Friday, May 6, 2011
Mavericks 98, Lakers 92: At the buzzer
By Andy Kamenetzky
They played hard. And at times, they played well. But certainly not for 48 minutes or anything close, and that's mandatory when you're down 0-2 and playing in someone else's house.
It... just... keeps... getting... worse.
Let's see: 12 points on 13 shots, eight rebounds, two assists against two turnovers. Constant bouts with indecisiveness. The lingering bad body language. Getting drilled in the head by Kobe Bryant on a pass because he was looking in the other direction. The ability to inspire Phil Jackson to scream at him what felt like every 12 seconds.
Yes, there were scattered good moments, like a fourth-quarter charge drawn and several quality challenges running out to close on shooters. But all in all, Pau remains a player who looks absurdly out of sorts, and at the worst possible time for the Lakers.
The defense in all senses was erratic throughout the game, but in particular, this approach unglued the Lakers.
The low point? After back-to-back triples for Dirk Nowitzki so wide open there was time to autograph the ball before shooting it, Phil Jackson ripped into Bynum and Gasol, who'd been arguing over who blew the coverage. (According to the sideline report, Phil told them both to knock it off, then identified Pau as the offending culprit.) But it's actually impressive in its own right that only this pick-and-roll possession drove PJ so batty. Throughout the game and especially during the first half, the Lakers just looked scrambled whenever Dallas threw this look their way.
The third frame ended with a six-point lead and momentum pointing in the Lakers' direction after several good plays down the stretch. Then came a slew of damage from Peja Stojakovic, who'd scored just four points on five shots in the previous three quarters. He finished the game with 15 points after a 5-6 quarter, indicative of how everything fell apart when matters mattered the most. In crunch time, the Lakers just couldn't get it done.
On the plus side, they made three of their 13 tries, which is certainly better than the 18 misses in 20 tries in Game 2. On the other hand, that it's an improvement says a lot about how bad the Lakers' outside shooting has been all series.
Whether you think his "trust issue" comments was a refreshing dose of honesty or a young kid popping off at an inopportune time, one thing is certain: Bynum took residence under a bright spotlight heading into tonight's contest. And he certainly didn't appear to mind being in the position of backing up his tough talk. Twenty-one points on nine-of-16 shooting, plus 10 rebounds as the only player to reach double figures. Defensively, his presence was intense, even during moments where he may have played a role in whatever breakdown. He even took on the challenge of checking Dirk Nowitzki on several possessions and did a credible job in a brutal matchup. As perhaps a karmic reward, he got a steal while shadowing Nowitzki, then dribbled the ball all the way to the rack for a vicious dunk. This was probably the signature highlight play involving a Laker, and it was fitting Bynum was the guy front and center.
If anything, the biggest knock on his performance might have been his failure to bum rush the perimeter and physically rip the ball out of the hands of teammates not looking in his direction down the stretch. Story of the season, right?
An outstanding example of the way Kobe can control a game without "being aggressive" (which is commonplace code for "looking for his shot on every possession.") Instead, he picked his spots with stellar efficiency, expertly walking the line between facilitating and scoring. Often, he was the catalyst in pick-and-roll sequences, reading the defense like Tom Brady in a zone. And when he did let his own offense fly, the shots were typically on point and timely, despite hands perpetually in his mug.
Unfortunately, that balance wasn't perfectly maintained, as Bryant's "takeover" mode down the stretch sometimes came at the expense of ball movement. And he wasn't able to pull an iconic rabbit out of his hat with a game-preserving bucket. But all in all, I thought Kobe did a very nice job looking to involve teammates and allow them to help control his destiny.
By LO's estimate, it was his first start at small forward since his days with the Los Angeles Clippers. (I seem to recall him playing a fair amount at the three when Kwame Brown and Chris Mihm were the starting 4/5 combo during the 2006 season, but who am I to argue?) Still, LO is as versatile a player as the NBA offers and the triangle as positionally interchanged as any offense in basketball, so if anybody would be up for the challenge of filling in for a suspended Ron Artest at the three, it would theoretically be the 2011 Sixth Man of the Year.
LO's done plenty of fantastic work as a member of the first five, so it's no shock to see him come through with some quality production: 18 points, six boards, three dimes and a lot of aggressive hustle. When his team needed him to step up and provide a boost while undermanned, LO came through.
Someone from the bench needed to step up his game, and initially, Brown didn't necessarily appear to be a logical candidate. For every good play in the first half (a reverse dunk running baseline), there was something errant (an uncontested layup blown, followed by a bad foul against Dirk). But as the game progressed, Shannon managed to come up with some big plays at the right time: a skying tip-in to put back a missed jumper from Kobe, or sneaking into a scrum to tap out a loose ball for an extra possession and, eventually, a Laker bucket.
His night wasn't huge, but considering how unreliable he and the bench has been, anything legitimately constituting "solid" qualifies as a godsend. Ten points is in that neighborhood.
For what it's worth, I thought Steve Blake also bounced back well enough from what may have been the worst game of his professional career.