It was pretty clear early there would be no tacos
There were serious questions, however, about who would take this eventual 120-109 Lakers win. Perhaps inspired by the presence of Eddy Curry, mutual defense took a holiday in the first, second and third frames. In particular, the quarter before Big Games James' show witnessed a particularly porous showing from both teams, with the Lakers' 55% shooting clip representing the lesser effort. The 61-58 Knicks lead heading into the third was obviously not the sign of a trend positive. The third saw a shrinkage in New York baskets, but this was a moot point, considering the Lakers also forgot how to put a roundball in its proper home. Sluggish ball movement (only four total assists) and a slew of bricks created action equal parts herky-jerky, odd and, frankly, dull. But down by two and with a dozen final minutes of regulation, the Lakers finally got it into gear.
After some trey-balls were traded between both squads to help create a 104 tie, the Lakers went on a 14-4 run, with everyone adding their two cents (and points). Aside from Kobe's near trip-dub (the slacker was too satisfied with a 24/8/11 to grab that extra pair of boards), big contributions came from several Lakers, especially those six fellas (Kobe, Kwame Brown, Jordan Farmar, Lamar Odom, Ronny Turiaf and Sasha, who raised the dander of both Renaldo Balkman and Wee Nate Robinson) who played in the closing frame. It would have really been a bummer for the Lakers to do their version of "Easy Rider" while riding a losing streak, so the triumphant box score will help settle some nerves, if not completely placate all those involved.
BK's breakdown is below.
- Kwame Brown: Easily the best game he's played this season. He'll always look shaky on offense, but he made the Knicks pay for leaving him open in the first half, going off for 10 points on 4/6 from the floor. The rebounding was particularly encouraging, as 54 went up aggressively to grab a few of them, something he doesn't always do. In the fourth quarter, he came on for Ronny and made a big impact on the game, especially defensively, helping the Lakers tighten up down the stretch. A couple big blocks (he finished with four overall), a couple big boards, and very active play. The Lakers were a much better team defensively down the stretch when he was on the floor. A good game for a guy who desperately needed one.
- Lamar Odom: Another guy who needed a big game, Odom had a quiet 7/4 in the first half, but was big in the third, and down the stretch in the fourth. More and more he showed his ability to influence a game, whether by working the glass or getting inside. LO finished with 22/12/2, giving an idea of how much his level stepped up over the final two quarters. Plus, he did some good work on Zach Randolph, who is a pretty talented player offensively. Just like with Kwame, it's nice to see Odom have a positive effect after some spotty performances.
- Sasha Vujacic: He provided a massive boost off the bench, something he'll need to do if Walton is out for any length of time. Or, really, if Walton isn't out for a length of time. Given the issues in the frontcourt, the Lakers are going to be forced often to go small, moving Kobe to the three and opening up a bigger role for Sasha. Tonight, he helped stretch the floor (5-11 from downtown) on his way to 20 points. Plus, he made some nice defensive plays, too. We've been rough on Sasha in the past, but more and more he's putting together solid performances when given the opportunity. As I wrote earlier in the year, he's becoming a guy who shoots because he wants to, rather than one that does it because he feels he has to. The quick trigger is still there, but he's much more fluid. As Kobe says in his audio, Sasha has evolved from a 12:30 to a 7:30 player.
- Kobe Bryant: He was two dimes from a triple double, at 24/8/11. Hard to say he didn't influence the game in a big way. In the first half, he only scored six points on 2/6 from the floor. But the Lakers scored 58 points, showing how well he was helping distribute the ball in his 19:34 on the floor. In the second, he blew up for 20 points, but still moved the ball around (four dimes). He controlled the flow in a lot of different ways. An all around great game.
- Other good things: Ronny Turiaf- 14/9, with five blocks. He provided a boost on both ends. Derek Fisher- Didn't play much in the second half (matchups, as the Knicks had the All Quick Brigade out on the floor) but hit some big shots in the first, and finished with 17 points in only 24:53. Balance- L.A. had six guys in double figures. Someone can check on this for me, but the number being kicked around after the game is that they're 13-0 this season when they get that kind of distribution. There's a lesson in there somewhere, I think.
- Defense, defense, defense: Did I mention the defense? The Lakers were absolutely atrocious on that end until the fourth, allowing the Knicks to get out in transition, to operate inside, to get clean looks on the perimeter. Basically, it was video game/All Star D. The breakdowns were frequent and costly, and forced them to play a 48 minute game against a team that flat out sucks on the road. It was as if they were just waiting for the Knicks to stop doing things to exploit the holes, and they never did. The good news was that they got to share in the breakdowns as a group. That's teamwork! They tightened up when they needed to down the stretch, but it was only because they were so bad early that the late improvement was necessary.
- Luke Walton: No, not his play (though he did miss a couple open jumpers) but the hip pointer that forced him from the game in the first quarter. He hasn't played well of late, but given how thin the Lakers are getting, they can't afford to lose bodies, even slumping ones. PJ said after the game that they "doctored" him up, and that Luke will travel with the team tomorrow. No word yet if he'll play in Detroit Thursday night or Toronto on Friday, but if the Lakers were forced to keep him at home, it would have been a bad sign.
- Vlad Rad: He hit a couple big shots in the first half, but it's clear his role on the team has diminished. Defensively, he's all over the place (not in a good way). If Walton can't play later in the week and Vlad still plays 10 minutes or so? Wow, is that dude buried. Word is he's bringing his own shovel on the trip. Speaking of which, I was told after the game that Chris Mihm won't start the roadie with the squad, but they're hopeful he'll join the team at some point on the trip.
AUDIO: Some good stuff tonight, from PJ, Sasha, and Kobe.
- Phil Jackson: Download phil_jackson_1.29 postNYK.mp3
- Sasha Vujacic: Download sasha_vujacic_1.29 postNYK.mp3
- Kobe Bryant: Download kobe_bryant_1.29 postNYK.mp3