Lakers Over Wizards, Barely
Posted by hiphopmama on December 5, 2008
LA Lakers 106, Washington 104
At least it was a win. That’s all I can say. This is the kind of game that leaves a bad taste in your mouth, no matter how many highlight reel moments were involved. The Wizards are a team without arguably their most important player in Gilbert Arenas and another All-Star in Brendan Haywood. They were sitting on just three wins, worst in the Eastern Conference, and looked utterly dismal when the Lakers were actually trying. Yet we still managed to find a way to make it close – bang-your-head-against-the-wall close – and give the Wizards a single shot to steal the game from us.
We started the game remarkably, completely outclassing the opposition. At times, it looked like a Harlem Globetrotters game, as our players straight out schooled the Wizards, finding incredible angles with their passes and blistering Washington with their shots. At other times, we seemed to get bored of trying and the Wizards would go on an extended run to pull back within striking distance. Still, it never really felt like it was close even when they got to within single digits, because it always seemed like it was just a matter of time before we turned the heat back up and blew them away.
And then, all of a sudden, it was a three point game with a minute to play. I – and everyone else in Laker nation – got immediate flashbacks of the Pacers game and started thinking, “Oh no, not again.” Caron Butler drained a jumper in the lane to bring the Wizards within one, and the Lakers marched up court trying to break a horrible drought from the field. Kobe briefly lost the handle but soon recovered, pivoted away, and banked in a shot from a ridiculous angle near the baseline to get the lead back up to three. The Wizards then pulled back to within one on a tip-in by Andray Blatche. They fouled Kobe on the inbound, and he missed the second free throw, giving the Wizards a chance to take the final shot down by just two. Caron Butler chose to wait for the last second to fire up a three instead of driving and looking for the tie. A good pump fake got Ariza to jump past him, but Farmar stepped in enough to make him double-clutch just a bit, and the shot landed just a few inches short as time expired.
Thus the Lakers escaped again. I have had plenty to say about Kobe Bryant and his ability to act a proper teammate and team leader, but tonight he really played the role. Bynum had his best game yet, going for 19 and 10 along with 3 blocks and making his defenders look silly in the post. Gasol was solid again, aside from his recent struggles at the free throw line which seem to have gotten in his head. But tonight was 100% Kobe’s, even though he shot horribly (5/17) and was clearly out of rhythm. He finished the game with 23 points, largely a result of going 13-of-14 at the line, but more importantly he racked up 7 rebounds and 7 assists and spent the majority of the game looking for the best option for the team as a whole. He fired up a few tough shots but mostly was content with whatever the defense gave him. When he was taken out, the team fell apart, and he was solely responsible for us holding on in the end.
For some reason, this was not the night for the subs. Bynum was bitching about the second team being taken off against the Pacers, but they have been the reason we have let teams back into games that should have been well out of reach. That second team only seems to dwell on one or the other end of the spectrum: blazingly good or sickeningly awful. Farmar is the epitome of this conundrum. When he’s on, he is outstanding, out-hustling everyone on the court and making smart decisions with the basketball. When he’s not, woe be unto the Lakers offense because sloppy turnovers and ill-advised passes are the order of the day. And don’t even get me started on Sasha Vujacic. I know we have a stellar second unit, but he cannot be our first replacement for Kobe when the man needs a rest. I was a fan of Sasha’s in years past, but he has been close to worthless for much of this season, and to make matters worse, he doesn’t seem to believe he’s playing poorly, firing up threes with abandon when there is no reason to do so. I love them as energy guys, but they should not be given free rein late in games, even when we have a sizable lead. I know Phil doesn’t like to call timeouts or do much coaching at all during games, but you have to step in when things are falling apart.
I was happy to see that Mr. Jackson agreed with me, stating after the game that tonight’s disappointing performance came down to “poor coaching.” He added, “That’s what it was tonight. Putting too much faith in a younger group, a second unit. They just can’t hold it on the road. They can’t withstand the fury or the intensity of the fourth quarter. I’m going to have to change it up a little bit.” It’s a rare day when Phil changes anything, let alone when he admits to it, so I’m glad to hear it. But I also suspect he’s getting a dig in at Bynum for his comments after the Pacers loss. I know Andrew doesn’t say much, but he should have continued that strategy rather than trying to call out the coach, especially when that coach is Phil Jackson. And in any case, Phil was right, both then and now. Yes, the younger guys did do a good job of building the lead, but they did a shit job of holding onto it, and in the end that’s not really their job anyway. That’s the responsibility of the first team guys, namely one Kobe Bryant. So there’s no reason those starters can’t be expected to play a few extra minutes in the fourth quarter to make sure we have no more close calls. God knows they’ve been well rested so far this season. Kobe has only reached 40 minutes in one game so far, and no one is even averaging 35 minutes.
On another statistical note, I’m still unclear on how we can have such good stats in areas where I don’t see fundamental soundness. Take rebounding, for example. As with our defense, we seem to believe we can get by on deflections. We play with lots of hustle and have a very high rebounding average, but I still see so many occasions when we don’t bother to box out and give up offensive boards because of it. Maybe I should let it go and just enjoy the fact that we’re playing well, but I was too scarred by last year to get overly optimistic again. We looked like we were on top of the world going into the finals only to be decimated by a team that played a much firmer game than we did, so I’m constantly on the look-out for potential chinks in the armor that can be exposed at a crucial moment. Let’s just say I have yet to be convinced that we have the mental toughness to do what needs to be done late in games. I’d love to see us just put our foot on the other team’s neck when we have them down 10, 15 points and completely close the door on a possible come-back. Since, as tonight once again proved, we don’t seem to have developed that killer instinct yet, we are going to have to rely on those crucial fundamentals when the game hangs in the balance, because waiting on a deflection is not a fall-back plan against playoff competition. It’s still early, but our performances so far this season haven’t proven anything one way or the other. There’s plenty of time to figure it out, though, and I hope we do.
Game recap and highlights:
We’re back home on Sunday to host the Bucks at 9:30 ET/6:30 PT. I’d give some kind of analysis, but frankly I’m worn out after watching another game like this and trying to make sense of it. Plus it’s really fucking late and I’m hungry, so that’s the business for tonight. Hasta el domingo.