Lakers 113, Knicks 96: The Exponentially Impressive Road Trip

NEW YORK NY - FEBRUARY 11: Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers drives against Danilo Gallinari #8 of the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden on February 11 2011 in New York City. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that by downloading and/or using this Photograph User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. The Lakers defeated the Knicks 113-96. (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)

Coming into this Grammys induced seven game road trip, all of Lakers Nation was in agreement that a little momentum grab was in order.  After being sent off on their longest road trip of the season with a heart-breaking last second defeat to the San Antonio Spurs, and having put together a season long resume that barely merits a call back for the position of champion that will once again be available this June, the Los Angeles Lakers were in desperate need of a string of success stories.  Having reached the halfway point of the roadie, with four wins out of four in increasingly dominant fashion, I'm honestly a little scared about where the Lakers will go from here.

With each passing game on the road trip, the Lakers seem to be building momentum in a very un-Lake Show type way, because with each passing game on the road trip, the Lakers are getting better.  Not a little bit better.  Not marginal improvement.  We're talking exponential growth of confidence, performance, execution, and focus.  I'm scared because, if this continues, the Lakers will roll into Cleveland riding a tsunami of momentum, and the last contest between those two teams is currently in prison awaiting sentencing after being found guilty of crimes against basketball.

Coming into tonight's game, you will have to forgive me for not exuding a whole lot of confidence.  It's not so much that the New York Knicks strike me as a fearsome opponent.  No, I didn't think much of the Lakers chances because I know this team too well.  They have quite the recognizable pattern of taking two steps forward, followed by at least one step back.  Three wins, all against .500 or better teams, and all relatively lacking in end game drama, were the two steps forward.  On the second night of a back-to-back, after an emotional and physical win against our nemesis, the Boston Celtics, you can't fault me for expecting a back step.  Instead, the Lakers threw down the most dominant victory of the trip, in blasting the Knicks 113-96.  It's become clear to me now that this road trip is actually a well planned marketing blitz.  And the campaign's slogan is clearly "You guys didn't really think we were that bad, did you?  Oops."  Honestly, I'm not sure I want the Lakers to come back to Staples again this season.  Just stay on the road fellas, it's apparently good for you.

The opening minutes were cause for all of us to expect the worst.  The Lakers picked up four turnovers in the first four minutes of play as the Knicks jumped out to an early lead.  Kobe Bryant decided that he needed to take charge and help the team weather the storm.  I'm sorry, did I say weather the storm?  I meant beat the storm within an inch of its silly little life.  Kobe went off, hitting three straight 3 pt shots and a variety of other makes both difficult and sublime, en route to 19 first quarter points on 9 first quarter shots, none sweeter than a 18 foot fade away at the first quarter buzzer that was some sort of heavenly hybrid of The Dream Shake and Michael Jordan.  19 in the first quarter?  In Madison Square Garden?  We've seen this movie before.

In no way do I seek to complain about the fact that Kobe Bryant went off in the first quarter, but we've seen this particular type of start back fire before.  Kobe Bryant's teammates are sometimes just as capable of being amazed by the Mamba as we are, and an early explosion from Kobe has often rendered the team flat-footed.  Again, you must forgive me for not thinking that Kobe's terrific start boded particularly well for the contest at large.  This is in no way a complaint about Kobe's aggressiveness or mentality in the 1st quarter, but there is a precedent for team failure out of Kobe Bryant's individual glory.

Instead, Kobe went out for his traditional 1st half rest, missing  the first six minutes of the second quarter, and in that time period, the rest of the team said in no uncertain terms "Dammmmmn Kobe that was impressive ... now look what we can do".  What they could do was run the offense to perfection, generating a bevy of ball movement and a laundry list of good looks.  The second unit came up with 6 assists over those six minutes of play, including one of the worst passes you will ever see converted which, of course, means that the conversion was fucking spectacular.

I've seen Shannon Brown do some crazy shit.  I've seen him block a layup attempt straight down from behind.  I've seen him have to duck his head under the rim as he soars through the air.  I've seen him throw down an assortment of vicious and acrobatic dunks, and his missed dunks are probably more spectacular than the makes.  And in all my time observing Shannon's career, I can never remember him throwing down a dunk so ridiculous that even he can't believe he did it.  Look at the shit-eating grin on his face as he heads back down court.  Shannon Brown is very aware of what he is capable of.  If anything, as last year's dunk contest shows he probably believes he is capable of more than he actually is.  So when Shannon Brown does something that amazes even himself, you know you've just witnessed the best that NBA highlights have to offer.

Sorry for that temporary diversion ... where were we?  Oh yes, Kobe explodes, and instead of watching in awe, his teammates respond by doing their own form of explosion while Kobe is on the bench.  Here is where we come to a crossroads in our story.  Because, after his lengthy rest, Kobe Bryant returned to the game.  His team, previously needing all 19 of his 1st quarter points just to remain tied after one quarter, built up a 10 point lead in his absence.  It took Kobe exactly 30 seconds to get back to the free throw line once he re-entered the game. 40 seconds later, he drained another long jumper.  Two possessions later, Kobe took another long three and missed, but he got to the long rebound and drove towards the basket.  Amar'e Stoudemire decided to take a hard foul, and gave Kobe a mild clothesline, grabbing him around the shoulders.  Kobe appeared to get upset before dusting it off and heading to the free throw line.

Consider the scene; Kobe loves playing in New York.  He has a higher scoring average in Madison Square Garden than in any other arena in the league, over 30 points per game.  He already has 22 points in the 2nd quarter, and a player from the opposing team does something to piss Kobe off.  Was there any doubt in your mind as to what was going to happen next?  Were you pondering whether Kobe would hit for 40 points in this game, or 50?  60 even?  Sure enough, the very next Lakers possession, Kobe gets the ball, attacks the basket hard and ... dumps it off to Andrew Bynum, who misses a chippy.  Next time down, another aggressive drive and ... another dump off, this time to Pau Gasol for a dunk.  Throughout the remaining four minutes of game action, Kobe Bryant attempted zero shots, and had zero trips to the free throw line.  Make no mistake, Kobe was on fire in this game.  He was feeling it, in a city he very much loves to feel it in, and the other team gave him motivation he didn't even need to go for the jugular.  And he responded by backing off of his own personal gas pedal, and going into distributor mode.  I've never seen anything like it.  I'll tell you what, that Kobe Bryant, he's like an onion.  He's got layers.

That's about all you need to know about this game.  Yes, there was a second half, and yes, the Lakers continued to play very well in it.  They may not have kept the accelerator on the entire evening, but they didn't let off the gas either.  Instead, they settled into cruise control and kept the lead above double digits for the entire second half.  If the Celtics game was a watershed moment for our core, who all did what they do best en route to a solid victory, than this game was a watershed moment for our bench.  The bench looked more smooth and potent on offense than I can remember in months.  They ended up with 44 points on 17-33 shooting collectively, and they also had 15 of the Lakers' 22 assists.  I don't care how bad New York is defensively, it was an impressive thing to watch, even if the 1.15 points per possession doesn't blow you away.

What should blow you away is the .97 PPP the Lakers allowed to the Knicks.  The Knicks are one of the better offensive teams in the league, and the Lakers have now twice held them under a 1 point per possession in two meetings.  Further, they've gone on the road and held four good teams to an average of 1.01 PPP over these past four games.  Springtime must be right around the corner, because the Laker defense is coming into full bloom.

One of the top two offenses in the league? Check.  Defense that is rounding into form? Check.  Superstar playing some of his best, most controlled, basketball? Check. Pau Gasol being Pau Gasol again? Check.  With the return of Matt Barnes just on the horizon, and the Lakers firing on all cylinders, well, let's just say I wouldn't book any June vacations if I were you.  We might just have business to attend to.

 

Poss.

TO%

FTA/
FGA

FT%

3FGA/FGA

2PT%

3PT%

EFG

TS%

OReb Rate

DReb Rate

PPP

L.A.

98

13

0.30

68

0.18

57

40

57

59

23

75

1.15

N.Y.

99

16

0.28

88

0.24

46

25

44

50

25

77

0.97

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