April 4, 2012; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Clippers power forward Blake Griffin (32) is defended by Los Angeles Lakers small forward Matt Barnes (9) and power forward Pau Gasol (16) during the first half at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-US PRESSWIRE
I don't like Blake Griffin. I do, however, really like Andrew Bynum. Is it intellectually defensible, rational even, to hold both thoughts at once? Of course not. For all that we rightly complain about Griffin's taunting, cheap shots and tendency to celebrate two-point baskets like he's the first person ever to propel a basketball vertically downward through the rim, Bynum isn't significantly more likeable. The young center has dealt out more than his share of cheap hits over the years and might, might, be in the early stages of an effort to run Mike Brown out of town. It's not like rooting for Andrew Bynum is a morally unambiguous thing.
Tonight we saw Griffin at his best (jamming ferociously on Pau Gasol) and his... well, if not his worst, then certainly in an ugly moment when he shoved a defenseless, airborne Gasol from behind. Blake didn't play an especially impressive game. He was outstanding on the offensive glass but didn't shoot well, missing nine of his 16 attempts. For the most part it was Pau guarding him one on one. On occasion, though, he and Drew went head to head, and it became obvious that Blake was much less fond of charging to the hoop with scary monster Bynum in his way. Against Drew, Blake went with the fadeaway, attempting without much success to arc shots over the Laker center. One such fling in the fourth quarter barely brushed the rim.
On offense tonight, Bynum was a force of nature. With 25 shot attempts (including free-throw possessions) he produced 36 points and didn't turn the ball over once. He called for the rock aggressively and made strong, decisive maneuvers to the hole. It was hard to discern any limiting effects from the sprained left ankle that kept him out of last night's game. And he wasn't doing it against Channing Frye. DeAndre Jordan is well built, approaches 7'0" and gets paid lots of money to play defense. But tonight, he might as well have been Channing Frye. Time and again, Drew straight-up flattened him in the post.
On my Twitter timeline, there was a lot of criticism during the game of Drew's defense. It wasn't his best game at that end. On a night when the Clippers were crushing and killing on the offensive glass (rebounding 38 percent of their own misses for 16 second-chance points), Drew's five defensive boards were a real problem. At times he was slow to react to Chris Paul's pick-and-roll penetration. Two of Bynum's points resulted directly from his failure to run back on defense (leaving him in position for the cherry-pick dunk). All valid points. Now let me offer a few rejoinders...
- He does have an injured ankle. The quick lateral movements that his help-defense responsibilities entail were probably not comfortable or easy.
- You know how Kobe sometimes takes nights off on defense, but we defend it (sincerely and appropriately) if it's because his energy was needed at the offensive end? Why can't the same rationale apply to Bynum? Feeding him the ball down low was a near-automatic score last night. The Clippers were helpless before his wrath. If preserving that state of affairs meant Drew had to ease off the throttle when the Clips had the rock, I'm OK with it. He won't be that dominant against many teams so he shouldn't get used to this approach, but for one game it seemed fine.
- Drew did step it up in crunch time. Late in the fourth, Chris Paul managed to get iso'd against him on the perimeter a few times, and Drew actually held his own. He blocked a Griffin shot with under a minute left and visibly deterred several would-be penetrators.
It's just weird/unnerving to imagine how in five years, Los Angeles could belong to Blake Griffin and Andrew Bynum. They've got time and talent on their side but charmisa-wise they might make Kobe seem like Magic.
Other thoughts from an invigorating win...
- Those were the quietest 31 points Kobe's ever scored, and I loved every second of it. A controlled and elegant performance.
- Not much scoring off the bench, but Matt Barnes and Josh McRoberts relished getting physical with Blake and Jordan. P.S. I love that McBobs is aspiring to become a John Stocktonesque passing wizard.
- Metta World Peace still got those Hands of Mighty Strength.
- Interesting night for Ramon Sessions. He struggled to place himself in the flow of the Laker offense and had a couple derpy turnovers. At the same time he shot the ball fearlessly and well (16 points on 14 shots) against one of the best defensive point guards in the game. What I liked most is how he scrapped. This was likely the most intense, pressurized game of his career, and he didn't shrink from the moment. Down the stretch, did you think for a second you'd rather have Derek Fisher out there?
I'll let Pau have the last word: