Lakers Finally Lose to A.I. And Pistons
Posted by hiphopmama on November 14, 2008
Detroit 106, LA Lakers 95
This is the first game I’ve watched front to back, every last minute. Apparently I picked a bad game to start paying attention because the Lakers played like garbage tonight. I have lots of thoughts on our performance, too irritated to be contained within a normal narrative structure and hence presented as bullet points, but I’ll start off with some comments on the Pistons:
First off, the Iverson trade looks great from the Pistons perspective. This win brings them to just 3-2 with him in the line-up, but the Pistons’ play tonight was nothing short of superb and I think it’s indicative of how they will be able to go forward. I’ll admit I was critical of the trade for both teams, but watching Denver beat Boston while the Pistons knocked off the Lakers made me withhold final judgement on the deal. Iverson looked like the A.I. of old – half a step slower but considerably wiser out there in his decision-making on the floor. I know they won two titles with the superstar-by-committee approach, but I’ve always felt that the biggest teams need that one guy to rely on and look to when the going gets tough. Billups filled that role somewhat, but Iverson is a true big game player with experience coming through down the stretch. If he can play anywhere near this level, they will be serious contenders to unseat the Celtics as leaders of the East.
Detroit looks extremely well coached. Michael Curry is taking over an already successful team, but his players looked disciplined and confident tonight, never getting ruffled or ditching the plan in any way. The Lakers made an occasional run, but they held firm and never gave an inch. Flip Saunders always had the feel of a fluffier coach than a team from Detroit required, but Curry may succeed by moving the team toward a more solid, if less physically overbearing, style of play.
And now to the game itself:
Iverson absolutely torched us in the first quarter. He was responsible for the Pistons’ first 10 points, scoring 6 and assisting on the other 4. We had nobody who could contain his speed or prevent him from getting into the lane or on the baseline to either create his own shot or find an open teammate. Fisher is a hard-nosed defender who will work valiantly all night against anyone you throw at him, but he’s simply not quick enough to match up with the likes of Iverson. Hell, Stuckey ran all over us too, and we couldn’t keep these pesky little dudes from getting under our skin.
Both our 7-footers need to play like true post players. Bynum is still in the learning process – both learning how to play the post and learning how to exist in that gargantuan body – so presumably he will come around with time. Gasol is a different beast entirely. He has the skills to play on the block and can execute there competently when he wants to, but he occasionally disappears from this role for stretches of the game. Sometimes he seems to suffer from Dirk Nowitzki syndrome, forgetting that he is seven feet tall and trying to use his ample perimeter skills more than he should. At other times he just plain disappears altogether.
We could not guard the three point line to save our lives. Between Rasheed, Prince, and Afflalo, we gave up a whole game’s worth of threes in the first half alone.
The Lakers still haven’t found the touch on the offensive end. They’ve been scoring enough, but it hasn’t been pretty, and it wasn’t again tonight. 42% from the field, 21% from the three point line? That’s not going to get it done. How many easy lay-ups, put-backs, and tip-ins can they miss? Hubie Brown waxed eloquent many times about the Lakers’ beautiful interior passing, but he failed to note that they rarely converted the shots this passing created. Kobe somehow wound up with 29 points, but that was mostly because he started launching threes in the end when the outcome was all but decided. His 12-for-30 shooting was atrocious, as was the fact that he only got to the free throw line four times. Not every game can be his, but we especially need him when everything else is off kilter, and he wasn’t there tonight.
Exposed: Our bigs’ ability to guard a power forward who can shoot from the outside. Neither Gasol nor Bynum seemed interested in making the trek to the 3-point line to defend against Rasheed Wallace’s long-range threat, and he nailed us accordingly.
Derek Fisher is absolutely critical for this team. He went 1-for-8 in the first half, along with his defensive woes. But when he started picking it up in the second half, knocking down a couple long-range jumpers, the Lakers picked up steam and closed the gap. When the standard starting line-up is on the floor, he is essential as a second perimeter option. Kobe is all over the court; Bynum and Gasol are primarily confined to the paint; and Radmanovic is essentially Nowhere Man (seriously, does he even exist out there? I forget he’s on the floor half the time). This leaves Fish as our only true perimeter player in the backcourt with Kobe, and when he’s not clicking, it makes it extremely difficult to get the mismatches they rely on to run the offense. You can only isolate for Kobe so many times.
It’s nothing new, but I finally found an appropriate soccer analogy for it: Kobe Bryant has the Lionel Messi disease – or perhaps it’s the other way around? – he dribbles the ball too far, for too long, as if entranced by his own ability and forgetting that a) there are other teammates on the floor, and b) there is a bigger purpose to the game, namely to score. It might be a little unfair to bring this up at this point, now that he has grown as a player and does it much less, but I still saw it a few too many times tonight.
Vujacic needs to settle down. I appreciate the intensity, but there’s really no point in guarding Iverson THAT close thirty feet from the basket. He’s faster than you, dude. Getting all up in his ass is not going to off-set that, and it’s usually going to earn you a foul. Getting all pissy about the call afterward doesn’t help, either. He’s got that soccer player repertoire of emotions, overly dramatic in his attempts to draw a foul, feigning shock when the calls don’t go his way. I don’t want to hurt his confidence out there – if that’s possible – but someone needs to put him in his place ever so slightly and tell him that that’s not his role. Let your team leaders plead your case with the officials, and then let the chips fall where they may. Besides, they’re much more likely to listen to the complaints of a Kobe Bryant than a Sasha Vujacic. No disrespect or anything.
Where was the defense? The Pistons, playing the second of a road back-to-back, rarely looked hampered at all in their offensive attack (shooting over 50% from the field and 43% from three), whereas we never really got our offensive game plan going. When Detroit game out of the gate like gang-busters, I told myself, “Don’t worry, they can’t shoot like this all night.” I was wrong. When you can pick apart a defense, find every lane, thread every wide-open needle, shooting isn’t all that hard. Throw in our complete inability to guard against the three, and a few lucky ones thrown in (like Rasheed’s banked-in three – I swear, that shot still makes me think of Antoine Walker and the Celtics), and you have a formula for a depressing evening of basketball. Most of it comes down to the poor perimeter defense. We really miss having someone like a Tyronne Lue coming off the bench, someone who can hound a player like Iverson or Tony Parker and at least slow their moves into the lane. We didn’t have that tonight, so we were appropriately humbled by a team with a superior game plan and superior execution. Plain and simple.
Final thought: We still look soft. A number of things were against us tonight. Kobe was off. Actually, most of the team was off with the shot, and they never really got into a groove on either end of the court. But that’s the point. But those are the kind of nights where you have to step up and prove you can win when you’re not at your best. Those old Laker teams could do that – and by “old,” I mean the Shaq-Kobe years (sacrilege, I know). They could gut it out when they were having an off night, scrapping their way through and gritting their way to the win. Tonight proved that this team has yet to learn that vitally important skill. Late in the game, ESPN showed an interview with Kobe where he lamented that his team lost out on a title last year to a team who simply “took it from us,” and he explained all the steps he took to get himself in the kind of shape to prevent that from happening this year. With all due respect to Kobe and his regimen, we’re still a long way off. The team defense needs to be much stronger; we need a solid post player – nothing spectacular, perhaps in the mold of a Kurt Thomas; and we’ve got to be able to keep pesky point guards out of the paint. I know it’s only one loss, and our first of the season at that, but these things need to be addressed. If Phil is as good as he and the rest of the world believe, he’ll find a way.
And highlights, if you can call them that: