Not pretty enough to qualify as ugly... but effective enough
A nice way to describe tonight's 96-83 win over the Trailblazers, actually. About as picturesque as Tara Reid pre-makeup the morning after a drinking binge, with negatives plenty to be found in the mix. Two points apiece from starters Derek Fisher and Luke Walton, neither of whom brought much to the table. A seriously sluggish first quarter, featuring little in the way of makes (37% from the field) or energy (a 13-7 rebound deficit and defensive lapses from every Laker starter). Foul trouble limiting Lamar Odom to just ten minutes and two points in the first half. And four quarters full of Lakers getting visibly annoyed by the Portland's physical nature and some calls not coming their way (by the end of the third quarter, I was expecting Pau Gasol to shank LaMarcus Aldridge). Said element often led to a loss of composure, which in turn led to ball movment and anything inside-out eschewed for quick, frustration-fueled, off-target bombs.
A far cry from how the game would have been played in "Utopia Arena."
But by the time the smoke had cleared and it was all said and done, the Lakers pulled it together, got their fourth quarter mojo working (spotlighted by Kobe Bryant's 11 dagger points) and demonstrated just how good this purple and gold team has become. Yeah, it wasn't particularly impressive if you're looking through a "we must dominate 24/7!" lens. But at the same time, it's easy to win when you're steamrolling from the opening tip off and never looking back. But real teams prove their mettle by facing tests. Tonight, the Lakers stared adversity in the face and refused to blink. That's what this Laker team did tonight. And they did it as a team. Obviously, Kobe's 30/9/7 reflects a dude putting up some quality stats (more so in the second half, where he racked 22), but despite only Gasol joining him as a double figure starter, The New Jack Bauer didn't make it happen alone. Jordan Farmar put up a career-tying 21 points off the pine. Sasha Vujacic and Ronny Turiaf combined for 20. And even though he didn't score much, Odom hit the glass hard, especially when it counted most (8 boards in the final frame).
In the end, tonight's victory was kinda like taking Robitussin for a cough. It tastes like crap going down, but once enough time has elapsed for the elixir to kick in, the benefits to having taken a swig become abundantly clear.
AK (The breakdown and copy is below)
- Winning Ugly: The Lakers have been blowing through teams these days like revelers at Studio 54 through through their coke on a Saturday night in '77. Tonight, nothing came easy. The Lakers were behind from the start, had very little of the offensive flow to which we've all grown accustomed, were a step or three slow defensively, and generally looked out of sync. But after getting down 15 in the first, they slowly chipped away and never let Portland get full control of the game. When it got down to it in the fourth, L.A. pulled away. Yes, the Blazers helped them out, losing offensive discipline and butchering some easy opportunities, but in the end the Lakers took control of the game when they had to. Not every win is going to be pretty. The final score makes this look like a Lakers blowout, but anyone who watched knows differently. Still, all that matters is the W.
- Jordan Farmar: Playing big minutes for an ineffective Derek Fisher (see below), Farmar scored 21 points (tying a career high) on 8-10 from the floor. He was a spark that helped the Lakers erase the early Portland lead, and in the second half again came on quickly for Fisher, and played through to the end. He was aggressive going to the hoop, pushed the ball in the open floor, and launched confidently from downtown. All in all, it was a very big game for Farmar.
- Sasha Vujacic: Playing big minutes for an ineffective Luke Walton (see below), Sasha buried four big threes over the course of the night, including three in 21:01 of second half run. The nearly 32 minutes of total PT wasn't a career high (back in '05, Sasha logged 39 minutes in a roadie against the Blazers), but it was the most he's played this season and is an indication of the kind of confidence PJ has in him these days. More and more often, you'll see Sasha playing important, late minutes. The starting rotation didn't work, so PJ went with his reserves down the stretch, with very positive results.
- Late Glass Work: After three quarters, the Lakers were being outrebounded 35-28 and were especially vulnerable to offensive rebounds for the Blazers. The rebounding disparity helped explain why LA was locked in a two point game despite the Blazers sitting on 2-15 from downtown (they'd finish 2-20, by the way), and shooting 36.5% overall. In the fourth, the Lakers tightened up considerably, outboarding Portland 13-6, and limiting them to one offensive rebound. L.O, who was plagued with foul trouble all night, led the way with eight boards. Portland's shooting was so bad that they were unable to climb back into it without all the second chance opportunities.
- Early D, Early O: The Lakers were sluggish early, particularly in the starting lineup. Portland was up in their collective grill, and the Lakers didn't respond well. Catch, look around, pass. Defensively, they were beaten to loose balls, outrebounded, and outplayed. Fortunately, they stayed close and used good play from the reserves to get back into it. But early, everyone was beaten defensively, from Kobe on down. Portland was able to generate clean looks, whether coming off screens, beating people one-on-one, or simply dumping the ball to LaMarcus Aldridge on the block.
- Luke Walton, Derek Fisher: +/- ratings can often be deceptive, and generally should be seen as a guide or clue to the flow of a game, not necessarily the gospel, so to speak. Generally. Tonight, the disparity between LA's success with those two on the court vs. on the bench was massive. Walton and Fish both clocked in at -19, Farmar and Sasha at +32 and +35 respectively. We all know a strength of this team is the ability to plug players in when others aren't playing well, and Tuesday night that certainly was the case. To see these guys struggle isn't all that surprising. Walton has been fighting it all season (we talk about that a little in the postgame audio) and Fish certainly has had some ups and downs. But it's fair to say that both were pretty brutal tonight.
- L.O.: In foul trouble all night, Odom wasn't a factor offensively. But what could have been a total disappearing act turned around in the fourth, when he led a late push on the glass.
- Kobe Bryant: (Remember, folks, I grade here on a sliding scale. 24 is held to a higher standard...) and early, he wasn't sharp. Defensively, he had some trouble sticking guys like Travis Outlaw and Martell Webster, whether coming off screens or one on one. His shot was off in the first half (3-9), though he did dish out five assists, and was particularly good finding open men as Portland's D collapsed on penetration. The third quarter T he picked up was a momentary loss of composure... but the good thing about Kobe is that a slow start does not a slow finish guarantee. He laid down the throttle in the fourth, pouring in 11 points. Overall, in the second half Kobe scored 21 points and pulled down six boards. Fair to say that 24 helped right the ship as the game went on. Interesting audio from him about his thoughts on the MVP.
- Phil Jackson: Download phil_jackson_2.26 postPOR.mp3
- Ronny Turiaf (with more below, courtesy of AK): Download ronny_turiaf_2.26 postPOR.mp3
- Luke Walton, on why Portland is tough on them, and his struggles this season: Download luke_walton_2.26 postPOR.mp3
- Jordan Farmar: Download jordan_farmar_2.26 postPOR.mp3
- Kobe Bryant, on the game, his T, MVP talk, and what he truly values in that MVP process: Download kobe_bryant_2.26 postPOR.mp3
On it being a good thing having a win where grinding it out and coming back was necessary
"Probably, it is. It was a good test for us. A mental test for the team to see how we are and how good we become. Portland is a good individual team and they know how to play. They play good defense."
On the game's physicality
"Give your hat to the Portland Trailblazers. They play physical but it wasn't that much (more) physical than other teams. Not really. Joel Przybilla pushes you pretty good. He's a low gravity guy, so it's difficult to move him. But it wasn't more physical than Boston or anything like that. Playing Shaq. It was fun. It was a good matchup. We can't win easy all the time, so it was good to grind that one out."
On how he'd grade the Laker defense
"I'm gonna say they scored maybe 32 points in the second half. (Editor's note: Either Ronny had a chance to check out a stat sheet before talking to the media or he'd be great at counting cards in Vegas. Either way, right on the nose) So I think it's pretty good. After an "F" in the first half, I'd say it was a B+/A- in the second half."
Blazers Coach Nate McMillan
On getting ejected after arguing a no-call against Travis Outlaw
"We've seen this for the last couple games. And I know that's going to happen. The intensity of the game this time of year is something that we're trying to teach our guys to play through. But some of the grabbing and the holding that was going on out there, I mean, you gotta call it. It's hard for players to play through some of the holding and the grabbing that a Boston or a Lakers team, they get away with (against) a young team like this."
Note: I thought this comment was interesting, since every reader on the live blog was screaming about Blazers getting away with murder, that nothing was getting called in favor of the purple and gold and how the refs clearly don't like the Lakers, because they never get any whistles. From McMillan's perspective, his team can't win specifically because the Lakers are favored. I'm not saying the blogosphere was entirely wrong, as there was definitely some unpenalized pushing and shoving on the Blazers' part. But to some degree, I guess it all depends on how you're rooting.