Lakers 107, Mavericks 100: Trevor Ariza helps LA avoid the much feared "Golden Earring" loss
For 24 minutes, the Lakers looked as if they'd cruise Commodores style to a win Sunday afternoon at Staples. Up 12 at the break, things looked good. Pau Gasol (20 points in the first half) was dominant, Kobe Bryant shook off a slow start and was, as Stephon Marbury might, doing his thing. But in the second half, Dallas coach Rick Carlisle went zone, and it damn near turned into the Twilight variety for the home team. In the end, LA got their collective act together, led in no small part by Trevor Ariza, who had his best game as a pro as the Lakers won 107-100. A career high 26 points on 9-13 from the floor, including 3-5 from downtown. Ariza added three steals, and played the type of defense on Jason Kidd, Jason Terry, and any other Jason in the building that has been a huge x-factor for the Lakers over the course of the season (more on that below).
We talked a lot this week after Ariza and Luke Walton swapped starting spots about how the move didn't just have the potential to activate the reserves (didn't happen today, again, see below) but also Ariza. He started the season decisive offensively, moving well without the ball, slashing to the rim, finishing plays and leaving an imprint on the game in a variety of incredibly efficient ways. Some of that had been lost over the last few weeks as Ariza became more hesitant, content to spot up and shoot, and started reaching more defensively.
Not today. Dude was awesome on both ends, building on a strong road trip.
- Pau Gasol: The big Spaniard owned the first half. 10 attempts, 10 field goals, plus five boards and two blocks. Pau scored on the block, he scored from the elbow, he scored on put-backs. It didn't matter whether he was being guarded by Dirk Nowitzki or Erick Dampier, Pau scored anyway. Neither guy could play Pau tight because of his ability to put the ball on the floor, and given space Pau simply shot over both of them. Defensively, Pau played well when matched up against Nowitzki, teaming up with Lamar Odom limit the former MVP to 4-13 shooting in the first half, 6-20 overall. Rick Carlisle tried doubling Gasol, but that helped open up lanes for everyone else on the floor. "I told him he almost had a perfect first half," Phil Jackson said later. The only real problem for Gasol was that he didn't touch the ball nearly enough in the second, taking only three shots. One big reason was the zone Dallas threw at LA. The Lakers started bombing from beyond the arc and forgot that the ball could still go down low. Gasol noticed. "The ball has to go inside-out to make them collapse and get easier shots. There needs to be penetration. We weren't doing that with some of the guys who were out there," he said. "It's unfortunate. We could have lost the game because of it, but hopefully we'll learn a lesson and move on."
- Kobe Bryant: He missed all four of his shots in the first quarter, but Kobe still had three assists as the Lakers shot 60% and rolled up 37 points and a nine point lead. From there, Kobe was 11 for his next 16, hitting three of his six triples and finishing with eight rebounds, a steal, and a block for good measure. There are games where Kobe is a dominating factor in a game, and others where he alters the course of play in less spectacular ways. This afternoon was more the latter, but it doesn't diminish the quality of the performance. He was particularly effective with the mid-range game, canning J's from the elbow extended down to the baseline, often over a fairly helpless Antoine Wright.
- Trevor Ariza: Said PJ in his postgame presser: "His defense and ability to change things up are the difference, and that's what he did late in the ballgame that gave us the chance to get the lead back. That was important, particularly as his counterpart, Luke (Walton) was really struggling today (Note: No disagreement from Walton. See below)... His speed and quickness is effective on anybody. Trevor's a learning defender. His quickness and his speed and his ability to steal the ball is one aspect. We even put him on (Jason) Terry tonight when (Derek) Fisher had three fouls and couldn't (play Terry physically), so now Trevor has to chase, and he needs to do a different line of defense, and that's where Trevor's growing as a defender. We want him to be a lock down type of guy defensively. We want him to be a type of a defender like a Bruce Bowen is known to be."
