Lakers 92, Celtics 83: Green duds temporarily kosher
As many Laker fans know, last season's crushing title fall to the Boston Celtics prompted Sasha Vujacic to take a hard line boycott of any and all green clothing, a stance he doesn't plan on shifting until the Lakers hoist an O'Brien above their heads. What I didn't realize, however, was that Sasha also pictured a legion of fans taking part in this embargo of sorts. But tonight, after coming out on top 92-83 against the reigning champeens, The Face is allowing himself and the Nation temporary license to bust out some verde ensembles. Within a specific set of rules and guidelines, of course.
"Today we can wear green for one day until June," smiled The Slovenian sharpshooter. "It's just one day. We didn't win the championship today. We won our belief for our fans and we can give them as a gift for today's date for tonight's game. Green, we can wear one day."
Apparently, that freedom doesn't even expire come midnight Pacific time, but is instead a day of your choosing. Vujacic, for example, might don a green tie for Sunday's game against the Warriors. In any event, y'all have been granted a guilt-free reprieve. Feel feel to throw on a green hat, jacket or PJ's while you peruse the game box score (Phil Jackson's career win #1000) and breakdown, the latter coming after the jump.
- Kobe Bryant: It was a tale of two halves for Bryant, both stories with entertaining plots and satisfying endings. He spent the first half aggressively seeking his shot, stroking 8-13 attempts for 16 points and typically making life easier with the launch pads selected. A whole buncha shots from 20 feet or closer- which could explain why was in position to lead the team with nine rebounds- and mostly unforced. But lest anyone conclude that zero first half assists signaled a night on "chuck" overdrive, Bryant turned more play maker as the game continued, racking five dimes and helping Pau Gasol conquer a rough three quarters and change. Finding himself predictably doubled down the stretch, Kobe hit the struggling Spaniard to set up some massively clutch buckets and create a Gasolshank Redemption. That faith demonstrated wasn't lost on his power forward, admittedly frustrated from little going his way.
"He's got a lot of trust in me and confidence that I'm going to get it done, too. Down the stretch is a clear example. As a teammate and a player, I respect that a lot. And appreciate that a lot. That just gave me even more strength to be able to finish off." Hey, right back atcha, ya big lug. "I always look for him," nodded Kobe. "That's my guy."
In a game being treated like the fate of Western Civilization rested in the balance, the purple and gold's best player had a big hand in preventing a local Armageddon.
- Defense: Boston's first quarter featured a rather gaudy 61% field goal clip, but from there, it generally grew more difficult for Boston to unite ball and nylon. The Green's second and fourth quarter sported a respective success rate of 38% and 42%, the latter frame concluding on an 11-2 Laker run cemented by successive perimeter blocks from Gasol. In between was the makings of 22 Boston turnovers, nine blocks and often difficult looks due to well-timed double teams and rotations. Kobe also deserves props for doing well in the difficult task of shadowing Rajon Rondo. It's been a while since the Staples Center faithful were treated to free tacos, much less gratis Mexican grub via a sixteen-point cushion.
- Team win: The sharing of presents is as big a Christmas tradition as Santa Claus, eggnog, and that one uncle who drinks too much eggnog and lets the rest of the family know exactly how he feels about them. This afternoon, the Lakers emulated that X-Mas spirit, gifting each other through not being a dude bringing zip to the table. Save Vlad Radmanovic (whom I'll let slide over 41 seconds of insignificant PT), every Laker that stepped on the court made a difference.
For example, Derek Fisher couldn't find the bottom of the net with Magellan holding the map (an errant 2-10 effort), but led the Lakers with seven assists and could be counted on to draw a charge. Andrew Bynum blocked two shots, altered several others, and drew praise from his coach for lane clogging skills. Lamar Odom's offering began with equal parts effort (five boards, two blocks) and mistakes (a pair of turnovers), but between back-to-back three balls and some stifling work around the rim, he ended the afternoon on a high. Sasha Vujacic's shot grew rushed as the game wound down, but his eight first half points and scrappy hustle were a big lift from the bench. The oft-maligned Luke Walton picked one hell of a time for his best starting effort, the highlights including two treys, a team-leading three offensive boards, a Showtime-esque bounce pass to set up a Bynum dunk and- surprise surprise- some pretty solid D. For his part, Trevor Ariza made two spectacular plays retrieving loose balls out of bounds. One save led to a Vujacic and-one layup. The other led to Gasol taking two at the line. Ariza's stat line might barely register a blip, but don't let the numbers fool you.
If all that doesn't convince you of the supporting cast's influence, chew on this. The only real blemish on Kobe's day came during the third quarter, where a flurry of shots outside the offense (2-7 from the field) coincided with Boston transforming an eight point deficit into a two point lead. Jackson opted to sit Kobe during the period's final 2:48, and the Mamba-free quintet ended things up 71-67. From there, a well-rested Kobe continued his otherwise stellar play and everyone else got a reminder that Kobe needn't be a security blanket.
- BK and I can hopefully get a temporary break from the "Are they good enough to beat the Celtics?" questions: Actually, that also falls under "Three good," but I ran out of space.
One Big Issue
- The potential wake up call: The last few weeks have seen the Lakers rack unimpressive wins and heartbreaking losses, with either result coming after frustrating listlessness was parlayed into a general lack of focus. December is clearly too early for panic (particularly when disinterest against mediocre teams may have been a factor), but it was reasonable to sweat bad habits in development. But during Tuesday night's Big Easy triumph, the Lakers displayed a resemblance to the "7-0 start" squad, dismantling the Hornets through crisp ball movement, well executed defense and a steady energy supply. Today, the Lakers played even better against a stronger opponent, giving legs to hope of a breakthrough. "We just kind of realized that we gotta step up," admitted Vujacic of the previously crappy play. "We kind of found our identity in the last two games. That's what matters in basketball. When you know who you are and what it takes to win, good things can happen."
Honestly, I think the Lakers could have walked away with the same message even in the face of a well-played loss. But if it's all the same, I'll learn in a victory, thank you very much.