Lakers 115, Hornets 111 (OT): Ladies night disaster averted!
Nothing spoils Ladies Night on the blog like a loss, especially one in which the Lakers had built up comfortable leads only to see them disappear like a bunny in a Doug Henning act. But in the end, the Lakers came through Friday night and sent the Staples faithful home with a 115-111 overtime win against New Orleans, saving one that nearly got away. The Lakers were the beneficiary of a rare horrible play from Hornets uber-PG Chris Paul, who on a 3-on-1 break with a three point lead and only 20 ticks remaining in the fourth barreled into Derek Fisher for a charge (right). He could/should have done any number of things (pulling the ball out, draining clock and waiting for the foul, for example), but didn't. Instead, the ball went the other way and the Lakers made New Orleans pay with a play that epitomized why they're a very tough team to beat:
Following the Paul foul, the ball was inbounded to Pau Gasol above the left elbow. Kobe Bryant flashed left, drawing two defenders with him. Nice to have a guy who merits a crowd, don't you think? Pau looks his way, recognizes that the Hornets have... wait for it... swarmed to 24, reads the play, and makes the right pass to Derek Fisher, who had drifted back to the top of the arc. Gasol (a supremely talented passing big) delivers the rock, and Fish (as willing to take a big shot as anyone in the Association, including Kobe) drills it. Cue five minutes of what would be festive complimentary basketball for the people!
No shortage of weapons in purple and gold.
More below the jump, via AK.
- Pau Gasol: 20/12/6, including the aforementioned pass to Derek Fisher (who came up with a few huge plays). El Spaniard hit that big 2-0 mark on 8-14 shooting and a perfect foursome at the line. Another writer noted after the game how quietly Gasol managed to flirt with a trip dub. With a few more touches (which should be a no-brainer by now), the production could have created much more "volume." Even if he's not literally shooting the ball each time it hits his hands, the team in general benefits from him creating inside-out action.
- Lamar Odom: After Wednesday's "disappointing" seven rebounds, LO reverted back to recent, monstrous form for another big night on the glass (17 in all, tops amongst both teams). It's hard to accumulate such numbers without a ton of effort, and along those lines, one snag in particular stood out for me. After racing out to provide a great challenge on Rasual Butler's three ball, Odom recovered back towards the bucket and tracked down the miss. In that sequence, he controlled the outcome of the entire play, reflective of the non-stop activity LO offered. Lamar was especially good working coast to coast off misses.
- Luke Walton: He inexcusably strayed too far from Butler during OT, which left the hot shooter wide open for a trey that put New Orleans within a point of squaring up the battle. But that blunder was about all Walton did wrong. 5-5 from the floor after three quarters, with a pair of triples to boot, Luke finished the night with 14 points to go with eight rebounds and a dime quartet, the highlight being a Peyton Manning pass to hit a by-his-lonesome Kobe Bryant for a easy bucket. He also spent a chunk of the night guarding Peja Stojakovic, who was borderline useless for New Orleans. Quite possibly Walton's best game of the season.
- The Bench: The mob began the second quarter
spotted an eight point lead, then a baker's dozen to kick off the
fourth. In both cases, neither was enough padding, the reserves
finding it more difficult to score than a pock-faced nerd earning
25K/year during a visit to the Playboy Mansion. Between Trevor Ariza,
Jordan Farmar, Josh Powell, Sasha Vujacic (whose struggles meant only
eight minutes of run) and Shannon Brown (getting some early PT in
relief of The Machine), there were only 16 points racked off typically
non-existent ball movement. And during the fourth quarter, they were
defensively challenged. For most of the season, the pine boys have
been a huge asset for this unusually deep team. Tonight, they mostly
"They have to do a better job of playing with and off each other," said Odom of the unit he once ranked General. "Moving the ball, getting everyone involved and putting defense first. If you put defense first, the game comes to you and you don't have to force it. A good or bad game is not based on just making or missing shots."
On a related note...
Phil Jackson's use of the second unit: Letting players "work through" problems on the court has been a PJ staple throughout his career, and in the bigger picture, I see the merits to this approach. Often more than individual wins and losses, a season can be molded by moments. If players can pull themselves out of a jam, that can bear bigger fruit down the road. Fruit worth risking a loss at times. But even by those standards of design and patience, Phil extended a lot of rope to a group that wasn't merely struggling to hit shots, but to play in any sort of rhythm. I understood riding this out during the second quarter. But by the time things got even worse during the fourth (and relying on just an official time out to regroup), it felt like Phil was trying to force a result that clearly wasn't happening. At the very least, I'd have subbed in a couple more starters, if not a wholesale swap.
Phil said after the game that he didn't want to give guys a quick yank and possibly kill their confidence. Point taken and understood, but I doubt this result did much to boost their egos, either. Sometimes, you just gotta cut bait.
(There's video below of PJ's explanation of the strategy.)
- Kobe Bryant (during the first four quarters): In OT, dude
was brilliant, notching 11 points off some terrific work posting up
various Hornets. Unfortunately, he also spent the regulation quarters
doing a lot of hucking and almost as much missing. 10-26 from the
field during those frames, Kobe forced a lot of shots off stagnant iso action, often making
himself the equivalent of a one man band with half the instruments
playing off key. This wasn't just a matter of a few possessions where
Kobe went decidedly one on one. By the end of the first quarter, he was
already 2-9 and setting a continual tone.
Kobe also seemed overly geeked up at times, barking at the refs over a non-call that didn't merit a whistle and giving New Orleans two easy points on a silly goal tending call that appeared to be him blowing off some steam. A play like the latter is anything but characteristic of Bryant, but during a night where he was struggling, frustration often appeared to get the best of him. Again, kudos for pulling through huge during the last five minutes (and at the line, where he sank 12-12). But the redemptive effort was also in order.
Phil Jackson, on (among other things) screen and roll defense, the final play of regulation, and Kobe's performance:
PJ again, talking about his substitutions in the fourth quarter: