Posted by hiphopmama on February 9, 2009
*Subtitle: Lakers Regurgitate Celtics Performance Against Cavs (happy, D?)
LA Lakers 101, Cleveland 91
What a road trip. I can’t say I’ve seen one better in my decade and a half of close NBA viewing. Coming off a tough double-overtime loss to the Bobcats, we embarked on six games in nine nights, including facing off with two of our biggest rivals, and we suffered nary a loss. The first four teams weren’t anything to write home about, but the fact that we never slipped up against even one of them, and without Andrew Bynum, says a lot. That’s not something this team could have pulled off earlier in the season, that’s for sure. And then to cap it off with wins against the Celtics (on the second night of a back-to-back) and the as-yet-unbeaten-at-home Cavs – wow.
In case you didn’t already know, Kobe was sick for this one. Like, disgustingly sick. Throwing up before, during, and after the game sick. Receiving IV fluids sick. The man looked half dead, but he somehow still played 35 minutes and contributed 19 points, none bigger than the two he drained on an in-your-face fade-away against Lebron when the lead had shrunk to 4 points. That was essentially the nail in the coffin, and Kobe’s night was complete. He staggered off the court and into the locker room before the final whistle blew, leaving his teammates to celebrate in his wake.
No one stepped up bigger in his absence than Lamar. I don’t know where this new burst of confidence came from, but I hope it’s here to stay. He doesn’t look hesitant anymore, firing up shots when he’s open and slashing his way through the lane at will. He managed a season high 28 points and 17 rebounds while virtually carrying the team in the second half. Quite simply and without over-exaggeration, he willed us to come back and claim the lead in the second half. We closed out the first half dismally, letting the deficit balloon to 10 points much too quickly, so we needed something special coming out of the locker room. Lamar provided it. After receiving the IV at halftime, Kobe looked reenergized for the first part of the third quarter and, along with some clutch shooting from Fisher, he helped chip away at the Cleveland lead. Then Odom took over, making layup after layup and scoring 15 points to put us up 5 at the end of the quarter. He didn’t score as much in the fourth, but he was there for every loose ball while the bench went to work on the Cavs, extending the lead to as many as 10 before Lebron and Ilgauskus teamed up to whittle it down to 4. Pau carried us the rest of the way, drawing fouls and making free throws to ice the game and end the Cavaliers home unbeaten streak at 23.
It was a stunning performance for a number of reasons. Finally besting the Cavs on their home court was definitely a big one, since plenty of good teams had come in there and failed to get a result. Even bigger was the way we carried it off with smothering defense in the second half after looking unconcerned with D in the first. The Cavs finished the game shooting 39.7% from the field and under 30% for the second half. We held Lebron to 5-for-20 shooting and a meager 16 points (although he did add 8 rebounds and 12 assists), well below his 28 a game average. We were again exposed by – no surprise here – a good perimeter shooting big man and a quick point guard. Ilgauskus stretched our already thin interior defense past where it wanted to go with his dead-eye looks from the baseline. Mo Williams darted in and out of the lane too much as well. And, of course, we were still burned much too much from the three point line. As I said, the Cavs shot under 40% overall, but they were 47.8% from beyond the arc. Fucking Wally Szczerbiak (even his name is an abomination, first and last) scored 4-of-5 from distance behind his stupid mask, and Williams was 3-of-4 himself. James, pure shooter that he isn’t, was just 2-of-8 from three point territory, but much of that comes down to him being the one to take the tough shots in sticky situations. In the end he couldn’t make either the jumpers we forced him into or the free throws he was awarded, so we cruised past them to the finish line.
Once again, we were too deep for our opponent. Kobe was a shadow of his full self, despite the crunch time performance, but we still had plenty left in our arsenal to draw on while the Cavs sputtered down the stretch. The second team really blew the lead open to start the fourth with Kobe, Pau, and Fisher all on the bench. That meant that Farmar, Sasha, Ariza, Powell, and Odom (and briefly Mihm) not only held their own with the best the Cavs had to offer but increased the margin between the two teams while the starters sat. I know, Odom is technically a starter now, but you get the point. Our bench is really, really good, good enough to win us games against tough opposition. Right now, I don’t see anyone else who can stack up against us in that department.
And so we return home with the best record in the NBA with two games left to play before the All-Star break – Oklahoma City at home on Tuesday and away at Utah Wednesday. However those last two games go, we will head into the break with over 40 wins and, possibly, single digit losses. That’s quite a feat considering the stumbling we did in the middle third of the season so far, and I’m happy to say we’re hitting our stride and picking up the pace right on schedule.