Last night's game was all about Pau. Not Kobe's absence. Nor Andrew's. Don't get me wrong now - their unavailability plays a huge factor, overall. But yesterday? All about Pau's assertion and the impact it can (and did) have.
The teamwork you saw. The fluidity on offense. The return of the Triangle. They all fall on the shoulders of a 7'0" Spaniard, who just last week, was complaining about touches. He had somewhat of a point, but it's not about the number of touches or shot attempts (his attempts are right on pace with last season). It's about his decisions when he's getting the ball. How those decisions, or lack of, help factor into the malaise of the Lakers' offense.
Against the Spurs, we saw the return of the Pau we were spoiled enough to get used to these past few seasons. The All-Star Pau, that some consider the most complete Power Forward/Center in basketball.
In last week's column that C.A. and I shared thoughts on, we explained how the problems on offense were Kobe problems to solve. He's the leader of this team, it falls on his shoulders to get this team back on track. I was a bit more harsh in my original post, but fact still remained that in order for the offense to come back to life, post play had to be made a consistent priority. No matter who's to blame.
Now Pau took more shots then he usually takes (20 FGA), and he missed more than usual (12 misses - although, his shooting percentage lately hasn't been Pau-like). The misses were minor. It was the decisive manner in what he did with the ball when he got it, that helped to anchor the offense last night. He didn't wait and wait until whatever advantage he had disappeared then he was forced to kick the ball out. Only to watch some wing player chuck a 3-pointer because Pau didn't bother to re-establish position after giving the ball up. He was quicker in his decisions, aggressive in establishing position, and at times insistent on taking the shot. It had a trickle down effect and some of the shots the perimeter guys got, were more in flow.
Hopefully he keeps this up when Kobe returns, for the team's sake. It's clear that Kobe has to make sure the offense operates through the post, but it's on Pau to make sure that it pays off. He wanted the chance to take advantage of his advantages. I wanted him to work the kinks out for the sake of the team down the line. He's getting his chance and he's making the most of it - so far. The team's offensive flow is the beneficiary.
(There were glimpses of the return to offensive dominance during the Grammy Road trip, especially against Indiana and Toronto. Can it stay? On second thought, forget that. It was Indiana and Toronto. That's not an accomplishment, it's a given.)
On to the others:
- The Lakers did a very good job of settling down on defense. They started out by letting Tony Parker have his way. Parker had 10 pts. in the 1st Q alone. Then 10 pts. the rest of the way. As good as our offense seemed in flow, it defense was probably more impressive.
- Lamar was just great. In my opinion, the highlight of the game was his stutter step and drive on the baseline for a dunk. Past Tim Duncan, who is a very good defender. Timmy had no chance. When Lamar is aggressively taking it to the basket. Good things happen.
- Fish was hitting his shots. 'Nuff said about that.
- I don't understand when commentator's continue to claim that Ron hasn't worked out for the Lakers so far. Are they watching the same games we are?
It's true that he isn't as athletic as Trevor Ariza, nor as good a finisher at the rim. Nothing shows this more than the plays that require the wing to make a hard cut to the basket, and for the man in the post to handoff or drop pass to the cut man (Pau had one to Luke in the 3rd Q). Other than that, he does everything else better than Trevor. Our team defense is better, and the ceiling is higher than what we've seen.
It was Ron who put the brakes on the Spurs hot start. These past two games, he's looked like the Ron from first few games of the 2009 Western Semis against Houston, when he carried the Rockets against us. His 3-pt. shooting has improved remarkably. He's shooting at 46.4% in 2010, and he's at 40.1% for the season. His presence in the post is a problem, and he earns his share of fouls on both ends. Plus, it takes up space for an elite rebounder like Lamar to rack up.
He's fitting in just fine.
- Farmar is best when he's taking it to the hoop. He's been very trigger happy lately (step back 3-pt shots are becoming a habit), but I don't mind if he's penetrating.
- I do mind the increased chucking form Shannon Brown. He's a great change of pace, but he doesn't need to take 13 shots. With or without Kobe. He's got a consistent shot in the pinch post area, and his 3-pt. shot is decent and getting better. He shot 50%in January, and I think it's leading to his decisions to take more. He's not the greatest post entry passer and he makes up for this by shooting. Hitting shots is great. It's even better when you get easy shots by relying on post entry.
- Machine sighting!
Sasha started out his game with some typical stupid Sasha things. Two quick fouls, acting confused as to how he got them, getting in a ball handler's face, then letting them blow by him. Typically, this gets him pulled real fast, and he isn't able to fall into any confident groove. Last night? Phil left him out there, and he proceed to hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer to end the 1st Q, then a 2-pointer and a 3-pointer sandwiching a Farmar bucket to start the 2nd. His contributions in that time helped stop another Spurs run, and kept the Lakers right there until the starters came back in to take control for good.
He has the most to gain in Kobe's time off. Let's hope he takes advantage of this opportunity.