages at the bottom of the box score, written in bold as if it were the only thing that mattered. The Raptors had four more rebounds and four more team assists than the Lakers did. But they had seven more fouls and took 14 fewer foul shots. The Lakers also did a fairly good job of taking care of the ball, just nine turnovers to the Raptors 13. But if you look at the Lakers shooting (35 of 78 and just 3 of 15 from behind the arch), you see why they struggled. Almost 45 percent from the floor and 20 percent from long range is not going to cut it against any NBA team. Kobe had some stark comments on last night’s game. From the OC Register:
While Bryant was flattered by Triano’s comments, he was less-than-impressed with his team’s overall play. The Lakers needed Bryant’s bailout shot to avoid their first four-game losing streak in three years.
Did you see any positives tonight?
“None. This was… garbage,” he said.
“Nothing. Our defense in Orlando was much better,” Bryant said. “The effort we had in Orlando would make it tough for a team to beat us four times in a series. This thing tonight was garbage.”
Also, Pau Gasol – despite his 17 and 9 – hasn’t been the same Pau that we’ve become accustomed to seeing since he’s arrived. Actually, this is the exact Pau that we were accustomed to seeing when he first arrived. He’s lost something: his edge, his tenacity, his swagger – something. He’s been soft, complaining a whole lot more to the refs and has become re-susceptible to disappear when he has to bang bodies on the block. He’s softened back up and I’m not particularly a fan of this new (I mean, old) Gasol. From Zach Harper at Hardwood Paroxysm:
It’s not that Pau Gasol played poorly by any means. 17 points and nine rebounds can make a lovely evening for any power forward. It’s just that latelty, he’s been showing up soft in big moments. Perhaps he was supposed to shed that soft label during the NBA Finals when he put up nice numbers, gave great tough effort and won an NBA title. But I can’t shake that feeling that he’s still not comfortable doing the little things in crunch time that you need him to do. Be confident with the ball. Secure the rebound. Box the F out. Challenge the shot in a way that doesn’t allow a sea of opponents to wash in behind you and flood the offensive boards. Pau has shown to be much better. Maybe we can just chalk this up to him being in the same funk the Lakers were in.
AND THE GAME WINNER
Let me begin this by saying, I still can’t believe that the game had to come down to this. Against teams like the Toronto Raptors, especially going into another tough three-game road trip, the Lakers have to execute better and not have games come down to a Kobe game-winner.
When Chris Bosh hit that game-tying three pointer (his second of the game, eighth of the season), everyone watching that game immediately looked at the clock. I don’t care who you are or who you root for, you looked at that clock. When you saw that there were 9.7 seconds left, you immediately knew that Kobe was going to attempt another game winner. And for the seventh time this season, Kobe’s last jumper of the game proved to be the difference.
The first thing I notice about the play is that the Lakers had GREAT spacing. Kobe got the ball on the right wing, and because of the spacing, he had time to read the defense, the double team came late and Kobe had the whole right side of the floor to operate. After his initial read, Andrea Bargnani came to double on his left side with Wright guarding Kobe. Kobe swung through, took two dribbles to his right, pulled up before Bosh could come over, and hit the 20-footer. (Update: For more analysis on the Kobe game winner check out the X’s and O’s and pictures of what the Lakers did to get Kobe open and what Toronto didn’t do in defending the winning jumper. Great stuff over at NBA Playbook.)
Here is what people are saying about the game winner around the web:
The Lakers may have been on a three-game losing streak, but they still employ Kobe Bryant and the Toronto Raptors do not. You can draw a pretty straight line between that observation and tonight’s outcome, a 109 to 107 Laker win that was discouraging and inspiring in almost equal measures. Discouraging, because Toronto was supposed to be an opponent the Lakers could easily handle, an Eastern Conference middleweight that’s won barely a third of its road games. But inspiring as well, because hey: Kobe Bryant!
Tonight’s selection from the Kobe Game-Winner Platinum Series took the form of a baseline fall-away over Antoine Wright with 1.9 seconds left. Yes, monsieur, that will do just fine! The shot put the Lakers up a deuce and, as the Raptors had no timeouts left, effectively sealed the win. What’s that, you say? Why did the Lakers need a dramatic end-game shot to snag a home victory from the Raptors? I… *fake static sounds*… I can’t hear you that well. *more fake static sounds* I think my phone’s going out….
The Lakers prevailed, 109-107, giving their fans something to cheer about, but it wasn’t an impressive night for a team that looked tired and acted aloof … yet again.
It was getting close enough to a loss that reporters scrambled to look up the last time the Lakers dropped four in a row and found it: April 2007, right before the Lakers got hammered in five games by Phoenix in the first round of the playoffs.
But Kobe Bryant drilled a 17-footer from the right side with 1.9 seconds left, his sixth last-second winner this season, getting separation from Antoine Wright and bailing out the Lakers with a perfect fadeaway touch.
Six game-winners in one season?
“That’s a sound number,” Lakers Coach Phil Jackson said, pausing a moment for effect. “I wish it was 12.”
Chris Bosh hit a three-pointer with 9.5 seconds left to tie it for the Raptors, who outplayed the defending champions for most of the first three quarters before losing on another big shot by Bryant, who scored 14 of his 32 points in the fourth quarter.
Bryant, who missed a shot at the buzzer in Los Angeles’ loss at Toronto in January, got the ball on the wing before eluding Antoine Wright’s defence and gliding nearly to the baseline for a graceful jumper. Wright’s failed desperation shot set off a celebration for the Lakers, who haven’t lost four straight since April 2007.
I’ll leave you with the Lakers’ post game interviews and some game analysis from Land ‘O Lakers.