Before the game, Phil Jackson noted while his team has overall played very well since the All-Star break and he's losing no sleep over their performance, the Lakers haven't put their best foot forward over the last few games, despite winning them all.
Chalk some of it up to posturing (never a bad idea to remind the gang there's room still to grow), some to the elevated standards the playoff push brings. Either way, Friday's win, the Lakers' 14th in their last 15 games, won't necessarily change Jackson's narrative. The Lakers played well enough for the victory, keeping control of the game throughout and delivering big plays when needed, but weren't able to put the Clips away until the end. There was plenty to like, but the coaching staff won't have problems finding nits to pick in Saturday's film session.Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images
Kobe Bryant soared Friday night to the tune of 37 points, with six assists as the Lakers knocked off the Clippers at Staples.
Of course, it's reflective of the level to which the Lakers are playing when this sort of game feels mildly disappointing.
Here's how it broke down ...
1. Kobe Bryant. He spent much of the game settling into comfortable spots on the floor, whether moving over a Pau Gasol screen to shake Eric Gordon before burying a soft jumper below the elbow, or beating Randy Foye in transition down to his well-loved spot along the left baseline. Bryant was effective both with the dribble and moving off the ball. It's always encouraging to see Bryant attack the rim, and Friday he did, helping explain his 17 free throws, only his third time he's earned more than 10 in his last 25 games.
For the most part, Bryant's game was extremely well controlled. On a night where the Lakers' offense (save those moments where the reserves were out en masse) had a lot of flow, Bryant fit in well, taking smart shots and delivering well timed passes to teammates, racking up a team-high six assists.
And, no surprise, Bryant was an important part of the fourth quarter push helping keep the Clips at arms length down the stretch. He produced a key steal at the 7:30 mark of the fourth, finishing with the dunk and giving the Lakers a six-point lead, then followed up on the next possession with a nice dish inside to Gasol, after beating Gordon baseline. With under three minutes to go, Bryant drilled a jumper from the free-throw line, pushing the Lakers lead to eight.
He finished with 37 points on 11-for-21 shooting, plus four boards and the aforementioned assists.
2. Pau Gasol. In the immortal words of Dave Chappelle-as-Prince, "Shoot the J! Shoot it!"
On a night where Gasol donated a cool grand per point to relief funds benefiting those suffering in Japan, he started the game red hot, particularly with his jumper. After spinning into the lane to bury a nice hook shot over Blake Griffin to kick off the scoring for the Lakers, Gasol hit four straight jumpers, starting at 11 feet and extending his range to 17 by the end. He'd finish the first half with a highly efficient 14 points on seven-for-10 from the floor. In the third, Gasol scored eight more points, doing most of his damage at the line, where he was a perfect six-for-six.
There were a few raggedy moments offensively -- a fourth-quarter sequence in which he was blocked by DeAndre Jordan, then gathered the ball only to fire an airball at the end of the shot clock- and like the rest of his teammates Gasol suffered some breakdowns defensively, but overall it's exceedingly difficult to argue with 26/8/3.
3. Andrew Bynum. In the continuing evolution of what defines high quality output from Bynum, after three blocks within a 3:30 stretch near the top of the second quarter his points-to-swat ratio stood at two-to-three. Add in six first half rebounds, swelling to 11 by the end of the third and 12 for the game, the last a big offensive board off a Derek Fisher missed free throw with 35 seconds remaining off, putting the Lakers up by six. While Bynum seemed a little off-rhythm following a suspension induced week long layoff (more than once Griffin got Drew off the floor with hard pump fakes, and I got the sense a few times he wasn't where teammates thought he'd be) Bynum was active and seemed to lose no enthusiasm for his new role in the layoff.
4. Derek Fisher. Through three quarters, Fisher had a very modest two points and two assists, but in the fourth he made key plays, burying a pair of big jumpers and more important drawing two offensive fouls at the other end. Crafty, that D-Fish. Didn't exactly shut down Mo Williams (30 points, 11-for-17 shooting), but not all of the responsibility goes to Fish, alone.
5. Ron Artest. Offensively, Artest was a drive through the streets of San Francisco (as opposed to the Streets of San Francisco)- all highs and lows. There were three triples in five attempts, and a spectacular- or at least spectacularly unexpected- dunk on Chris Kaman, driving the right baseline and finishing on the other side of the rim. There were also ill-advised forays off the dribble, a few unusual decisions with the pass, and a fantastic moment in the third when, perhaps juiced by his early dunks tried to soar off the wing to finish on the break and fount nothing but back iron.
But for Artest's best contribution, look at the other end of the floor, where he produced three steals, the final coming in the last minute when he slapped the ball from Griffin on the break, robbing the Clippers of sure points. (It's difficult to overstate how difficult it is to come up with a clean steal in that situation, as Artest did.) More importantly, Gordon finished with only three field goals on 14 tries. The Lakers did a good job as a team keeping Gordon from the rim, putting him in less advantageous spots around the floor, but Artest deserves a lot of credit.
1. Team Defense. Too many breakdowns, as the Clippers shot 50 percent from the floor, despite hitting only five of 17 three point attempts. Williams did most of the damage with his 30 points, and Griffin had a solid game offensively (22 points on 16 FGA's), but while the Lakers did a nice job on Gordon and Kaman, they let guys like Al-Farouq Aminu (11 points, four-of-six shooting), Craig Smith (eight points, four-of-seven), and Foye (12 points, five-for-nine) find too many good looks.
Not a disaster by any stretch- the Lakers were plus-seven on the glass and allowed only eight offensive boards (none for Griffin) off 42 Clippers misses- but not their strongest post-ASB performance, either.
2. Bench Play. Lamar Odom, Matt Barnes, Steve Blake, and Shannon Brown combined for 16 points, missing all but five of 20 shots from the floor. Only Odom had more than one bucket (three), and while he contributed with seven boards, a pair of steals, a block, and two assists (including a wicked behind-the-head delivery to Gasol in the first half), it wasn't L.O.'s best game. As for the other guys?
Not good. Not surprisingly, the Lakers didn't perform well as a group with them on the floor. Blake was a minus-eight in 17 minutes of burn, Barnes minus-15 in 12, and Brown minus-12 in 12.