The Lakers may have won by a dozen, and may have broken 100 (on 53 percent shooting!) for the first time since the Stone Age. But the victory doesn't necessarily leave a great taste in anybody's mouth. A double-digit lead was squandered down to the bone before eventually being built back up, and far more work than necessary was required against a tired, decidedly inferior opponent. At the end of the day, the Lakers notched the W, and maintained what has been a very strong home record. But this group just has a habit of provoking skepticism, even in the face of victory.
Here are five takeaways from the game.
1) Kobe Bryant owned the third quarter.
The night actually began in fairly unassuming fashion for The Mamba. Six shots were required for seven first-quarter points, and he turned the ball over twice. By halftime, he'd notched 14 points and appeared to have righted the ship, but an explosion didn't necessarily feel in the works. But if I've learned anything over the years, it's that an attempt to predict anything with Kobe is often an exercise in failure. To paraphrase Rowdy Roddy Piper, just when they think they know the answers, Bryant changes the questions.
Not that 24 going crazy over a 12 minute stretch is necessarily an unheard-of development, but this eruption nonetheless went from 0-60 in the blink of an eye.
Bryant's 18-point quarter was a "best of" showcase for his scoring prowess, which is always a treat for fans. Baby and long jumpers alike found bottom. A flyby was avoided at the rim, allowing him to convert a zippy feed inside from Pau Gasol at the rim. He backed down Jared Dudley in the lane, then spun, converting a reverse layup while absorbing contact. And then there was my favorite basket, a lefty hook shot launched between the circles after drifting left upon losing Grant Hill on a crossover. Absolutely gorgeous.
Even Kobe’s mishaps were spun into gold. An air-balled J landed in Gasol's hands, who proceeded to throw a no-look pass to set up Matt Barnes with an easy score at the rim. No harm, no foul. And as if to reassure us this roll was going to continue without a hitch, Bryant followed up that gaffe by drilling a transition three-ball after securing the rebound from a Marcin Gortat miss.
Bryant's third-quarter numbers -- 18 points on 8-for-12 shooting, three assists, four rebounds, a steal and zero turnovers -- helped push the lead to 20 late in the frame, and should have laid the foundation for a blowout victory. Unfortunately, as has been the case for this team throughout the season, easy living either ain't to their liking or consistently within their capabilities. That Kobe had to go to serious work to offset a fourth-quarter collapse against a (now) 12-19 visiting team is, on its best day, a disappointing development.
2) Matt Barnes came up huge.
From nearly the moment he entered the game with just under three minutes to go in the first quarter, Barnes' presence was felt. And as is often the case when things are going well for the reserve small forward, his success was created through motion. Spotted by Bryant while diving to the lane, Barnes was fed for an easy score at the rim. As the game progressed, Barnes put back a miss at the rim from Andrew Bynum, bunny hopped his way between the circles for a baby hook shot, and ran a rebound to the top of the key before making the hockey pass to set up a triple. Dude was everywhere and anywhere, making opportunities for himself through blood, sweat and hustle.
There were also moments of stationary success, like a catch-and-shoot corner trey off a feed from Troy Murphy. But overall, Barnes was the Lakers' resident Tasmanian Devil, a whirling dervish notching 17 points through activity impossible to overlook.
3) The bench giveth, the bench taketh away.
During the first half, Barnes' fellow reserves followed his lead to forge a fantastic collective showing. Steve Blake canned a trey in transition, and dished a quartet of dimes. Andrew Goudelock worked his patented floater and drew a charge on defense. Troy Murphy dived in the lane, then found himself on the receiving end of a beautiful bounce feed from Bynum. As a unit, they scored 24 points, notched seven assists, and looked like a legitimately fluid, productive crew.
Unfortunately, the second half wasn't terribly kind. Spotted a 14-point lead to begin the fourth quarter, they sputtered on both sides of the ball, allowing Phoenix -- and in particular, their old friend Shannon Brown, who'd lost his spot in the rotation -- to turn this back into a legitimate game. Only ten points were mustered between four players, with Barnes doing the majority of the heavy lifting.
These diminished returns reversed the dominant tone set not just by Kobe, but by the reserves themselves before intermission. The starters had to work harder than necessary to take back the momentum stolen by their division rivals. It was a stark reminder of how much proof remains to be seen before buying into the Lakers' reserves as a truly reliable force during games.
4) Derek Fisher converted a layup, and also notched 12 points.
Oh, and two big jumpers with four minutes remaining, including a dagger three with 1:39 to go. Who'da thunk it? These days, not me, if I may be perfectly honest.
5) Some stat lines are deceptively better than the naked eye would indicate.
Gasol's 10 points, courtesy of 4-for-13 shooting, wouldn't qualify as such. Gasol just couldn't find his touch this evening, and often appeared out of sorts with the ball in his hands.