Lakers 113, Utah 100: Game 1, (generally) fun
Upon further review, I believe the word I was searching for was "quarterfinals." Breakdown below.
- Kobe Bryant: It didn't start well (three turnovers in the first three and a half minutes), nor was it the gaudiest of statistical performances (when you're Kobe Bryant, 24/4/8 doesn't make a dent in the Great Numbers Almanac), but I thought Kobe played a very smart, controlled game Sunday afternoon. A great example: With 55 ticks remaining in the third and LA's 22 point halftime lead now down to 11 and Pau Gasol down on the bench after picking up his fourth foul (fellow big Andrew Bynum was already parked there with four of his own), Kobe found himself on the floor with Shannon Brown, Sasha Vujacic, Lamar Odom, and Josh Powell. A time, perhaps for 24 to take over? Maybe force a shot? Hardly. Kobe calmly probed along the right wing, moving off a little traffic, and waited for Utah's defense to arrive. They did, and Bryant whipped a pass to Josh Powell along the left baseline for a wide open jumper. Bucket, and a major boost to the confidence of his teammates.
- Shannon Brown: Nine points on 3-4 from the floor (all triples), but more importantly, Brown was everywhere on the floor. Three assists, a steal, and some great hustle plays that (if I might get my coachspeak on) help teams win ballgames. Entering early for Derek Fisher, who sat at the 9:25 mark with two quick fouls, Brown quickly provided a burst of energy (a triple, a dime to Pau for a fast break dunk, a steal leading to another Brown-to-Gasol bucket at the other end). All great work, for sure, but if you want an idea of why he's stolen so much playing time, though, look to a play at the 1:15 mark of the second quarter. With the Lakers up 17, they forced a turnover and it looked like Ariza was headed for an easy layup at the other end. Instead, he missed (perhaps due to a little AK47 body work). Brown, though, didn't give up on the play, and beat two Jazz players for the offensive board. One quick dish later, Ariza had his two points. Most guys let that play go, especially given the circumstances (big lead, late in the half, what looks like a bunny coming at the other end). Not Brown.
- Trevor Ariza: Gasol, Bynum, Fisher, and Lamar Odom all struggled with foul trouble at one point (or all points) of the game. Yet the Lakers didn't lose much, because Ariza stepped up with a massive game. 8-10 from the floor, including 3-4 beyond the arc en route to 21 points. Toss in four boards and two dimes, and you've got yourself a very complete game. After it was over, Kobe also pointed out the value Ariza brought not just with points, but by limiting Kyle Korver on the other end, chasing him around and helping limit Utah's only viable outside threat to six shots overall, and four from downtown. Ariza was integral to LA's attack at both ends. I was asked before the game during a radio interview to explain how he makes a difference to the Lakers this year, after being hobbled during last year's playoff run. I think Game 1 provided a better answer than I probably did on the air.
- Utah's offensive rebounding: There is a potential downside
to limiting to an opponent to 39% shooting. By definition, that means
misses by the bushel, and hence opportunities to make up for said miss
with a timely rebound.
The Jazz managed to make a semi-game of things almost entirely through prowess at retrieving their own bricks. Beyond simply beating the Lakers by an overall 46-38 rebounding margin, Utah absolutely crushed cleaning its personal glass. Twenty in all, with Paul Millsap alone tracking down seven (which just happens to equal the total accrued by the entire Laker squad). Utah typically takes back about 28% of their errant shots. This afternoon, 38%. That's pretty striking. In particular, I remember one sequence where Lamar Odom and Pau Gasol each blocked respective shots from Millsap and Andrei Kirilenko, but the Lakers' failure to actually secure the ball led to Millsap eventually scoring off... you guessed it... another offensive board.
But such a sequence was hardly a standalone event. Outside of reflecting both an attention to detail (making sure a body is leaned against that Mlllsap dude, for example) and overall energy categorized as "substandard," what truly made this those offensive rebounds problematic was the degree to which the Jazz were able to capitalize on them. Two dozen points were of a second chance variety. Cut that number in half and this game remains the unbridled blood letting fans expected after the first half would have been realized.
