Monday, January 23, 2012
When the Laker offense is beautiful
By Henry Abbott
Pay special attention to the highlight above with about 2:36 left in the game. That's when Pacers David West and Paul George trap the most celebrated Laker, Kobe Bryant, against the left wing. Bryant finds his wide open teammate, Pau Gasol, in the corner, who draws yet another Pacer, Roy Hibbert, out of the lane.
This is where the genius of the Lakers' roster is on full display. Gasol is open on the catch, but so is everybody! It's a feast. Derek Fisher is, as always these days, all by himself on the far side. Andrew Bynum is being single-covered by the now particularly tiny-looking Darren Collison directly under the hoop. The Laker center is so sure he's going to get the ball that he leaps at Gasol's pass, which is headed nowhere near him. Gasol's target, instead, was the other uncovered Laker, Matt Barnes, who is only too happy to finish with a dunk over the spot Hibbert had vacated seconds earlier.
If the Pacers are going to double Bryant, the Lakers have a thousand ways to make them pay.
On the game's final play the Lakers needed a 3 to tie. The defense knows exactly what's happening, which makes the play calling tricky. Bryant deserves credit for being willing to work off the ball -- a lot of Laker crunch time possessions begin with an inbound pass to Bryant, which makes it especially easy for the defense to know where the action is. This time, though, Gasol makes the catch and the two engage in a little two-man game.
To the extent that I complain about Bryant's ball-hogging, this is a big improvement. (For a counterexample, see the first clip in the highlight, where Bryant makes a jumper over a triple team. Nice shot, but dishing to the wide open and diving-to-the-hoop Gasol is the money play.) Picks! Passing! Bodies in motion! Things coaches do to get guys open!
Only this time it didn't matter. Both defenders were going to stay glued to Bryant no matter what. Stop the highlights with 5.5 seconds on the clock.
Bryant is so far from the hoop he's literally closer to the halfcourt logo than the 3-point line. That's because, of the two defenders he has drawn, the one elevating with him as he shoots is 21-year-old 6-8 Paul George. Bryant is 6-6, 33 years old, and playing on internationally suspect knees. Before the 2010 draft, the NBA measured George with a standing reach just one inch shy of nine feet. This man is nimble enough to stay with Bryant out here on the perimeter, but can reach higher than the likes of Josh Smith, Tyler Hansbrough, Kevin Love, Paul Millsap or Blake Griffin.
Meanwhile, if there's a defender within ten feet of Gasol, I can't see him.
Gasol hit a huge crunch time 3 last week against the Jazz, and this one would be a cakewalk compared to that. There's plenty of time left to make the pass and the shot, and Gasol has an acre all to himself.
But two things fail: Gasol, a step inside the 3-point line, isn't thinking about shooting. And Bryant never looks at him.
Bryant almost makes the long 3, which is impressive as hell given the conditions under which he shot it. And the Lakers lose.
All in all, though, it can't be totally discouraging for Laker fans. This team has the potential to score a ton, and is showing signs of playing that way.