Two Big Statements
It was a day of major statements Sunday at Staples. First, Von Wafer dropped 29 on Your Los Angeles D-Fenders! to lead the Colorado 14ers to a 113-81 win in his triumphant return to Staples. Second, and dare I say no less significant, was the one the Lakers made against the Spurs in their 106-99 win. Kobe Bryant managed to find the right combination of tape and adrenaline to play, and play well (34 points on 13-25 from the field), but it was a major team effort for the purple and gold. All five starters in double figures. A near trip-doub for L.O. (18/11/9), 17 from Walton, 11 from Kwame Brown (along with a couple huge boards down the stretch and two big blocks), and 10 from Smush Parker. Jordan Farmar played well off the bench, while Andrew Bynum contributed 6/8 in only 17 minutes. L.A. headed into the half down by two, but a huge third quarter in which they went all badass, forced the Spurs into nine turnovers and outscored them 37-22 was enough to last through a San Antonio push in the fourth.
Much more on the game to come. Big, big, big win. Folks at Staples are positively giddy. NOW UPDATED BELOW THE JUMP
Not surprisingly, Jackson talked about the pressure defense in the third that helped the Lakers open up the lead. "I thought our defense was good," he said. "There are some things that we learned tonight that I think as a team helped us grow up a little bit." So what were they? "I'm not telling. It's a secret." And there you have it. Jackson did divulge his pleasure in the performance of the second unit. While no reserves hit double figures, the short bench of Bynum, Farmar, Evans, and Cook provided quality minutes. Download phil_jackson_12.10 SAS on 2nd unit.mp3
More on the third quarter, and the state of Kobe's ankle. "I noticed that one dunk that he made in the third quarter, or the fourth quarter- I don't remember, but he went down for an emphatic dunk, and I knew if he went off and did that he was fine."
Download phil_jackson_12.10 SAS on Kobe's ankle.mp3
Another guy who came up big late was Kwame Brown, who did a solid job on Tim Duncan and was a force down the stretch. "He felt like in the first half he wasn't as active as he wanted to be. I talked a little bit after the first half about his 0-2 and one rebound performance in the first half. Drew went out there and played well and got us going and gave us a gain in the middle a little bit, and I think it got Kwame going in the second half," Jackson said. No argument from 54.
Download kwame_brown_12.10 SAS on 2nd half.mp3
Winning without Kobe Friday night against Atlanta was a boost as well, Brown said. Now it's time to get out on the road and see what they can do.
Download kwame_brown_12.10 SAS, home and road.mp3
This isn't a game he would have had last year after a bad start. "I probably would have hung my head a little bit." This year, he managed to get out and do something positive. It's the yin and yang of Kwame, who continues to be among the more inconsistent players in the league. But the good parts are getting gooder, with apologies to everyone who has ever taught me English. He was pleased, too, with the effort he put in on Duncan. "Before, star players used to come in and relax on me on the offensive end, and I'd have to play them every play on the defensive end. So I just wanted to make him work on the other end, so at least he has to think about me." Good stuff too on the defense they played in the third- how the Lakers came out harder on the pick and roll- and his growth as a shot blocker. Download kwame_brown_12.10 SAS on defense, TD, shot blocking.mp3
The third quarter turned out to be a turning point in the game, and possibly (not to be hyperbolic) on the entire season. If they continue to play well, we could look back on the third quarter tonight as a major turning point. Maybe, maybe not. Who knows? But it could have gone either way. If the Lakers come out in the third and get crushed, as they likely would have last season, fans leave the arena and go drink for entirely different reasons. Luke Walton spoke about their approach in Q3, and about the generally fantastic weekend he had. Download luke_walton_12.10 on 3rd quarter.mp3
We'll have more tomorrow, for sure, on Von's big night, and the other game that came afterwards.
With the possible exception of the Utah win at Staples, tonight's game was the best collective showing of defensive intensity, focus and energy the Lakers have displayed this season. And they couldn't have picked a better time to pull that particular rabbit out of their hats, because the Spurs are a team that will match whatever their opponents throw out every step of the way. Bring anything less than an A-Game and you'll likely find yourself embarrassed. Or as Smush put it, "They'll just walk all over us." And that doesn't change, even after a decisively strong win. "San Antonio is a top, elite team in the league," acknowledged Luke Walton. "They fought tough. Even when we got a ten point lead, they came right back. We had a lot of energy out there tonight and that's the way we need to play all the time."
In particular, the third quarter was a high-octane affair, including 9 San Antonio turnovers that were converted into 19 Laker points. As fans familiar with this squad know, third quarters have typically been the Achilles heel, so this explosive and successful a twelve minutes after halftime was more than a little eye opening. "It felt good finally winning a third quarter," smiled Smush. "This will be my second season and I think that's the first time we ever won a third quarter." If you're like me, you've always wondered why that section of the game is such a struggle for the Lakers. If you're like Smush, you still don't have the answer. ""I don't know," shrugged Smush when I asked for a possible cause. "I have no idea. We just have to come out with a lot of energy and force the issue a little bit."
And force it they did, ratcheting up the D in a manner that Lamar Odom may never forget as long as he wears a purple and gold uni. "That was the best defensive quarter that I've ever played as a Laker," nodded LO. "The game was won defensively." An evening featuring such offensive proficiency and clampdown success may come as a shock to some, but to Walton, it was a result in the making. "I knew it was in this team. We've showed it at times. We'd play a quarter with a lot of energy. We'd score a lot of points and rotate on defense and get steals. And tonight we finally put a game together. Everyone had each other's backs, we were all talking, the energy level was high and people were making plays."
Nice to make a statement before a potentially tough roadie.