Well, that didn't go quite as planned. The Lakers were awful for nearly the entire game with the exception of a third quarter spurt, yet were never down by too much and had their chances late. The fact is, we went to one of the league's toughest arenas and had our chance late with the ball in the hands of the game's best closer. It's unfortunate that Kobe was having an awful game, but based on the quality of play of each team, we were lucky to have even had the chance. While many of us wanted to get a first round sweep and get as much rest as possible, you couldn't have too much of an objection to getting a split in Utah and taking care of business at home. That is still a possibility, but the Lakers will have to turn their game around if they want to get the split because tonight's performance just wasn't good enough and won't be good enough on Saturday.
We Are Better Than Utah- On this night we certainly weren't better than the Jazz, but if there were any doubters over who was the better team, the Lakers silenced them tonight. The Lakers shot 30% from the field in the first half and only trailed by four. Kobe was 5-24 from the field and the Lakers still had a chance. Essentially, the Lakers played one of their poorer games of the season, while Utah got contributions from all over in their home building, yet the Lakers only lost by two. The Lakers had to play poorly to keep it close, while the Jazz have shown they need to play well to do the same. The Jazz were better in Game 3, but the Lakers are far and away the better side.
Lamar Odom- In an ugly, physical game in front of some crazy fans, one of the players who has often been criticized for being mentally soft was fantastic. When the Lakers were thoroughly outplayed in the first half, yet only trailed by four, it was mainly due to the exceptional play of LO. Odom was 5-7 from the floor in the opener half with 11 points and 8 boards. Odom remained agressive in the second half and while he play tapered off some, he still was solid and finished with 21 points and 14 boards. With the rest of the team experiencing a rough night, Odom shone brightly in a situation many criticized him for floundering in.
Ball Security- The Lakers turned the ball over only nine times in the game. When teams go into a hostile environment, turnovers are usually through the roof, but not on this night for the Lakers. They did well to secure the ball and didn't get caught trying to make overly ambitious cross-court passes like they did upon occassion in the series' first two games.
Where's The Fire?- The Lakers started the season 21-3 and looked like a team on a mission after last year's NBA Finals disappointment. Ever since though, the Lakers have been on cruise control and have relied on being able to flip the switch either for a big game or for a late game push. Conventional thinking was that come playoff time, the Lakers would turn it up and look like a team possessed, but that hasn't been the case. Twice the Lakers came out firing in the first half, only to come out flat in the second half. Tonight the energy was there, but the fire wasn't. Playoff basketball requires an intensity and urgency that is a step above that of the regular season, but the Lakers have yet to bring that mentality for 48 minutes. In all three games this series the Lakers have seen a 13+ point lead by cut down to single digits in the game's last two minutes and in Game 3, they lost the lead all together. At what point do you stop saying, "when they need it, they'll flip the switch" and start saying, "maybe this team doesn't have the fire to bring home a title?" I don't think we're at that stage yet, but I'm not so confident this team can just flip the switch either.
Missed Opportunities- The Lakers lost by only two so let's count where those two points could have come from.
- Pau Gasol shot 4-10 from the free throw. A mere 60% from the line has the Lakers in overtime, while 70%, which is below his season percentage, has the Lakers on top
- The Jazz had seven more turnovers than the Lakers, yet the Lakers only had three more points off turnovers. Make it five and the Lakers get five more minutes of play.
- The Lakers missed over 10 shots in the paint. Not only did they struggle to get to the paint, but when they did, they didn't finish. Make a layup and it goes to OT.
- The Lakers' bench, minus Odom, was 2-12 from the field and 2-4 from the line. It wouldn't take much from that bench to have made up those two points.
Do You Guys See That Painted Area Around The Rim?- Kobe took only four of his 24 shots from inside the paint. Fish took only two, Ariza had only one, Brown only one, Walton only one and Sahsa none. Meanwhile, the Lakers went through a couple stretches where Pau didn't get touches and Lamar did some of his work on the offensive glass. In the halfcourt offense, the Lakers were more than content to shoot from the outside, which is fine if you're hitting, but not so good if you're missing like tonight. The set offense just didn't do nearly a good enough job getting high percentage shots in the paint. Yes, the Lakers' poor perimeter shooting contributed to the team's offensive struggles, but more of a factor was the shot selection and inability to get shots in the paint unless it came off of an offensive board.
Someone May Want To Put A Body On Those Big Guys- Carlos Boozer, 22 rebounds. Paul Millsap, 14 rebounds. So many NBA players can haul in rebound after rebound because of their length, size and jumping ability. As a result, they get lazy and forget the fundamentals of defense, namely boxing out. That was the case tonight and the Utah big men were roaming free and crashing the glass. Part of the Lakers' inability to secure rebounds was because they allowed penetration and were forced to rotate constantly, making it difficult to find a man and box out, but that only accounts for some of the rebounds. Not only do our big men need to do a better job of putting a body on the Jazz' big men, but we need help from our 3's. Kobe came back and snatched seven boards and Sasha picked up four in nine minutes. The Lakers' three though, managed only a single rebound. Ariza picked up that single rebound in his 38 minutes, while Luke Walton didn't have a single board in his eight minutes. Those two better find the glass in Game 4.
Andrew Bynum- I think even a Utah fan would admit that one or two of Andrew's fouls were dubious calls at best (charge call on the Bynum spin, I'm looking at you), but Andrew would have fouled out not long after anyways. Andrew's play was worse than ugly tonight, but I don't have another category to put him in. Seven minutes, one made field goal, two rebounds and two turnovers. That was Bynum's line tonight and I think the line looks better than his play did tonight. Whether Bynum just had an awful game/series or his knee isn't 100% or his knee brace is really giving him issues, I don't know, but I do know that the performance he had in Game 3 won't get it done. He needs to be quicker, mentally and physically, and he needs to show a better understanding for the flow of the game. He's still only played in three playoff games (I'm not counting token minutes two years ago) so he may trying to adjust to playoff ball, but it's time to step it up done Drew.
Kobe Bryant- When was the last time Kobe found himself in this category, especially in the playoffs? Even the biggest of Kobe fans would have to admit to the wretched game he had tonight. 5-24 from the field and his man, Ronnie Brewer, was able to tally 12 points, seven boards and four assists. I don't think Kobe's performance tonight requires much breakdown. If you saw the game, you know what I'm talking about. It doesn't take a genius to see that Kobe had a night at Energy Solutions Arena that will make him think fondly of the playoff visit in his rookie year when he famously came up short with a waning minutes airball.