- The Bench: After two redemptive efforts in Texas (highlighted during a tough fourth quarter stand against San Antonio with Kobe resting),
we saw another unimpressive night for the recently slumping "Made
Men." Just a dozen points between five guys (Jordan Farmar, DJ Mbenga,
Josh Powell, Sasha Vujacic, Luke Walton) entering the game after the
starting tip, and honestly, there's only so much offense one should
count on from DJ. Then again, Tacos'
two points matched the individual output from Powell and Vujacic, so
along those lines, he was basically shooting par. The quintet shot a
collective 4-17, notched more turnovers (eight) than assists (four) or
steals (three), sank just one of their seven trey ball launches, and
generally did little of note. Except in the second half, when they
steadily made a lead disappear.
In terms of the late third/early fourth quarter collapse, Walton deemed a poor reaction to Dallas' zone D as the culprit. "I think we did alright in the first half as a unit. In the second half, when they went to that zone, we did a bad job of attacking it. We just kind of settled for passing the ball around and shooting jump shots. That's what zones want you to do. I think once (the second unit was) in long enough, the starters came back in and made a point of getting the ball down low to Pau. That's when you get them shifted out of the zone and you can rebound a lot easier on the weak side. For some reason, we weren't aggressive enough getting the ball in there."
A fair assessment of that botch job, but as noted earlier, the second string just hasn't been consistently doing their job of late, which led to both Walton volunteering to join them for a hopeful assist (literally and basketball-y). BK asked if that decision was made with the idea that his presence could help Sasha remain more in his comfort zone as a spot up shooter and take some traffic-directing responsibilities off Farmar. Sure, but not as a theoretical "cure-all."
"That's part of the reason to be out there with those guys, to be able to make some more plays, but we just have to be more patient as a unit. We gotta realize that our opportunities aren't going to be as many as when you're starting, but you can't be out there jacking up shots. Trying to get your reps up. Actually being out there moving the ball and playing the right way. That's the thing in the last two years or whatever that the (bench) has done a good job of. We gotta get back to that."
And quickly. Five boards apiece from Powell and Walton represent a decent job on the glass, but all in all, another effort providing concern about the Bench Mob. In particular, I felt these two were the standouts among those failing to rise...
Sasha Vujacic: His quartet of "far line" jacks came up dry and he was 1-6 on the day, a pair of points basically the only dent he made in the stat sheet. Unless, of course, you consider coming up -16 in under ten minutes of run a "dent" of sorts. Obviously, every hole created wasn't entirely Sasha's doing, but the stat does reflect an afternoon where he didn't offer much in the way of intangibles beyond the box score, which I imagine explains why Phil didn't keep him on the floor much.
- Luke Walton: Instead offering my own summary, I'll let the
man himself do the honors. After Walton had talked a bit about the
bench's struggles, I noted how he also encountered trouble getting it
together. Walton shook his head, then let out a "Gee, you think?" chuckle.
"I was terrible. Decisions. Every time I made a pass, it was a bad decision. I'm just glad we won. If we didn't win, I would have been out of this locker room at home sitting in the dark already."
Sounds like an accurate assessment. Walton noted afterward that the luxury of playing on a great team is having guys to lean on when you put up the occasional unabashed stinker. When the end result is a win, it allows frustration to roll off your shoulders considerably easier. But he didn't seem any happier about an "0-3 from the field/four turnover against one assist/goose egg in the scoring column" performance than any of the Lakers Blog faithful.
One Big Number:
- 39.8%: That's the number Dallas put up today, despite 16 Lakers' turnovers leading to 20 points for the Mavs (generally of the easier variety). In three of four quarters, LA held Dallas to under 40% from the floor. They won the rebounding battle, 49-40 and blocked eight shots. Moreover, when the Mavs were held in the half court, LA forced them into a lot of tough shots. Yes, Jason Terry got red hot (he's pretty good), but taken as a whole it was an encouraging defensive performance. LA cut off the lane, holding Dallas to 24 points in the paint, and swarmed anyone who managed to find his way in there. I mentioned Dirk's lousy afternoon above. All told, LA's inability to score in the second half/hold on to the ball obscured a pretty solid defensive effort.
Phil Jackson, on Ariza and Gasol:
PJ, on LA's inability to work through the Dallas zone:
Kobe Bryant on the win, Ariza, and so on:
Kobe, on how the Mavs are different with Josh Howard, who has missed all three games this season vs. LA:
Andrew Bynum on his rehab. He hopes to start doing light basketball work this week, and be practicing in a couple after this one. All in all, everything is still on schedule: