In the debut of new head coach Mike D'Antoni the Lakers put up a nailbiter of a game against the Brooklyn Nets. For all the talk of beautiful basketball and 110 points or more, it was the 2nd half defense for the Lakers that was the difference maker.
Mike D'Antoni made his head coaching debut for the Los Angeles Lakers as the Brooklyn Nets stopped by Staples Center in a game that got off to a rousing start. A 10-0 run to open the contest had the Lakers looking like they were going to blow the doors off of this game, but one Avery Johnson timeout later and we had ourselves a ball game. The rest of the game was shot for shot, foul for foul, all the way till the final milliseconds ticked away and the Lakers remained victorious, powered by Kobe Bryant sinking clutch free throws to put the game out of reach for good. Lakers pull out an ugly win, 95-90.
For a game to start with the rhythm and energy that was there for the Lakers taking to start, it's hard to pinpoint exactly where the disconnect happened. Credit where it's due, the Nets weren't going to lay down and take a Hollywood beating, and immediately made it a competitive game between the two clubs. Brook Lopez had himself a great night with 23 points on 11-18 shooting, along with 7 rebounds. His mid-range game was on point and was key in the Nets fighting through not just a 10-0 run, but a red hot Bryant in the first quarter.
Kobe was in the business of crushing souls to start the game, hitting jumper after jumper. He ended the game with 25 points (8-15 from the field) along with an 8-10 free throw effort on a night that the Lakers were living, and dying, at the line. As a whole, the Lakers were 19-37 on free throws for an atrocious 51.4%. The Nets instilled the hack-a-Dwight strategy late in the game, who was having a harder time than Mike Tyson in a spelling bee sinking free throws. While Howard did finish with 23 points, 15 boards, and 4 blocks, his 7-19 from the charity stripe was a huge factor in the Lakers inability to pull away from Brooklyn. And, he airballed a free throw. You just don't airball free throws.
Still, holding a talented team in the Nets to 16 3rd quarter points followed by 17 4th quarter points is a promising sign. After a bloody shoot out with the Houston Rockets (Omer Asik was actually gushing blood after taking an elbow from Dwight early in the game) and having to outlast the Phoenix Suns, it was the Lakers defense that guided them to a win tonight. The Lakers clearly had a hard time finding rhythm on the offensive side of the ball, marred both by spending possessions solely at the free throw line and bench lineups that struggle finding ways to score. Without Steve Nash on the floor to take control of the offense when it isn't filled with superstars in 4 of the 5 slots the Lakers have ran into a bit of a brick wall in finding a flow to the game. The 10 bench points split up between Jordan Hill, Chris Duhon, and Antawn Jamison were enough to get the win tonight, but not enough to reach the 110 point benchmark that D'Antoni will be striving for. Ironic, on a night where an offensive savant made his debut as leader of the Lakers, the defense got the job done while the offense was sputtering at best through the second half.
Deron Williams quietly accumulated a double-double with 22 points (6-18) and 10 assists, along with a few lessons to read off to Darius Morris. While Morris did a commendable job and took responsibility in limiting his man, Williams simply outplayed Morris at times. Whether it was working off-ball to lose Morris and the team defense in rotations, backing down the 2nd year point guard in the post, or hitting him with a nasty crossover and then collecting the foul call, Deron undoubtedly took advantage of being matched up against a player as inexperienced as Darius Morris. Still, the effort was certainly there, most notably Morris' ability to shift and move his feet to keep with his man. With a player as agile as Deron Williams Darius Morris did as good a job as you can ask, and certainly above and beyond what any other Lakers point guard could have accomplished.
And last, but not least, Metta World Peace showed up with another great effort on the night. 17 points (pumped up by 4-9 from deep), 8 rebounds, and 2 steals. He's showing up to play this season, finally healthy and in the best shape he's been in since becoming a Laker (yes, reiterated for the 1000th time), and it's joyous to watch him succeed. The latest celebration? After sinking a three, Metta was running by Avery Johnson but made sure to wrap his arms around his head and rub his hair. Well done Metta, Pau Gasol approves of the gesture.
In the end the Lakers were able to put their free throw shooting woes behind them with Kobe Bryant at the line to close it out and they managed to pick up a quality win in the debut game for Mike D'Antoni. Off to Sacramento to face the Kings tomorrow night. Full recap in the morning, tacos for the fans tonight!
Want to watch the Brooklyn Nets fans lick their wounds? Visit NetsDaily for their coverage of tonight's game.
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