- Turnovers: A trio of gaffes from Kobe in the first quarter
set a tone for what became a team-wide issue. The Lakers gave the ball
back to Utah on seventeen occasions (four above their average),
and similar to how Utah made hay with second chance points, they took
advantage of another opportunity afforded through Laker carelessness.
Chalk up another 20 Utahian points specifically off turnovers. Again,
limit those turnovers to around a dozen, and everyone's living it up in
Blow Out City. And that's a fun spot to reside, by the way. Always a
party going on.
For the benefit of those who didn't pick up the hint by now, I'll just spell it out. While the Jazz deserve props for never throwing in the towel, the lionshare of dap for a 22-point lead dwindling down to nine actually goes to the Lakers. Whether that makes one feel comforted or angry depends on the individual, I suppose.
- Andrew Bynum: I don't know if it was the result of jitters that accompany a young player's first playoff start... whistles preventing a rhythm to be discovered... the noon tip... a knee that's still regaining strength... no "good luck" text from Nicole Narain. All of the above. None of the above. Or maybe it was your garden variety case of "didn't play so hot." But whatever the reason, Drew was barely a blip on this game's radar. Limited to just twenty minutes due to foul trouble- five in all- Bynum's 7/3/0 blocks/2 turnovers output was not the celebration hoped for after missing last year's party.
And finally, a suggestion to whomever will be reffing Game 2. What say we let these fellas play a little? 57 fouls? 67 trips to the line? I wouldn't label the officiating "poor" nor "slanted," but rather "over." I'm all for maintaining order and discouraging physicality typically found in "the yard," but the refs were way too involved for my taste. I guess I should have expected this from a trio including Joey Crawford.
Kobe, on Shannon Brown: "He works extremely hard as all our players do. He's in the gym early, he's working on his shot. When I see that it makes it even easier for me to trust him in a game situation."
Bynum, on what he'll take into Game 2: "My mindset going in is that I'm going to be a lot more aggressive. I'm going to play a lot more out there. Even though I did get into foul trouble this game, I'm going to look back at the tape, see what happened out there, and try to adjust."
Gasol, on the game: I'm really happy with it. I'm really happy with the win. It wasn't our best game and our most complete game but still, it's a pretty good win against a really good team, and that's the way you want to start. So, you know, we'll make the adjustments, try to get better for Game 2, and try to get another one. And if it's ugly and not pretty and really not great, we'll take it, too. All we care about is winning, it's about moving on, beating teams. That's all. Obviously you can always play better or worse, either way."
Phil Jackson, on LA's second half performance: "I just don't think they (were) ready for the onslaught. You know, that energy that Utah brings. They play with a lot of determination and they want to bring the ball as deep to you as you let them bring it in, and they are in the lane almost at the basket. That's their game, and you have to try to eliminate some of that. Pau had four blocked shots, and we know that size affects them on the interior part of the game. But many of those were fouls on Drew and fouls on Pau. They couldn't get blocks couldn't stop those shots."
Jerry Sloan, on LA's length: "We were obviously short out there to start with (given Mehmet Okur's injury), and we get shorter when we have to substitute. And they are a big, long team anyway, and we can't seem to make our guys any taller. If I could do that, maybe we'd be a little better off."
Always worth noting when Sloan delivers a solid postgame joke.
Video: Grab some popcorn, because there's a lot.
Bryant, on his teammates, the flow of the game, and a great comment on Jerry Sloan's makeup as a coach and player:
Phil Jackson, on his team's showing. "It wasn't a coach's delight, but we were able to outscore them."
Brown, on defending Deron Williams, his thoughts on getting playoff experience:
Derek Fisher, on Game 1:
Lamar Odom, on the second half, and how LA performed. "It didn't come down to the buzzer or the last shot, so we played enough to keep our distance, but we're going to have to play a lot better than that on Tuesday."
Sloan, on the game: