There actually wasn't one, which was the best thing that could have happened for the Lakers.Rick Bowmer/AP Photo
You're darn right Derek Fisher is pumping his fist after this win.
By definition, winning inside the "Lakers ain't done it since the Jumaine Jones/Tierre Brown era" Rose Garden will be difficult through the strength of a single moment. Factor in Kobe Bryant on the inactive list with a bad ankle-- an absence later compounded by Andrew Bynum missing the second half after Juwan Howard's early foul united AB17's hip and the hardwood-- and "a moment" simply won't do.
You're going to need "moments" and lots of folks stepping up to provide them.
That's exactly how the Lakers managed to snap the curse in Portland, and under the most unlikely of circumstances.
This was a victory created by hard play and contributions top to bottom. Often fantastic and scrappy group defense --Portland shot just 43.7 percent from the floor and a paltry 27.8 percent from downtown-- combined with a cavalcade of individuals bringing boatloads to the table.
To begin, each backcourt member helped pick up the slack for the NBA's best two-guard:
-Rarely playing the role of a traditional point guard, Derek Fisher nonetheless orchestrated much of the first half offense, dishing four assists over 15 minutes. He finished the game with six dimes to complement 14 points, and truer to recognizable form, drew an offensive charge against Jerryd Bayless to force a turnover.
-Jordan Farmar poured in a dozen off the pine, his sweetest score a sequence where he penetrated the lane enough to dip in a toe, then stepped back on Steve Blake and applied just the right amount of English for a kind bounce. He also made plays on defense, particularly during a possession backed down by Andre Miller. The veteran point guard is considerably stronger than the Laker youngster, but Farmar hunkered down well enough to force a miss.
-Sasha Vujacic's' night was more of a cameo (under nine minutes), yet still offered redemption just 24 hours removed from a performance atrocious enough to get booed by the Staples patrons. Five points and a steal, plus a key offensive rebound to set up a three-ball for Farmar, which bumped the Lakers' lead to 12.
-The star among the guards, however, was Shannon Brown, who began the game off the bench, then started the second half when Bynum's injury forced a lineup change. But no matter when he checked in, YouTube provided the Lakers a major spark. 19 points and hustle off the charts, especially noticeable on plays where he forced Rudy Fernandez into a 24-second violation air ball and bolted a country mile to successfully bother a Martell Webster trey.Sam Forencich/NBAE via Getty Images
Shannon Brown came up huge with Kobe out.
-Ron Artest led all players with 21 points, notched on a very efficient 12 shots, only three failing to drop. In particular, he was big in the closing stretches of the first half, hitting back-to-back-to-back from behind the arc. The third, hoisted from just past half-court off to beat the intermission buzzer, was a gas for Lakers fans and made Portlanders feel just plain gassy.
-Pau Gasol's line (13 points on 14 shots, eight rebounds) won't pop eyes, reflective of struggles to regain that effortlessly efficient offensive touch since returning from his second hamstring injury. However, it's never wise to judge a performance by stats alone. And if you insist, be sure to take a gander at LaMarcus Aldridge's numbers. 16 points on the same amount of shots, many successfully altered by El Spaniard. Even the makes often fell in the face of solid challenges. When his offense wasn't cooperating, Pau's D more than compensated.
-Finally, there was Lamar Odom, often lambasted by Lakers fans as a disappearing act. Tonight, Lamar was absolutely present and accounted for, a purple and gold anchor for a team in need of a backbone. Always a demon on the glass, Lamar took it to another level tonight, tying his career-high 22. But this wasn't simply LO pulling down balls while replacing Kobe in the starting lineup. Dude was sucking up misses like a souped-up vacuum cleaner on a coke binge.
One-handed grabs. Stretches through a crowd (including a sensational tip-in a Gasol miss at the rim). Eight rebounds in the third quarter alone.
Throw in 10 points, six assists against just one turnover, a steal and a block, and it's hard to find any aspect of basketball not influenced for the better by the Lakers' Swiss army knife.
He also capped the performance during his postgame interview with ESPNLosAngeles.com/KCAL 9's John Ireland. When the sideline reporter asked what LO ate today to provide proper nourishment to terrorize the glass so well, LO smiled, then gave a very "Lamar" answer:
"Chicken and waffles. I'm probably not supposed to eat that, fried chicken and waffles, but..."
For that matter, he also isn't supposed to eat the "little bit of candy" predictably added, but after a game like this, Odom will probably get the okay for practices catered by Roscoe's and Starburst.
Without question, the Lakers benefited from a little luck. Three-time All-Star Brandon Roy (my vote for the west's second-best shooting guard) was out of commission with a hammy ailment, joining the street clothes clique of Greg Oden, Travis Outlaw and Joel Pryzbilla. Portland also missed some open looks from distance and at the rim, the most glaring a bricked dunk by Nicolas Batum.
Then again, the Lakers were playing the second end of a back-to-back, but clearly outworked their rested hosts. A second quarter sequence --Webster missed an open transition trey after L.A. capped a possession generously offered four offensive rebounds with a Brown getting blocked on a wild drive-- drove home two aspects making life miserable for the Blazers: They got crushed on the glass (47-30) and rarely made the most of chances offered.
As I mentioned last night, the Denver debacle was the first loss causing me concern over the largely unimpressive 51 games of the 2009-2010 season. The on-court body language and subsequent ducking of the media suggested the Lakers, if not actually doubting themselves, were growing frustrated by an inability to snap their malaise.
Maybe I played a little too much armchair shrink. Maybe I diagnosed things correctly, but time, distance and regrouping did the trick. Maybe that loss, which LO said "embarrassed" them, was a wake-up call. Or maybe, as Odom noted afterward, the reality of no Kobe provided a much-needed whiff of the smelling salts.
"Sometimes when you lose an arm, another sense picks up."
Whatever the case may be, this was undoubtedly a huge win providing a nice reminder of what this team is capable of, with or without Mamba. And should the Lakers begin resembling the O'Brien owners of last June, we may look back on this "moment-free" game as a fairly defining moment.