The Lakers had lost 4 games in a row and were reeling. Their opponent was on the 2nd night of a back to back and had lost to the Clippers on Saturday night. One team was going to leave LA Sunday night (the Lakers to Phoenix, the Pistons back to Detroit after an 11 day roadie) happy. That team is the Lakers and I think we all feel a bit of relief and happiness because of that. I know I do.
It was not a perfect night and there were things I wish played out differently (more on that later), but on a night when the Lakers got a W and in a season where that looks like it might not happen as many times as any of us with rooting interests would like, I won’t dwell on that stuff too much. The Lakers work hard and I want to see that work rewarded. Even if it comes with things I don’t necessarily agree with.
On this night, though, there was more to like than not.
Kobe did not shoot well, but he played well. His 19 shots led the team and he didn’t make even a third of them (six), but on a night where he tallied 9 assists and 8 rebounds while moving well off the ball and working his way to better spots on the floor, it is easier to live with the misses. Down the stretch of the game he had the ball in his hands, made good reads, and he even hit a (kinda) dagger three pointer that put the Lakers up double digits. It wasn’t exactly vintage Kobe, but it approximated that guy in an aged-and-coming-off-injury sort of way.
Jordan Clarkson also played well, hitting half of his 10 shots for 17 points (tied with Kobe for the team lead). If Kobe wasn’t making a play down the stretch, it was Clarkson who was by using his dribble to get into the paint and create good shots for himself. On one play in particular, he went away from Kobe and used a P&R to get into the lane, came to a nice jump-stop, reverse pivoted, and hit a fading 5 footer against a defense who had no chance. The combination of taking control and finishing the play drew an emphatic fist pump from Kobe who got a front row view of the play while camping in the strong side corner.
As for the rest of the team, there was a lot of good, some okay, and not really any bad. Which is what this team sorely needed.
Hibbert was a strong presence defensively and worked hard boxing out Andre Drummond and his brute force attacks in the paint. Hibbert only finished with 7 rebounds and 2 blocks, but Drummond only had 4 offensive rebounds and missed 10 of his 18 shots from the floor. Drummond still got his numbers, but he was not a destroyer of worlds and spent a lot of his night frustrated, even picking up a couple of fouls (and a technical) simply trying to bully his way to spots on the floor the Lakers (and Hibbert) were not going to surrender easily.
The bench unit also played well, which, as we noted in the preview, was going to be a key to victory. No single reserve was spectacular, but they all did their jobs and it reflected in their plus/minus stats on the night. Nance, Bass, Lou, and Young were all at least a +10 on the night and all were net positives. Nick Young, for his efforts, even closed the game (more on that later, too) and had a couple of fine defensive possessions — on one play the Pistons tried to run Nick through an elevator doors double screen and he fought through and then got over the top of the screen on the secondary P&R — to go with a couple of big three pointers in the final period.
All in all, then, this is mostly the type of game a lot of fans love. Kobe played well and was a key contributor down the stretch in helping the team pull away. A young player (in this case, Clarkson) showed his chops and had a strong impact late. The role players did their parts and the fans went home with tacos. A game that was worth the price of admission, I’d say.
Now, on to the notes…
- Kobe played 37 minutes tonight which, if you recall discussions leading into the season, is 5 minutes over the proposed ceiling. Before the year when asked what he would do in this exact situation, Byron said he would “Stick to my guns. This is what we talked about, this is what we felt would be the best way to use you and to make you the most efficient that you could be, I’m going to stick to it. Win or lose, I’m going to stick to it.” Well, seems that’s easier said than done.
- Kobe will not play in tomorrow’s back to back and Byron has already sort of used that as a buffer against the minutes cap. I don’t buy that really — the cap is there for in game purposes, not for balancing what a guy will do the next day. Kobe also said his back stiffened up late and that his legs don’t feel that great.
- With Nick Young closing while Kobe and Clarkson contributed late, the odd man out was D’Angelo Russell again. For the 4th time in 10 games, Russell didn’t play at all in the 4th quarter. For what it’s worth, Russell did not hang his head and was cheering on his teammates late, especially Kobe after he hit that late 3 pointer. Do I understand Byron riding the hot unit to get a win? Yes. Do I support that in a vacuum? Sure. But we don’t live in a vacuum and, again, this is the 4th time Russell has sat out the entire 4th quarter of a game. In other words, as Brian Kamenetzky put it perfectly, a night like this would have fewer questions if previous nights were handled better.
- For what it’s worth, I don’t even think Russell is doing things wrong to earn his minutes on the bench. I just think Byron is going with the “hot” player while also guaranteeing Kobe minutes. So, if Kobe’s spot is a given, there’s only two other perimeter spots open. Against the Magic, Clarkson sat and Russell (and Lou) played. In this game, Russell sat and Young played. In other games, Russell sat and Lou played. I wish it were different, of course. I think, as a point guard, Russell needs some of these minutes, under fire, to gain experience and learn. I don’t think these things can be simulated in practice or picked up on from the bench. But Byron clearly feels different. I think Russell is also the player most easily told to sit since he’s the rookie and being the #2 pick doesn’t mean anything to Byron. Not when he has capable veteran alternatives. You don’t have to agree with that, but that’s what I think is the truth.
- Larry Nance is probably already the team’s 2nd or 3rd best defender. His athleticism is great and his instincts are already very good. When he learns the league more and starts to get the benefit of the doubt veterans do, he will be hard to keep off the floor in close games simply because he will be making such a big impact on that end.