Lakers 115, Warriors 110: The Golden State Belongs to Kobe

OAKLAND CA - JANUARY 12: Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers reacts after he made a basket and was fouled during their game against the Golden State Warriors at Oracle Arena on January 12 2011 in Oakland California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

Let's take a moment to give thanks to the Cleveland Cavaliers. Last night, they surrendered all pretense of being professional basketball players and lost by a still-hard-to-believe 55 points, as a result of which Phil Jackson was free to rest his starters for a healthy chunk of the contest. Without that luxury, it's altogether possible the Lakers wouldn't have had the aerobic endurance called for by tonight's 48-minute wind sprint up in Oakland. The Golden State Warriors, led by nettlesome ferret Monta Ellis, ran circles around the Lake Show for three quarters and threatened to dash the good spirits that have lately gathered around the defending champs, but in the fourth the Lakers hit the Dubs with a steady, pounding assault that their smaller, younger Pacific Division cohorts couldn't withstand. The result was an exhausting 115 to 110 victory fueled by heroics from the one they call "Kobe."

It took a while for him to locate his inner Mamb-osity. In the first half Kobe looked off his game, committing five turnovers that all seemed to create easy runouts for Golden State. Monta, for his part, had a dazzling start. He scored 23 in the first half on 14 shots (including free-throw possessions). After building, and then coughing up, a 14-point lead in the second quarter, the Warriors went into the halftime break up eight.

They were playing with bounce and vivacity on both ends of the floor. Dorrell Wright disrupted the spatial geometry of the Laker offense with his length and active limbs. When the Warriors had the ball, they punished the purp and yellow for poor defensive balance. Repeatedly the Lakers overloaded their ball-side D, allowing easy reversals to open three-point shooters. Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum were keeping their squad in the game, but turnovers and some ugly outside shooting meant that the Lakers would play from behind in the second half.

For a while, the turnovers remained a problem: six more of them piled up in the third period. A few things, though, conspired to get the Laker attack moving in the right direction. First, they started earning visits to the stripe. After shooting only five free-throw attempts in the first half, they shot seven in the third quarter. Second, they started to dominate on the offensive glass, which is always important to what the Lakers are trying to do. In the third period alone, Gasol had three offensive boards, Kobe and Lamar Odom each had two, and Bynum had one. Their collective glasswork led to seven second-chance points. And finally, Kobe activated his lethal midrange game. Setting up about 12 to 15 feet away from the hoop, he broke out his jab steps and spin moves and dropped 13 points in the quarter. Meanwhile, the Monta Express showed signs of running low on gas. He scored nine points in the period but wasn't getting to the line and wasn't the same playmaking force. The quarter ended with the Warriors up six.

In the fourth, the Laker offense put the Dubs on full blast. The champs scored 21 times in 24 possessions, averaging an insane 1.92 points per trip. For most of the night, Odom had been nearly invisible, and in my head I was already writing a good old-fashioned "ZOMG Lamar disappeared again!" screed. Not necessary, as it turns out: in the first six minutes of the final period he shredded the Golden State D for 12 points, spotting the Lakers a one-point lead. He would add four more down the stretch, but the endgame belonged to Bryant. His peerless shotmaking talents overwhelmed the Warriors, as he scored 17 points over the final 6:37 and even went to the finger-wagging gesture after getting fouled on a made layup. Along with a much-needed corner three from Ron Artest with under two minutes remaining, it was enough to keep the Dubs at arm's length. Kobe finished with 39 points on 25 shots.

Give mucho credit to the Warriors: their tank hit E in the fourth quarter, but until then they turned in a dynamic performance. I'm gonna go out on a limb here and suggest that Warriors fans aren't thrilled with some of the calls down the stretch. In the second half, the Lakers' attempted 24 free throws. The Warriors? Just two. Whether a discrepancy of that magnitude is justified is always in the eye of the beholder, but it never sits well with supporters of the losing team.


A few other observations from this one:

  • It was a great crowd at Oracle Arena tonight. By all accounts its loyalties were divided almost 50-50, and both contingents were vocal and animated. Throw in a couple bands, a 35-second shot clock and Clark Kellogg and it could've passed for an NCAA tournament game.
  • Yay, free-throw shooting! The Lakers 26 made freebies out of 29 attempts, their best performance at the stripe since November 17th.
  • Derek Fisher shot 1 for 6. He's had 10 games this year in which he's made either one or zero field-goal attempts, and for the season his shooting is well below 40%. Are we really all OK with this? Look, I get it: he's going to do something awesome in the playoffs. Fine. But between now and then, does he have to be so GD terrible?
  • Or, coming at the issue from a glass-half-full perspective: how incredible is it that the Lakers have the best offense in the league even though they're playing 4-on-5 for over half of each game?
  • A part of me is glad this was a close game. It'll help the Lakers maintain an edge heading into a tricky back-to-back against the Clippers and Thunder (following a tune-up against the Nets). Of course, had they lost I'd be hugely irked, but because they won I can be happy that the game was close.

Anyhoodle, the Lakers are now 29-11 and - look at this! - in second place in the Western Conference. They're also 7-1 on the second nights of back-to-back sets. Onward!

 

Poss.

TO%

FTA/
FGA

FT%

3FGA/FGA

2PT%

3PT%

EFG

TS%

OReb Rate

DReb Rate

PPP

L.A.

89

13

0.35

90

0.20

61

31

58

61

45

74

1.29

G.S.

90

11

0.13

82

0.34

54

43

58

60

26

55

1.22

Follow Dex on Twitter @dexterfishmore.

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