Many say that the first game of a road trip sets the tone for the entire set of games a team will play on their trip. If that’s truly the case, there are four other teams that have some problems when the Lakers come to town over the next week. The Lakers came into San Antonio with a lot of questions facing them. Could they continue their winning ways against quality teams (after building a 6 game win streak on the gutter dwellers of the NBA)? Could they summon the intensity and focus that made them champions last season? Is it possible to turn up their level of play and show the rest of the league that they really are a dominant team on the court and not just on paper? I know these types of questions (and many others) were on the minds of fans and media alike, but against the Spurs we all got a glimpse of what the answer to those questions may be.
Suffocating. Strangling. Smothering. These are words that aptly describe the defense that the Lakers exhibited against the Spurs in second half of their 92-83 victory tonight. An eighteen point third quarter was outdone by a seventeen point fourth quarter. A 94.3 offensive rating with a true shooting percentage of 47% on the evening for the team from San Antonio – utterly substandard for a top ten offensive unit. I don’t think I’ve seen a better defensive stretch all season from the Lakers and they provided it with their backs against the wall as they entered the second half trailing the Spurs by eight points.
And the Lakers only trailed because they couldn’t stop George Hill or Manu Ginobili from getting to wherever they wanted to on the court. Hill lived in the paint and did an impersonation of Tony Parker that had the Spurs crowd buzzing. Hill hit floaters. He hit acrobatic layups. He hit the corner three and short jumpers with ease. He’d end the first half with 20 points and had the game’s announcers calling him a superstar in the making. And then Ginobili showed why he’s already considered a superstar. Manu was raining jumpers and abusing Lakers defenders. One step back three was followed by another. After a missed FT, the ball would again find his hands and he’d nail another long ball. Three 3’s provided the bulk of his twelve first half points and he looked like he could keep it going all night. The Spurs backcourt was simply doing whatever they wanted on offense and had the Lakers defense thoroughly frustrated.
But, despite the offensive explosion from the Spurs guards, the Lakers would keep it close. And it was mostly done on the wide shoulders of Lamar Odom. In the game preview I noted that the Spurs don’t have a defender that is capable of staying with Odom as our lefty’s ability to push the ball and move fluidly in the half court is a problem for a team that has front court rotation that features the old and/or slow legs of Duncan, McDyess, Blair, and Bonner. Well, Odom took full advantage of his athletic advantages by getting the ball in his hands and attacking the rim at every opportunity. Whether in transition or in the half court, Odom found creases in the Spurs defense and went to the rim. And when he wasn’t the player doing the shooting, he corralled offensive rebounds (3 of his 13 rebounds were off our misses) and created extra possessions for us. Odom was just everywhere, again, for the Lakers. The thing I love most about Odom’s game is how he tweaks his style of play to fit what the Lakers need most. Tonight, in a game where he had the biggest advantage of all our offensive players (save for maybe Kobe), Odom was aggressive with ball, taking 18 shots to lead the team in FGA’s, and really looked for his offense.
Odom wasn’t alone on offense though. That guy Kobe decided to have one of his most efficient offensive games of the season in this game to help out LO. On a night where Kobe didn’t get to the foul line, it didn’t really matter because his shooting stroke from all over the floor was so good. Twenty four points on 11 of 16 from the floor on 75% true shooting. Kobe ran roughshod over every Spurs defender that guarded him (5 Spurs in all tried to slow down Kobe – to no avail) and it got to the point that the Spurs were running double teams at Kobe when he was thirty feet from the basket. But that was the beauty of Kobe’s game on offense this evening. He accepted every double team and ably made passes to open teammates, setting them up for good looks. Six assists on the night for Kobe (to only 3 turnovers) and he would have had even more had Pau, Fisher, and Artest hit some of the open shots that Kobe created for them.
But, this game really was about the defense. And it all started with Artest. Around a month ago, I said that Artest deserves consideration for defensive player of the year. After tonight’s performance, I’m reiterating that sentiment. Against the Spurs he reminded everyone of the destructive force he can be on the defensive side of the ball. He hounded every player that he went up against, not only racking up the stats that show up in the box score, but also doing a ton of little things that help win games. Five steals (with two leading directly to layups where he swiped the ball and went the other way for the score) and countless other deflections don’t even tell the entire story. Not when Ron was also able to stop 3 on 2 fast breaks by pestering the ball handler and then chasing him not only out of the paint, but above the three point line. The stats also don’t show how he had players picking up their dribble and passing the ball away just to have him cease and desist his attack dog defense of them. Ron truly wreaked havoc on the Spurs offense and it’s performances like these that move the Lakers team D beyond formidable and into the elite category.
Really, there is so much to say about this game that I could go on forever. I mean, the team had 5 players in double figures. The Lakers also shot 50% from three point country, making 10 of their 20 attempts. Farmar and Brown combined for 19 points on 7 for 13 shooting. Pau Gasol, though not very good on offense (which is a change from his recent performances) helped to hold Tim Duncan to 6 points on 11 shots and blocked two of Timmy’s jumpers in key moments of the game. And while there were some things to improve upon – another poor showing from the FT line in a road game, the Spurs out rebounded us and out assisted us – the overall performance was just to strong to nit pick on any of those minor points. This was just a great win and a fantastic way to start the road trip. We can only hope this continues on Friday in OKC.
lil' pau says
Stunning win. Artest’s best game as a Laker, but with Friday in mind, I would say his second best game (defensively at least) was a game at Staples vs. OKC in which he had Durant absolutely frustrated. I can’t wait to see how the Lakers build on this absolutely beautiful game…
(By the way, how great was Popovich’s interview to start the 4th?)
Great write up Darius. I completely agree about Artest’s defense. This is why he’s here. I loved Ariza and I think he fits the triangle very well, but his on-the-ball defense was shaky at times. Artest is simply playing amazing on-the-ball D right now. It was awesome to see other players picking up their dribble because Artest was on them like a glove. (sorry GP)
This was a great win for the Lakers to start the road trip. Gasol didn’t have a particularly good offensive game, but his defense on Duncan was pretty impressive. I really hate to see Duncan playing this poorly. Age is the one opponent you can’t beat.
Ps…I love watching Lamar play this way! He is an amazing player when he’s aggressive like this.
I hate to see people talk about Plascke at all as if he is a real sports journalist. There is zero reason to bring up anything he ever writes about. He is the only writer I have ever said that about. My brother works for the Parks and Recreation show on NBC and one of his bosses (the head of the show)had a blog where all they basically did was make fun of how unknowledgeable Bill Plascke is about sports and how he couldn’t even write structurally coherent articles.
Kobe played his smartest and best game of the season
I agree Artest should be the defensive player of the year again. He is the only player I have ever seen who is on offense while on defense. He is in attack mode all the time. There is and never was any debate as to who the better fit was on the Lakers between Artest and Ariza. Ariza is a back up SF who can only guard PG’s and SG’s while Artest is a 35 min a night starter who is a regular on the all defensive teams. Artest shoots 38% from three while Ariza shoots 31%. Ariza is slightly better at playing tream defense and is better at attacking the basket (but only off the ball. Everywhere else Artest is the better player.
I am wondering about Odom’s shoulder now, during the game the announcers mentioned that he was grimacing during plays. I guess this is the type of injury that players just play through until the season ends, so he will get to rest it after mid June, huh? Good win bye the way…
great great game… Now Im just hoping someone puts up a compilation of Artest´s defense – like after the Carmelo Anthony deconstruction job.
That piece of video has been the most educational clip I have ever shown my kids. Really flippede the switch for them on defense, they seem to get it now 🙂
Hopefully the Lakers take care of business in the first round and Lamar gets a little rest.
I understand Ron stacked up a lot of steals and stats, but Manu exploded this game! how is that “great D”, and how does it fit with his pride in “holding opponents below their season average”?
That said, it was a great game!
I couldn’t believe my eyes when Kobe had a WIDE OPEN Trever Ariza-type three late in the 2nd half. That was ridiculous. How could any team leave him open???
Manu didn’t explode, he played more minutes than he usually does and he was one of the focal points of the offense, especially as Duncan rendered ineffective. Taking his scoring average and comparing it to his game stats is a terrible way of comparing. If you look at his last ten games, for instance, he’s averaging 23.2 points on 31 minutes in (27 points/36 min). Compare this to his performance against the Lakers, 24 points in 33:20 (26 points/ 36 min). Manu may not have been “contained” but he definitely didn’t have an aberration of a game. Especially once considering Duncan’s ineffectiveness and the Spurs reliance on Manu for points, this is pretty impressive. Furthermore, if you look at Manu’s last ten games, you’ll notice that his shooting percentage against the Lakers is significantly lower than every other game during the ten game stretch except against OKC (and only by a hair). Anyways, I have a good feeling about this stretch.
John Morris says
I think as happy as we all are about this win the Laker players and coaches are more elated. Watching the bench when Kobe came out last night you could really tell they were happy with what they did and how much they wanted to win this game. I don’t think their first half was particularly bad they just didn’t hit shots (open shots). They have been running their offense so much more lately; thank god.
As for Lamar and Ronald Artest – they are doing exactly what their team needs from them right now. The Lakers are playing with two intangibles players on the court at the same time during stretches of the game. I think having those two on the floor at the same time can really be a momentum changer in the playoffs.
Also, a few of those floating jumpers Kobe hit in the lane were straight sickness. He’s seemed to have found hit touch recently.
Watch out NBA – I think by the end of this upcoming Sunday everybody will know if the Lakers are officially rolling or not.
Artest losing some weight seems to be paying off. The willingness to do that mid-season is VERY unusual, and speaks to his dedication.
And the Lakers played one of their best games of the season, and Bynum was unavailable. Consider how well they played during the stretch when both Bynum and Kobe were out. What do those have in common?
chris h says
darius wrote: Suffocating. Strangling. Smothering. These are words that aptly describe the defense that the Lakers exhibited against the Spurs in second half of their 92-83 victory tonight…
add “Swarming” to that list of words starting with “S”. 😉
from watching Kobe, you should know that when facing someone that skilled like Manu and Kobe, limiting them means you did a very good job on defense
i loved the game last night. kobe was really looking to get everyone involved so much so he had to be told by Phil to “activate” his offense. kobe would have had over 10 assists if people would knock down open shots. ron played really well obviously. biggest concern is Dfish. i think when opposing teams play the lakers overall they know they will have match up problems all night. except for opposing point guards. when they see they are playing against Derek their eyes light up. George Hill looked like an Allstar out there against fish.
good to see the Lakers executing on both ends during the 4th quarter last night. Not only were they playing their best D of the season, they were really moving the ball well on the offensive end. When they do that, it makes Kobe’s opportunities to close the game out so much easier. And it was good to see Ron being such a big part of it. You could tell he finally arrived as a part of this team.
If they put that effort into an entire game, nobody can beat them. Not even close.
Phillip has a new post up. Game reactions and other morning links.
Artest will be the difference in the Playoffs, especially against LeBron!
As impressive as Ron and Pau’s defensive effort last night, the game also highlighted the on-going burden the Lakers have.
D. Fish. The past 3-games are an example of the burden he has become. He has scored 2 points, 2 points and 3 points. The opposing starting point guard has scored 18, 20 and 21.
The Lakers were a different team when Farmer was in the game. Fisher has become so slow on defense that he causes other players to cover for his in-ability to slow his man. This causes penatration for layups or wide open 3’s.
On offense he is now the worst percentage shooing PG starter in the NBA and is last in assists per game. Good coaches know you double Kobe and leave Fish open for either a air-ball or a clunker.
Yes we have talked about this often but at what point is Phil going to except that Fisher is a burden to this team on offense and defense. No less then 6 publications brought his poor performance up. Its getting to be a source of embarrassment to the Lakers, its fans and to Fisher.
Enough with the loyalty Phil. If he is such a great guy in the locker room then he also can be so while on the bench. The .03 shot is as old as Kirt Gibson’s homerun. If the Lakers are to repeat then Phil needs to sit Fisher and start the much quicker and better shooting Farmer or give Sasha a shot.
Enough is enough and the creek has run dry on our Fish.
This is so funny…it seems only some months (offseason) ago i was on this board defending Artest to no end. How is it that everyone is an Artest fan all of a sudden?