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Friday, February 11, 2011
Lakers 113, Knicks 96: At the Buzzer

By Andy Kamenetzky

That'll do, pig. That'll do. The Lakers remain undefeated on the Grammy trip and keep looking better as the days away from Staples Center progress. Next stop, Orlando, with presumably a lot of confidence in tow.

The Good

Kobe Bryant
It's hardly a secret The Mamba has a certain flair for lighting up the Garden. (He entered the building averaging a honkin' 30 points per game on his career in New York, and an honkin'-er 42 points in his last four appearances.) That's a high mark established for showmanship, but the All-Star didn't fail to live up to his own legend. The performance started out a little rocky with consecutive turnovers, but from there, YOWZA!

After the Lakers fell behind early, a 3-pointer was drilled to get back within five and kick-start some momentum. From there, eight consecutive points were racked up to push the Lakers ahead 20-18, all part of a flat-out clinic. A trio of triples were drained. Rookie Landry Fields was duped by his self-described "idol's" patented sweep through move. A one-handed floater was casually dropped from between the circles. The quarter ended with 19 points, despite an opening four minutes without a shot attempt.

KCAL color commentator Stu Lantz had a great description of the MSG sound as the 12 minutes concluded and Kobe was the presumed talk of the building: "A nest of bees."

But while it felt like Kobe told his teammates before the game, "Look, it's the Garden. You know the deal, so roll with it," this takeover was about more than just filling the stat line's scoring section. The boards were crashed to great effect. 10 in total to lead all Lakers, with four coming on the offensive glass. Bryant's two dimes could have been doubled (at least) had he not been victimized by some bobbles. Oh, and he also drew a pair of charging fouls. The second was against Amare Stoudemire, which irritated the All-Star enough to prompt a technical foul.

If the New Yorkers on hand -- who can appreciate good basketball even at their own expense -- wanted more, their Knickerbockers deserve the blame. Had there been a need for Kobe to play in the fourth quarter, one assumes the clinic would have carried forth uninterrupted.

As a fun-side note, the wife was on hand during part of "The Kobe Show,” and the unleashing of this arsenal somehow led to me casually mentioning “81.”

Her bug-eyed response: “Kobe scored 81 points ???”

I laughed.

Second-quarter defense/second unit in general
The Lakers finished the first quarter up two points, but this was a matter of outscoring the Knicks rather than locking them down. The hosts boasted a gaudy 57.9 percent clip from the field, with eight dimes creating 11 buckets. Five Lakers turnovers were capitalized to good effect and Ray Felton's 4-for-4, 13-point showing set the lax tone.

Well, things got better.

The unit of Steve Blake, Shannon Brown, Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom and Luke Walton did its part to create more distance between L.A. and New York, despite an initially ragged start with the ball. But whatever frustration over missed buckets was channeled into getting back and contesting shots, which prevented the Knicks from making headway. Eventually, the offense began to click, and an insurmountable gap was formed.  When the starters eventually checked back in halfway through the quarter, a two-point lead had reached 10.

After establishing a defensive tone for the rest of the game, it was also nice seeing the reserves' grit rewarded on the fun (i.e., "offensive") side of things.

Blake had eight points and seven dimes, none more spectacular than the one bailed out by Brown. An alley-oop slightly askew was somehow corralled by Shannon's right paw, then slipped into both hands while hanging in mid-air for a spectacular throw down. (Shannon told KCAL's John Ireland after the game he had two bacon/egg/cheese croissants "from a deli across the way" for his breakfast. Doesn't strike me as a healthy breakfast of champions, but who am I to set the diet for a man immune to gravity?) This bucket was the highlight of a 12-point performance capping nicely his strong work the previous evening in Boston.

Odom added 14 points and an assertive fourth quarter presence and even Walton, whose spot minutes with Matt Barnes injured have equaled spotty production, got in on the act. Eight points (four-for-six shooting), four assists, three dimes and one mother of a screen on Toney Douglas while handing off to Blake, the sequence eventually concluding with a bucket for LO.

Halfway through the fourth, down by double digits, Knicks coach Mike D'Antoni tried to spark a rally pitting some starters against the Laker reserves. After another minute or so, fate was conceded, as Anthony Randolph made an ultra-rare appearance to relieve Amare. Sensible decision. It's fair to say when a two-man game between Blake and Walton includes a bounce pass between the legs to Blake while flashes to the left wing, then a splashed J at the top of the key in rhythm, a comeback ain't in the cards.

Ron Artest’s defense against Amare Stoudemire
It was a wonky night for Artest with the ball. His first four shots clanged. Layups failed to drop, assuming they weren’t blocked. The lowlight was an ill-advised transition three after his steal, a brick that shouldn’t have even counted due to an obvious travel pre-launch. But I loved the work he did on several possessions matched against Amare. Whether in space or while S.T.A.T drove the lane, Ron did a nice job harassing the big man. It was a nice showcase of the effect Artest can have against players of all shapes and sizes.

Pau Gasol/Andrew Bynum
I wouldn't say either truly "dominated" --  Pau actually had a few "white swan" moments on the third quarter -- but both certainly were too much against some admittedly undersized competition. A solid double, if I can mix my sports metaphors.

The Bad

First- and third-quarter turnovers
The Lakers coughed the rock up five times in the first quarter, then did themselves one worse in the frame following intermission. These quarters also presented the most competitive stretches in what was ultimately a blowout. This is not a coincidence.

Free Throws
Against a better team, a 68 percent clip (17-25) could come back to bite you in the hind parts.

Devin Ebanks' DNP-CD
Unless the rookie got caught out after curfew or something, how does the Queens native not remove the warmups during a blowout in his hometown? Kid's probably been dreaming his entire life about playing professional ball in the Garden. C'mon, Phil. It's bad enough you gave a kid a 529 page book to read. Let the guy have a little fun.