The Lakers, after a wobbly start, laid the hammer down on the Clippers on Friday night, running away with the game and giving themselves a third straight win on their third straight strong effort coming out of the All-Star break. They did what talented teams are supposed to do, imposing their will over a willing-but-lesser squad over the course of the night. Doesn't hurt to have Kobe Bryant on your team, either (see below).
Here's how it broke down...
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1. Kobe Bryant. With Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum combining for 25 points on 10-for-14 shooting from the field, Bryant was content to lay low over the first 24 minutes. He actually hit the locker room early after appearing to tweak his arm late in the second quarter. Apparently, he was fine. Bryant came out in the third and completely torched the Clippers. After starting the frame with a nice lob inside to Bynum off penetration, Kobe went to work with the jumper, hitting eight of his 11 shots for 18 points. Which, incidentally, gave him one more for the quarter than the Clips.
One big reason (beyond the fact he's, you know, really good) Kobe hit such a high percentage can be attributed to how he got the shots. The Lakers moved Kobe around the floor effectively, allowing him to catch and finish deeper into the clock, with help from teammates. Of his eight field goals, six came off assists. Add in Kobe's three dimes, and he played a direct role in 11 of the Lakers' 14 field goals in the quarter.
A solid 12 minutes of work, to say the least. Best of all, he sat down in the fourth and didn't get back up (until the game was over, I mean -- he's not still there). The final line -- 24 points on 10-for-16 shooting, plus five assists -- didn't need much padding down the stretch. As for the first half injury, the problem was apparently tied primarily to Kobe's elbow. Clearly it couldn't have been that big a deal. Knocking the funny bone, something we all know isn't that funny.
"He's got some radiating issues down his arm," Phil Jackson said after of Bryant, "but he'll be alright."
Kobe agreed, noting he's had the injury before. Still, in the moment, the sensation isn't pleasant. "It hurts like [an expression likely to get his mouth washed out with soap].
2. Pau Gasol. He opened things up about as hot as a player can get. Six straight from the floor, plus four straight free throws. He did it primarily with the jumper, making himself available at the elbow in the high-low game with Bynum, or along the baseline off penetration from Ron Artest. In one first quarter trip, he bailed the Lakers out on what had been a bad trip with a rainbow jumper seeming to scrape the rafters. Point being, he had the perimeter game dailed in. But Gasol was also aggressive facing up on Blake Griffin, putting the ball on the floor against him, and forcing him to play defense. It was his primary avenue to the line. In the third, Gasol had only one bucket, but picked up three assists, including a nifty bounce pass to a cutting Kobe inside as Bryant and Gasol again masterfully worked the two man game.
But big as he was offensively, it was Gasol's impact at the other end making the greatest impact. All night, when matched up against him, Griffin struggled to score. Gasol did a great job of contesting the dunk champ, whether in the open floor on off the dribble at the basket.
3. Jumpshooting. As I mentioned in the newest edition of The Triangle, a common denominator in the strong wins Tuesday against Atlanta and Wednesday in Portland was outside shooting. The trend continued Friday, as the Lakers not only hit seven of their 13 three-pointers through three quarters, but also a host of mid-range jumpers. No surprise they tended to work effectively from inside out, whether with good passing and kicks (Gasol had a nifty first half pass to Artest in the corner, his long arm reaching well over the baseline to escape a double team and find an open Ron Ron) or dribble penetration (the aforementioned Artest pass to Gasol). Tonight, as Shannon Brown noted after, they were actually able to shoot out of the zone thrown at them by the Clips.
The Lakers will never be a bunch of John Paxsons and Steve Kerrs, but it's vital they at least be respectable outside the paint, or shots inside will be tough to come by.
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Rare is the photo where Blake Griffin just isn't able to elevate enough to be effective.
4. The Third Quarter. I mentioned Kobe's outburst, and the rest of the team wasn't bad, either. Particularly on the defensive end. It seems this season the Lakers haven't been able to coordinate those moments where they lock down defensively and create good opportunities on offense. Not a problem in the third. They shot 70 percent from the field but were able to parlay that into an 18-point lead (from two at the half) because they held the Clippers to 26.3 percent shooting and a lone offensive board despite 14 misses from the LAC.
That's getting it done. Add it to a second quarter in which the Lakers held the Clippers to an even more shocking 19 percent (four-for-21) and you get a picture of how effective the Lakers were keeping the LAC off the board.
5. And so on... The ball movement was good all night, as the Lakers finished with 33 assists on 43 field goals, and everyone was involved. Eight Lakers had at least three assists. Derek Fisher had a nice night from the field, making four of seven. Artest didn't have a big line statistically, certainly nothing like he did Wednesday in Portland, but in the first half showed similar confidence with his shot, and more important with his passing and ball-handing. Bynum had 11 rebounds in 32 minutes. Turnover happy as a bunch over the last few games, the Lakers took great care of the ball Friday night, giving it up only seven times as a team.
1. The First Quarter. The Lakers opened fast, building a 10-2 lead, but quickly let the Clippers back in the game. After pushing out to another eight point lead at the 5:15 mark, the Clippers went on a 19-10 run to finish the quarter, including a couple open triples for Randy Foye, and another three for Ryan Gomes. Overall, the Lakers allowed the Clips to shoot over 50 percent in the opening 12 minutes. The Clippers moved the ball well (10 assists), too frequently leaving the Lakers one man behind in their rotations. It's never good to lose a quarter in which you shoot over 60 percent, but the Lakers did Friday.
One problem early was too much attention on Griffin down low. "We shouldn't help as much as we did, especially in the first quarter. The plan was to give support to the guys when he got close to the rim, because he can explode and be really effective," Gasol said. "We overhelped a little too much, that's why they got open looks... We tightened up a little more, and didn't [double] when we didn't have to, and that helped our defense."
2. ...and so forth. Shannon Brown had five assists and finished with some good moments, but still hit only four of his 14 shots, and had a couple of hiccups defensively. Just about everything Luke Walton tried to do Friday night didn't work. He continues to struggle.
Much more to come.