If anyone ever questions you about the difference between Mike Brown and Mike D'Antoni, present this game as exhibit one, two, and three. The Lakers literally could not have handicapped themselves any worse for this game: they only suited up eight players since Steve Nash was resting on the end of a back-to-back, lost Nick Young to a knee injury after the first half as well as Jordan Farmar near the end of the game to a leg cramp, and had their main frontcourt players in Chris Kaman and Robert Sacre in foul trouble for most of the contest before ultimately fouling out. Ryan Kelly played most of his minutes at center because he was quite literally the last man who could conceivably man the position. And after all of that, the Lakers thoroughly annihilated the Cavs in what has to be considered a fireable offense for Brown.
From the outset, Cleveland appeared exceptionally uninterested in any sort of execution on either end, and a Lakers team that was supposed to be on tired legs shot 71.4%, including six threes, to the tune of 36 points while only allowing 29.1% shooting for 17 points to the Cavs in the first quarter. Wesley Johnson led the way with 15 points to start the game, ultimately finishing with 20 points, nine rebounds, and two blocks. Despite Chris Kaman getting into early foul trouble and exiting the game with four fouls before the end of the half, the Lakers' torrid offensive production continued, hitting an insane 78.1 TS% as a team by the end of the second quarter en route to a 70-49 halftime lead.
As we saw earlier in the year, the Lakers offense at its best is led by dynamic play from their point guards and this game was no exception. Both Steve Blake and Jordan Farmar annihilated Kyrie Irving and Jarrett Jack repeatably in the pick-and-roll, off the ball, and really in just about any fashion you could imagine. Along with Kendall Marshall, the three had thrown 17 dimes by halftime and were carving up a Cavs defense that couldn't be bothered to complete their weak side rotations, allowing the Lakers to continuously make the extra pass to wing shooters or cutters. The Lakers ended up breaking a franchise high for threes this game, which really speaks for itself.
About the only thing that kept this game from escalating to the level of LA's thorough 112-57 drubbing of Cleveland in 2011 was the fact that quite literally everything fell apart for the Lakers after halftime and for a while, it appeared that not even that was going to matter. The Lakers led by 27 with seven minutes remaining in the third before Cleveland began to chip away at the lead due to tired Laker legs. No, really, this was how the Lakers' bench looked for the entire game:
It was so bad that Chris Kaman gave us this immortal image that should be thoroughly etched on our psyches for the foreseeable future:
This was only accentuated when Kaman fouled out halfway through the fourth, soon to be joined by Sacre. Since Farmar and Young were out with injury, the Lakers actually ran out of players, forcing an obscure NBA rule in which a fouled out player may stay in exchange for all subsequent fouls past six adding a technical. In an utterly hilarious moment, Steve Nash even entered to join the team in uniform on the bench even though he was inactive for the night. Really, Kurt Rambis might have had to suit up considering how bad the Lakers' injury woes have been recently.
Despite all of this, including Brown benching Irving for the entire fourth quarter as Matthew Dellavedova led the Cavs comeback attempt, the Lakers stayed ahead even after the lead was cut into single digits thanks to some timely Steve Blake threes as he finished a triple double at the end of a bizarre and thoroughly gratifying evening. The team appeared so finished by the end that Ryan Kelly, your point leader for the night with 26, appeared exhausted at the line and bricked a pair of meaningless free throws as the Cavs fruitlessly tried to extend the game.
Yes, this game wasn't the greatest thing for the Lakers' effort to secure a high pick, as Cleveland is a key competitor for that objective. But for two teams that entered this contest with identical records despite the Lakers' poor bill of health and competing in a much better conference, it was hell of a statement for Mike D'Antoni, who has quite literally squeezed the last drop of production out of a roster that ended the game with only four players that weren't injured or fouled out. Looking at what Mike Brown is doing now with a much more talented roster, it remains baffling that the Lakers were as successful as they were with him as their head man and even as they will no doubt return to their losing ways in the upcoming weeks, you can't help but tip your hat to what D'Antoni has been able to accomplish.
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