Lakers' 124-121 victory over Golden State shows team struggles in carrying momentum
A case study involving the Lakers' undisciplined and careless nature only requires 8.6 seconds of your time. This example involves Golden State guard Stephen Curry inbounding the ball to Corey Maggette. As Maggette flashed to the top of the key, the slight contact threw off Lakers guard Shannon Brown, causing Derek Fisher to close off on Maggette to deny an open look. But that just created an open shot for Curry, whose open trey hit back iron.
The Lakers thought they avoided overtime, but not quite. Neither Lakers guard Kobe Bryant nor forward Pau Gasol boxed out guard Monta Ellis, who grabbed the rebound and then raced out to the top of the key in hopes to tie the game up. With 1.7 seconds remaining, Ellis launched a three-pointer that hit off the front rim and then twice off the back iron.
You really only need to see the final play to recognize the Lakers' carelessness, but they displayed that characteristic throughout the game. The Lakers walked away from Oracle Arena Monday with a 124-121 victory over Golden State, effectively sweeping the season series against the Warriors. But it's nothing the Lakers (49-18) should be boasting about one bit. The win gave them a four-game cushion for first place in the Western Conference standings, thanks to Denver's 125-123 loss Monday to Houston. But is this really how you want to stake your claim in the Western Conference?
"We should've done better, but we'll take the win," Gasol told KCAL-9's John Ireland. "We shouldn't worry about the mistakes we made out there and go out tomorrow and have a better game."
WIth the Lakers facing Sacramento Tuesday, it's hard not to think they can't make similar mistakes against another sub. 500 team. The Lakers squeaked by a team that boasts a 18-48 record, has lost all but one of its eight games in March and features a roster that missed over 380 games due to injury, most recently center Ronny Turiaf (knee) and former Laker Vladimir Radmanovic (Achilles). Yet, the Lakers struggled with Golden State for most of the game. Despite shooting 58.3% and taking 20 free throws, the Lakers entered the locker room trailing 65-59 at halftime for two very simple reasons.
The team's non existent defense allowed Golden State to employ its relentless up-tempo style of play, a formula that doesn't build winning teams but certainly gives teams fits every night thanks to the Warriors' league-leading fast-break points and points off turnovers. Rather than employ their own half-court philosophy, the Lakers chose to play NBA Jam over fundamental basketball.
The balanced box score including Bryant (29 points), Gasol (26) Andrew Bynum (19), Lamar Odom (17) and Artest (12) no doubt spoke to the team's ability to exploit their inside presence at the expense of the Warriors' small frontline. Bryant's performance also spoke to his ability to direct the offense and score at will against Ellis. But that became an afterthought with the Lakers' 15 first-half turnovers, including five from Bryant. While Golden State scored 17 points off of those mistakes, it executed their high-octane offense with precision. The Warriors shot 52% and committed only three turnovers.
That's why it wasn't earth shattering that the Lakers coaching staff stressed at halftime for the team to slow the pace down. Suddenly, that strategy helped spark a 16-2 run in the third quarter to give the Lakers a 79-74 lead with 5:41 remaining. All the baskets came through deliberate pacing in the half-court set. Gasol had the ball near the right block and set up Artest for the open jumper after he flashed up top. Fisher's entry pass to Artest inside resulted in him using a post up and drop step over Maggette. Minutes later, another entry pass from Fisher to Bynum resulted in an easy tip in. Fisher converted on an easy one-on-one baseline jumper over Curry. Artest set up Gasol for an open baseline fadeway and, a play later, Fisher set Gasol up for another jumper. And Gasol made a behind-the-shoulder pass to Bryant inside for the easy layup. The patient approach resulted in the Lakers taking a 94-87 third-quarter lead after outscoring the Warriors in that period, 35-22.
Despite holding a 119-108 lead with 3:17 remaining in the game, the Lakers made too many defensive lapses to make the game uncomfortably exciting,. Bryant's long missed three-pointer resulted in Ellis making an easy transition layup. Gasol's poor interior D led to center Chris Hunter, a former D-Leaguer, to score inside. A simple screen and roll allowed Curry to go in for a finger roll. Hunter drove in for an uncontested leaner. And Ellis' steal on Bryant resulted in an uncontested transition three-pointer, capping his season-high ninth turnover and the team's 24, leading to 29 points for Golden State. After Bronw made two free throws, Ellis breezed past Artest for any easy drive to the basket off an inbounds play. And after Bryant made one of two free throws, the Warriors had one last chance to answer on the play described at the top of the post.
Fortunately for the Lakers, their lapses on the final play didn't cost them like all the other ones did. But it shouldn't make the team feel any better for averting defeat.
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Photo: Lakers guard Kobe Bryant finishes off a dunk over Golden State's Chris Hunter and Anthony Tolliver in the first half Monday night. Credit: Ben Margot/Associated Press.