When the Lakers scored four points over the final .7 seconds of the first half, heading to the locker room with a nine point lead, it's fair to say I thought they'd win. When the lead swelled to 16 2:21 into the third, it's fair to say I really thought they'd win.
Shows what I know. A very disturbing Game 1 loss for the Lakers, who were dominated down the stretch by a Mavericks team appearing to come apart at the seams halfway through the game.
Here's how it broke down...
1. Second Half Defense. Limited to a very reasonable 43 percent in the first half, Dallas found far more success in the second half, hitting 21 of their 37 attempts from the floor (57 percent). Dirk Nowitzki, handled relatively well in the first half (12 points on 11 attempts) boosted that number to 16 on an equal number of hoists after the break. From beyond the arc, Dallas hit five-of-nine. Credit the Mavs for their excellent ball movement, as they racked up 16 assists on the aforementioned field goals, consistently forcing the Lakers into awkward rotations and patiently using the entire floor to generate clean looks deep into possessions. Chide L.A. for sloppiness on their end.
Mistakes from the home team, as the offense devolved with the Mavs dropping in zone sets and packing the paint no matter the defensive formation, helped fuel the Dallas attack, as well. The Mavs were treated to more long run outs and transition chances, capitalizing on the other end.
Dallas hit five of their final 10 shots over the last four-plus minutes.
2. Second Half Offense. Kobe Bryant provided plenty of third quarter fireworks, scoring 15 points (including 12 straight at one point) on 6-for-10 shooting (3-of-4 from downtown), but around him any offensive structure and ball movement into the paint crumbled. Moreover, Bryant's attack was built entirely off jump shots, many coming in isolation, all along the perimeter. Even when the shots fell, and they generally did, the tenor of the offense changed completely.
The Lakers moved the ball extremely well early, generating eight assists on nine field goals in the first quarter, and adding five more dimes in the second. In the third, they had only two over the last nine minutes of the quarter, and only three in the fourth, two coming while Kobe was on the bench. The Lakers became a jumpshooting, Kobe-centric group, something playing to their worst instincts as a team.
Spectacular as Kobe's shooting performance was through the third, the manner in which the Lakers maintained, then lost, their lead was completely unhealthy. Balance went out the window, as Bryant took 17 of the team's 42 shots following the break (keep in mind, he only played 17 of the 24 minutes following the break, give or take). The point here isn't to blame Kobe for the loss. He didn't shoot the team out of the game, so to speak. Bryant, like his teammates, had some great moments and some lesser ones.
But the bottom line is this: If the Lakers expect to win the series, it cannot happen with Bryant taking seven more shots in the second half than any of his teammates took in the entire game. Particularly when the vast majority come on the perimeter. Even if many go in, and Monday they did, it's unsustainable, and plays away from the team's strengths.
3. Three Point Shooting. The Lakers are not a strong jump shooting team, something noted extensively in the lead up to Game 1. Tonight, it showed. They hit only five of their 19 attempts from beyond the arc, and players not named Kobe missed nine of 10.
4. Ron Artest. He did some good things on the defensive end, but if he's going to shoot eight times, more than one needs to go in. Particularly when he's liberal pulling the trigger with the jumper.
5. Andrew Bynum. Only three field goals and two free throws. After missing some good looks early in the game, Bynum seemed to fade away as a major factor in the game. He'd finish with eight points and five boards in about 30 minutes of burn.
1. Kobe Bryant (Sort of). Before the game, I watched Kobe walk- and I do mean walk- through a variety of jump shots around the court. Spin moves, jab steps, fadeaways, and so on. Not surprisingly, given the lack of an opposing defender, most of them went in. In the third quarter, he busted them out again, but this time at full speed with a defender (generally Corey Brewer) checking him. Not that there was much difference.
As mentioned above, Bryant owned the frame, and helped support the Lakers when it looked like Dallas might make their big push (it came later, of course).
He'd make three of his seven attempts in the fourth, including an 11 footer with a minute to play putting the Lakers up by three. Unfortunately, his last shot- a three to tie at the buzzer- went strong off the back of the rim. There were plenty of mistakes for Bryant, who turned the ball over three times, including a critical giveaway in the final minute, but overall he produced.
But as mentioned earlier, the Lakers can't continue this way with such a Kobe-dominated attack. The zero assists is a little misleading (if teammates make a shot or two, he cracks the column) but overall this wasn't the right kind of game for Bryant and the Lakers, prodigious as it was in the scoring column.
2. Pau Gasol (First 47 Minutes). If the first half was a Justin Bieber concert, Gasol would have been the mop-haired teen idol and the screaming 12-year olds in the crowd would be basketball coaches, so fundamentally sound was the Spaniard's game. He used the full arsenal offensively, including sweeping hook in the lane, plus face up and fadeaway jumpers with his high, true release. More importantly, Gasol was the grease facilitating L.A.'s offensive flow. He helped get the Lakers on the board with nice offensive board/kick to Bryant, who hit the open J. Gasol helped free up Derek Fisher for a triple, patiently waiting for the double team to come in the high post before throwing out to the arc. He set up Andrew Bynum for a pair of easy finishes with stellar feeds, one a touch pass off an inbound set, the other a great no look feed from the paint.
Gasol, via the shot or pass, accounted for eight of the team's first 14 buckets. He'd got to the break with nine points (4-of-6 shooting), plus six rebounds and five assists. The Lakers went away from him (and the post) through most of the third, and Gasol killed consecutive possessions with turnovers, but he helped atone with a nice play ending the quarter, following a Matt Barnes miss on the offensive glass to earn two free throws with only .7 left on the clock.
But man alive, how do you foul Nowitzki on the critical play in the final seconds before the guy even has a chance to catch the ball? I'm all for aggressive defense (and the contact was hardly egregious) but to make a play on the ball so high on the floor isn't smart unless an absolutely clear path to the ball is available.
Putting Nowitzki at the line without forcing him to make a play is simply not acceptable.
Along those lines, if I might bring back the lowlight category one more time, Phil Jackson bears some responsibility, here. With the critical inbound on that play almost certainly going to Dirk, almost surely along the perimeter, wouldn't it have made more sense to stick with Lamar Odom on Nowitzki? Better to cover him in space?
Gasol made a bad play, but Jackson had the wrong man on Dirk.
(UPDATE: For an explanation of what happened on that play, make sure to click on the postgame video link. Jackson said he was unable to put the guys on the floor he wanted, which explains why Bynum was on the floor defending the inbound play and Kidd. Still, Jackson said the player he would have had on the floor was Steve Blake, which doesn't seem to change my basic criticism of the play.)