Four things to take from Lakers' 109-87 victory over the New York Knicks
1. The Lakers showcased their best defensive effort of the season in their 109-87 victory Sunday over the New York Knicks
The Knicks tried to pick up the pace and play in the open court, but the Lakers cut off them off. The Knicks tried to pound the Lakers inside, but they just fought right back. The Knicks featured four players in double figures, but the Lakers made them all work for their points.
It's not everyday the Lakers put together this type of effort. In fact, the Lakers usually provide the same reel in each game that becomes easy to dissect but difficult to correct: poor shot selection and turnovers lead to transition buckets, failing to close out while defending three-point shots, little communication on pick-and-roll plays that lead to drives to the basket, late or no help defense allowing for easy penetration. Lakers Coach Phil Jackson expressed plenty of concern for the Lakers in matching up against the Knicks, even if the team recently installed new wrinkles in their defense that emphasized stronger communication to ensure consistent defensive rotations, more emphasis on defending the perimeter and cutting off baseline drives. But maintaining that discipline can prove tough against a team that leads the league in scoring, can punish teams in the open floor and on drives to the rack.
But the Lakers didn't allow that to happen against New York.
In a game that Jackson believed would be dictated by pace, the Lakers played energetic but maintained defensive toughness. Ron Artest's clothesline of Amare Stoudemire in the third quarter earned him a flagrant foul 1, a move perhaps as unjustified as when he put his hand on Shawne Williams' throat in the first quarter that led to a technical foul. But that kind of grittiness defined the Lakers' mind-set for nearly the entire game.
"Ron is tough. It's just a fine line with him because you don't know where he stands with the officiating," Lakers guard Kobe Bryant said. "It's tough for him to be physical. A play that Steve Blake makes, a physical play that Ron Artest makes might get him ejected or suspended. He walks a very fine line in this league."
Stoudemire, who entered the game averaging 26.3 points and 9.3 rebounds a game, nearly matched that point total with 23, but it came on seven-of-24 shooting. Artest and Bynum swarmed Stoudemire on a double team in one possession. Odom and Gasol double teamed him on another. And Odom and Bynum then teamed up on him. Among the Knicks' players to score in double figures -- Stoudemire (23), Wilson Chandler (19), Landry Fields (12) and Raymond Felton (12) -- only Fields shot 50%. The Lakers limited the Knicks to 36% shooting and a scoreless drought of four minutes in the third quarter.
"I think we can definitely win a championship with this type of defense," Jackson said. "The idea of facing a team that is a high scoring team that has smalls on the floor and their biggest guy Stoudemire is at 6'10" and most of them is under 6'8" from there on out is a challenge for our big guys to stay in the game and guard them. They're athletic. For us to handle the ball, so they don't get run outs and take care of the three-point line so they don't shoot the three-pointers, that was really the purpose we had defensively. We got some of that accomplished. There's still a little ways to go before I think we perfect that if there is such a thing as perfecting a defense."
2. Bynum's block on Stoudemire was clean and he shouldn't have gotten ejected, but he should've backed away
Setting up on the right block, Stoudemire pulled up for a jumper only to have Bynum swipe it clean. Not according to referee Leon Wood, however, who gave Bynum his fourth foul with the Lakers leading 81-70 andh 11:26 remaining in the game.
Bynum stared in total amazement, yelled, "Are you serious" to Wood, and then received a technical foul. The call created plenty of boos from the 18,997 at Staples Center, with the fans yelling "Bull..." Bynum's arguing and near bump ofo Wood warranted a technical because it clearly was a demonstrative reaction to a bad call. But he shouldn't have gotten ejected. Instead of walking away from Wood, Bynum stood near his vicinity and continued to voice his displeasured, receiving another T and an automatic ejection.
"I said, 'Are you serious.' I don't know if that really warrants a technical or a double technical like that. I was pretty surprised. You could watch the telecast and read my lips, 'Are you serious,'" said Bynum, who hadn't been ejected since Dec. 2007 in a game against San Antonio. "He's a grown man. I don't know if I showed him up or not."
"He wouldn't acknowledge me. I asked him a question and he put his head down like a bad lab."
Team reaction varied. Bryant called the ejection "silly." Jackson said Bynum got "fouled two or three times at the other end of the floor when he was going up. Some consequential stuff that wasn't called and then a simple thing that was called against him I suppose made him irritable. Unfortunately, he got ejected from the game." Odom noticed "Stoudemire is talking and they call a foul he doesn't think it's a foul. Sometimes we all have to let it go." And Lakers forward Pau Gasol argued "once they call the first tech, you have to back off. No matter what you say, the gestures itself will put a referee in a spot to throw you out. You just got to contain yourself and talk to him in a timeout or free throw and say 'You missed that call.'"
No doubt, Bynum should've walked away as soon as he received the first technical. He probably should've taken a breath before immediately running to Wood after the initial foul. But Wood's reaction didn't help. He made a bad call and he then took over the game instead of trying to bring control to it.
3. The Knicks had no answer for the Lakers' front line
Before Bynum's ejection, there was very little the Knicks could do to stop him. His 18 points on eight-of-15 shooting and seven rebounds came off putbacks, fighting through double teams and using quick drop steps against the Knicks. Odom's 13 points and 18 rebounds came because no one had the size to counter his length and no one had the versatility to mark him from both the paint and the perimeter. And even though Gasol's 20 points came on five-of-13 shooting, he appeared much more aggressive as indicated by his 10-of-11 effort from the free-throw line.
"It took us a feel for how the game was going to go, but once we figured out [New York's smaller lineup], we did a good job in attacking them," Gasol said. "For the most part, we have an advantage in our inside game in every game. We have to utilize that a lot. We've been effective and we win when we do it."
4. The Lakers provided tons of energy
Their offense didn't just rest with the front line, which combined for 50 points in the paint. It also came off energy-induced plays. Some examples: Bryant, who scored 28 points off 10-of-28 shooting, opened up the third quarter with two consecutive three-pointers to give the Lakers a 58-49 lead with 11:04 remaining; Lakers guard Shannon Brown, who scored 16 points on five-of-eight shooting partly on some thunder pleasing dunks, nailed a corner three-pointer to end the third quarter, prompting Artest to give him a high-five as the Lakers took an 81-70 advantage; and after Derek Fisher hit a three-pointer that gave the Lakers a 98-81 lead with 5:14 left, Bryant pumped his fist in delight, a play that seemed to make the result all but official.
"We ran away with it in the fourth," Brown said.
Quote of the night: -- Andrew Bynum on his argument with referee Leon Wood that led to his ejection: "He wouldn't acknowledge me. I asked him a question and he put his head down like a bad lab."
Stat(s) of the night: 18 -- Odom's season-high in rebounds; 36% -- New York's field-goal percentage, a sharp drop from the 46.9% mark it averages, seventh-best in the NBA; 87 -- points the Knicks scored, a sharp drop from the league-leading 108 points they normally average; 3 -- Number of Lakers players who have been tossed this season, including Bryant (98-79 loss Dec. 21 against Milwaukee), Barnes (Lakers' 103-88 victory Dec. 29 against New Orleans) and now Bynum (Lakers' 109-87 victory over the New York Knicks). 16 -- The number of technical fouls the Lakers have accumulated in the past 10 games.
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Photos: (Top) Lakers guard Shannon Brown and forward Lamar Odom restrain center Andrew Bynum after he received two techincals and was ejected for arguing a call early in the fourth quarter Sunday. Credit: Stephen Dunn / Getty Images. (Bottom) Lakers center Andrew Bynum puts down a dunk over Knicks center Amare Stoudemire in the second half Sunday at Staples Center. Credit: Alex Gallardo / Associated Press