In a game that really didn’t need to be as close as it was, the Lakers closed out the decade with a win by defeating the 76ers 102-98. Give the scrappy and short handed 76ers credit as they fought hard all night and refused to lay down in the face of a double digit lead throughout the game, but in the end the Lakers were just too good and hit the shots they needed in order to survive the night.
The game started with the Lakers finding their offensive rhythm against a Philly D that wasn’t too interested in defending the paint. In the first 5 minutes of the contest the Lakers scored multiple times right at the basket including Kobe getting an easy finger roll after a back cut from the top of the circle, Bynum backing down Elton Brand for a power one handed dunk, and then Kobe following that with a two handed flush right over the top of Andres Nocioni.
Speaking of Kobe, he seemed intent on closing out the decade the way he started it with the dunk on Nocioni only the beginning to his vintage night. Working mostly against single coverage, Kobe sliced through Philly’s defense to get the spots on the floor that he wanted and then converted on a variety of shots that have made him the elite scorer he’s been throughout his career. If he wasn’t making his pull up jumper, he was executing hesitation dribbles to get all the way to the tin. When he wasn’t working off the bounce he’d show off some of his post moves, displaying the footwork that has allowed him to continue to beat defenders even as his athleticism has tailed off some. Going up against Jodie Meeks and Evan Turner most of the night surely aided in Kobe’s success – they’re young players that don’t have the familiarity to combat most of Kobe’s arsenal – but on a night where #24 has that bounce to his step and moves so well with and without the basketball, there are few defenders that can truly stay with him. Mr. Bean ended the night with 33 points on 24 shots and added 4 rebounds, 2 assists, and 2 steals for good measure. The only smudge on his game was his recurring issue with turnovers as he added another 4 to the ledger last night.
But Kobe wasn’t alone in doing work. Pau Gasol also had a good night, playing the all-around game we’ve come to expect. Working a lot from the mid post and the elbow, Gasol dropped mid-range jumpers against a sagging D and then drove by Philly defenders when they had to honor the shot. The big Spaniard ended 2010 with a solid line of 20 & 8 while chipping in an assist, two blocks and two steals. The last of his blocks being one that helped seal the game as he denied a Thad Young lay-in attempt with under a minute to play.
The rest of the Laker front line also played very good ball. In another 31 minute effort by Bynum, the big man controlled the interior by grabbing 15 rebounds (to go along with his 8 points), blocking 1 shot, and altering several others. Meanwhile, Lamar Odom’s move to a reserve role proves to be no big deal at all as he played his second consecutive great game off the bench. LO poured in 18 points and grabbed 7 rebounds of his own (3 offensive), looking fluid off the dribble and consistently attacking the Philly D off the bounce. He had several good finishes going both right and left (though always finishing with his strong hand), while his offensive rebounds were usually of the tip in variety where he slashed his way to the rim and used that long left arm to get the Lakers two points off of what originally should have been Philly’s ball going the other way. When you add in Artest’s solid game of 11 points (4-6 from the field), 3 rebounds, and 4 assists the Lakers starters up front (and I do consider Odom a starter) combined for 57 points on only 37 shots and proved that their versatility was too much to handle.
You figure that if all of these things were going well for the Lakers, they should have won in a walk. But credit the Sixers for battling throughout the game to stay within striking distance. They turned the Lakers over 15 times and got out in the open court as much as they could to score 18 fast-break points. With the game still close enough for a Philly run to close the gap in the final quarter, Jrue Holliday and Lou Williams got hot from the outside and made the game a nail biter down the stretch. Williams scored 9 of his 18 points in the final quarter on a variety of long jumpers. Holliday’s lone three of the period was a huge shot that cut the Lakers’ lead to a single point with only 2:45 left to play. After a Kobe jumper pushed the lead back to 3 but a subsequent turnover leading to converted three point play by Thad Young to tie the game at 98, the outcome was in serious doubt.
But with the game hanging in the balance, Kobe finished the game the way that he started it by making the key basket that put the Lakers ahead for good. After isolating at the right elbow against Evan Turner and the floor spaced wonderfully to counter any potential double team, Kobe drove right and hit a fading jumper along the baseline, the way that we’ve seen him do hundreds of times over his career. After Philly scrambled and got off a couple of good three point attempts that rimmed out in the closing seconds, the Lakers held on to win the game.
In the end, there are still things the Lakers need to clean up as they weren’t able to close the game strong and had to fight much harder than they should have to pull out a win in a game they controlled for nearly the entire night. Their back court trio of Fisher (0-7), Blake and Brown (both 2-6) didn’t shoot well and weren’t much better on defense. But a win is a win and I’ll take it the same way that I would a 30 point blowout. The Lakers ended the decade on the high note of a W and that’s what really matters. So for your viewing enjoyment, below are the highlights from the game. Enjoy this one as the Lakers are right back at it tomorrow.