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Sunday, November 21, 2010
Lakers 117, Warriors 89 -- At the buzzer

By Brian Kamenetzky

What the Lakers did Sunday night to Golden State -- particularly in the first half -- was incredibly impressive. They put on a clinic at the Warriors' expense, torturing the visitors with variety appropriate for some sort of hoops remake of those Saw movies. They hit shots inside, and drilled them from the perimeter. On the break, early in the offense, and late in the clock, all with some of the best spacing they've had all year, and surgical ball movement. On the other end, the Lakers forced turnovers and tough shots, while blocking a few others.

It was, in short, a red letter night for people who like to sit at home and cut together highlight reels off game footage to post on YouTube. Scoff if you want because it came against the Warriors, a team against whom the Lakers have wide ranging matchup advantages, but playing this way they'd have abused a lot of teams.

Honestly, there were too many good things to limit myself to the standard "Three Up" featured in this postgame column. I will therefore eschew (oh yes, there will be eschewing) the formula in favor of a long list of cool Lakers moments and performances from Sunday's win.

You'll notice the heavy emphasis on first-half stuff, because for all practical purposes, tonight's game was only 24 minutes long:

1. Pau Gasol: This is actually the second time he has bogarted someone else's statistically high-class game. When Kobe Bryant lit up Sacramento for L.A.'s first triple-double of the season, Gasol came back two games later and produced his own, in a higher profile beatdown of the Trail Blazers. Friday in Minnesota, Matt Barnes hit all seven of his field goals, and each of his five free throws. This time, Pau didn't even let the accomplishment marinate. Sunday, he tossed his own perfect game. He was 10-for-10 from the floor, plus six straight at the line. To that, Gasol added seven boards, five assists, and three blocks.

"It was a good, positive night," Gasol said. "I wasn't thinking about it during the game. I was just trying to capitalize on the good passes of my teammates, and opportunities. I'm always trying to be efficient and effective at all times."

Asked to compare his "perfecto" with Gasol's, Barnes gave it to Pau. "10 for 10 ain't eight for eight. That definitely tops my night," he said. "Both games we won, though. That's all you can ask for." Personally, I think Barnes is being modest. Had Pau stepped out and popped a few threes, I'd say his was the better game. But Barnes was on fire from deep. I'll give the new guy the nod.

And as he pointed out, the other guys in the locker room noted Gasol beat up "on a bunch of midgets," noting Golden State's relative lack of size.

2. Ball movement: It was sharp against the Wolves on Friday, and equally so Sunday. There were 32 assists on 44 field goals overall, including 20 of 29 over the first 24 minutes. Nine Lakers found their way into the helper column, with seven logging three or more. We'll often talk about balance in the scoring column, but tonight it was there with ball movement. The interior passing was particularly good. Ron Artest set up at the left mid-post hitting Kobe as he slices down the other side of the lane. Kobe drawing the defense on the dribble, lobbing the short pass to Gasol for the bucket. Luke Walton coming off a high screen and threading a slick bounce pass to Derek Fisher for the layup (yes, another installment of the noted "Walton-to-Fisher" connection).

On the break, the Lakers were equally good, making the right pass at the right moment, one reason they held a 22-2 advantage in fastbreak points in the first half.

3. Defense: The other part of that fastbreak equation early were forced turnovers -- 10 of them before the break, off of which the Lakers scored 15 points. The Lakers did a great job dropping to the proper level as the Warriors tried to generate opportunities off the dribble, then picking off the pass. Barnes and Fisher each had a pair by halftime. Things slowed down a little in the pilfers department after the break, but to say by then it didn't matter would be an understatement.

Overall, the Warriors made only 35.2 percent of their shots, were silent from the paint, and did no damage in transition. Monta Ellis and Stephen Curry combined for 18 points on seven-for-20 shooting. The work on Ellis was particularly good, Artest and Barnes combining in the effort. Notice a certain number 24 wasn't part of the equation? "I get the night off," Bryant said. "Adding Matt helps out a lot. Now you have another guy that can come in and chase guys. Last year, when Ron was out it would be my responsibility to chase him. Now I don't have to."

As we've discussed, it's not simply Kobe playing fewer minutes, but easier minutes that will pay dividends in the spring.

4. Lamar Odom: He has 15 points on five-for-seven shooting, plus 10 rebounds and two blocks. He set the tone early for the Lakers, slicing through the lane on L.A.'s second possession, taking the pass from Gasol and drawing a foul on Andris Biedrins. Two free throws later the Lakers had a 2-0 lead, and were off and running.

5. Kobe: Nothing spectacular relative to some of the sick lines he has posted over the years, but he moved the ball extremely well, got himself to good spots to shoot, and finished without a turnover in -- and this is the really good part -- 26 minutes 39 seconds of playing time.

6. Bench play: With 2:03 to go in the first quarter and the Lakers holding a 14 point lead, coach Phil Jackson inserted Shannon Brown, Steve Blake, and Barnes, sending Kobe, Artest, and Fisher to rest. By the time Kobe re-entered the game at the 6:01 mark of the second quarter, the lead had ballooned to 24. One reason?...

7. Brown: He finished with 17 points, making seven-of-10 shots and all three of his triples. What sticks out is the confidence and decision making. Late in the shot clock, when Ellis didn't get his hands up to defend a jumper (perhaps worried Brown would put the ball on the floor), Shannon stuck it. Later, even though he had the hot hand, Brown passed up what would have been a tougher shot opportunity on the wing early in the break, passed the ball off, then was rewarded with a feed from Blake for a corner three.

All told, the bench continues to do their job, and then some. "That's a part of having a good team, and having a good bench and knowing that stretch run in March and April, going into the playoffs, is important," Barnes said. "We take, that second unit takes, a lot of pride to get up and go out there and handle business so we can give our starters some rest."

It's a cycle that should make the bench even stronger. They play better, so they get to play more. "We get a chance to get into a rhythm, we get a chance to get out there and just play," Brown said. "Not a lot of guys get to play on a consistent basis out there, and it's fun to always get out there and be able to show what you can do."

8. No taco tension: Golden State had 41 points at the break, while the Lakers were a last-second Artest shot from hitting the 70 mark. Fans were given a very, very early start planning on the when and where regarding free taco consumption.

9. Astute D.J.-ing from the in-house music guy: Was it a coincidence they were playing Smashing Pumpkins' "Perfect" at the end of the game, as the crowd filed out?

10. Rest: Another good game for getting light work on everyone's time card. Only Gasol cracked the 30 minute mark. He played 30:01.

More to come.